Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s reported “surge” as the alleged frontrunner in the paid propaganda surveys for the May 9 presidential elections has terrified neutral observers and drawn the strongest negative reactions from his political adversaries.
Vice President Jejomar C. Binay has engaged him in a fevered name-calling, while supporters of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares have tried to bury his polling edge in a hastily assembled “mobile survey,” showing the candidate of questionable citizenship to have allegedly overtaken Duterte as frontrunner.
President B.S. Aquino 3rd, while openly campaigning for LP standard-bearer Mar Roxas, is reported to have secretly given full support to Mrs. Llamanzares, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, who was recently reported to have accompanied the former American citizen to a private meeting with PNoy in Malacañang.
Two presidential spokesmen and Mrs. Llamanzares herself have denied this reported “Poe-quino” meeting, which I originally broke into print, quoting reputable Malacañang sources, but my sources have assured me they stand by their story. Since Malacañang seems to believe the truth these days is best determined by paid “surveys,” it might be useful to ask people in a survey how many believe this story.
The latest propaganda “mobile survey” suspiciously puts the LP vice-presidential candidate Leni Robredo ahead of the known frontrunner Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., whom Aquino has threatened with a “People Power” march should he finally win the VP race.
Aquino’s dubious influence on the propaganda surveys is shown by the “high ratings” he continues to receive from the fraudsters, despite the intense public resentment against his cold indifference to the victims of natural calamities and armed violence in Mamasapano, Zamboanga, Tacloban, Kidapawan, Basilan, and other parts of Mindanao.
Duterte has been roundly criticized not only for the outrageous things he has been saying but also for what his supporters are reported to have done to propagate his campaign lines at the hustings. Some of the hardest blows have been inflicted by my columnist colleagues at The Manila Times.
I myself have not failed to comment on his incredible pronouncements; I had to take up his reported boast that he will destroy the Catholic Church, if elected President. “Will Duterte succeed where Satan has failed?” I asked, referring to the fact, (if you believe Pope Leo XIII’s reported vision on Oct. 13, 1884), that God had given the devil the entire 20th century to destroy the Church, but the century produced more saints and martyrs, and the devil failed.
Now, Duterte and Binay are exchanging threats to jail each other if elected, despite their most genial and statesmanly exchange at the March 20 Cebu presidential debate. This has prompted my Times colleague Yen Makabenta to ask, Why don’t they promise to jail Aquino instead? That could get them more votes.
Duterte has let it be known that he had formally asked Pope Francis to forgive him for “cursing” him during his 2015 papal visit to the Philippines, for the “monstrous traffic jam” he caused wherever he went, and that the Pope had reportedly forgiven him in a letter he has promised to release to the public, if he gets elected.
But Duterte’s pledge to end criminality in three to six months by “killing” criminals like flies has had some frightening consequences. One religious minister in Cebu was reported to have been threatened with possible “beheading” by a fanatical Duterte supporter, for saying in his homily that anyone who advocated killing without due process should be denied the Eucharist.
Likewise on social media, a netizen who has posted a critical piece on Duterte has been threatened with physical violence by the Mayor’s rabid supporters, and has had to seek help from the appropriate authorities. A Duterte campaigner says the mayor has been briefed about this problem, and has promised to deal with it.
But is it still within his control? Nobody knows. It appears that the problem is no longer simply Duterte’s unorthodox way of saying or handling things – whether it’s peace and order, human life, marriage, the family, and other issues – but the way some of his supporters are blindly and feverishly responding to what he says.
Crime to solve crime
His announced resolve to stamp out lawlessness and crime by exterminating criminals without due process may have already created a lynch mob, ready to string to the nearest lamppost anyone who criticizes the words or conduct of their demigod. This represents the bigger problem now, much more than the central character, who says all sorts of outrageous and incredible things for political effect.
For lack of a better term, I have called this the “idiotization” of our society. But it seems much more than this. Not only does the derangement of society now seem total and complete; a strong dose of evil seems to attach to the madness. It is from this, rather than from the grip of one politician who conducts his lunacy, lust and venery as though they were virtues, that we must deliver ourselves. We can take care of one mad politician in our midst, all we have to do is shut him inside a mad house; but we cannot afford to turn the entire society into a nuthouse.
In our search for a more desirable existence, we have pined for an ideal leader in an ideal state, precisely because of the recurring poor quality of our leaders and our sad state. Our recent and continuing reverses do not encourage us to have much optimism, but as a Christian nation, we dare to hope and to believe that no matter into what depths we may have fallen, we still retain the ability to pick ourselves up and rise. Having feet of clay, we have an incalculable propensity for evil, but having been redeemed by the most precious blood of the Son of God, we also have an infinite capacity for good. What is beyond our nature to accomplish becomes possible because of grace.
In a gentler and wiser age, we saw in Plato’s Republic, as the author John H. Hallowell reminds us in his excellent small book, The Moral Foundation of Democracy, that political power and love of the good should be combined in some individuals, and that in the ideal state, the love of wisdom and the pursuit of good should reign, and philosophers should be kings and, kings, philosophers.
This classical view has not gone unopposed, but it remains valid to this day.
In the dialogue between Socrates and Callicles, we find the Athenian philosopher arguing against the teacher of Plato and Xenophon, for the right of the strong to dominate the weak, whom he faults for trying to resist the strong by invoking laws or moral strictures that seek to limit their power. He sees democracy as the tyranny of the many over the exceptional individual, who does not need the virtue of justice or moderation in order to rule. Neither does society need a moral code to govern its members.
The despotic man
Callicles conforms to Plato’s definition of the “despotic man,” who is “the end product of a progressive degeneration that begins when ambition usurps the rule of reason,” and like a lunatic, “dreams that he can lord it over all mankind and heaven besides.” We have seen several models of such a man in history. They all ended as a curse to mankind. Some of them, however, like Hitler, enjoyed popular support and acclamation in their climb to power. This could be repeated in our midst, and in our time. We have to make sure we do not become the men and women who will bring about the making of such a leader.
This is a challenge to all, but it is primarily a challenge to our moral and spiritual leaders. We have to reject the drift to a totalitarian state, and this is primarily a moral and spiritual challenge. “The totalitarian state,” Hallowell points out in his book, “is made possible only by the denial of a higher allegiance, and its totalitarian character arises from a refusal to acknowledge the existence of a sphere of human life over which no political control may legitimately be exercised. There are aspects of human life that the state may not legitimately control, and that recognition has its roots, when it is recognized, in the teachings of the Christian religion. Above the authority of the state, there is the authority of God.”
Sanders pitches in
In an outstanding speech before the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences at the Vatican a few days ago, US Senator Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, underscored this very same point. Our challenges today, he said, are not mainly technological or financial, but moral. We must redirect our efforts and vision to the common good.
In our country today, we need to reeducate ourselves on the meaning of authority and power and the common good. We need a strong leader – but strong in the defense of truth, freedom and justice, not strong in the sense of being able to outdraw any common criminal, satisfy the lust of several women in one sitting, or outdrink any alcoholic under the table; strong in the sense of being able to lead in the pursuit of honor and virtue, especially among the young and the poor.
This is where Duterte and the others can project themselves as strong leaders. Leadership must result in reestablishing authority as the product of transcendental law and the consent of the governed. If there is no justice transcending the state, Hallowell writes, then the state can declare anything it likes to be law; there is no limit set to its arbitrariness save its actual power to give force to its will.
“We must submit to the will of the majority not because that will is numerically superior but because it represents the reasoned judgment of the many. It is the reasoned judgment of the majority that obliges our compliance with its decision, not the will of the majority as such. To the degree therefore that rule by the majority becomes more the expression of the will than of reasoned judgment, to that degree does it become less democratic and more tyrannical.”
Duterte’s pronouncement on the unilateral execution of wrongdoers is alarming on its own because it contradicts everything we have learned about the rule of law. But even more alarming is because it lends support to the new barbarism against the Constitution and the rule of law by the very men and women sworn to uphold and defend it. I refer, of course, to what has happened to the Grace Poe Llamanzares disqualification case before the Supreme Court.
Nine of 15 Justices have ruled against the Constitution, and against the previous rulings of their own Court to nullify three Commission on Elections rulings that disqualified Mrs. Llamanzares as a candidate and cancelled her Certificate of Candidacy, for not being a natural-born Filipino and a 10-year resident of the country as required by the Constitution, without explaining to the nation why the Constitution, the relevant laws and jurisprudence are all wrong, and why they are right.
To the tyranny which Aquino initiated when he took over the three branches of government, the Supreme Court majority has now added its own tyranny by abolishing all appeals to reason or justice in the Llamanzares case. “The judicial tyrant has rejected any need to explain its action in terms of reason or justice; the rightness or wrongness of its command is not, according to them, subject to debate, and may not be questioned by concerned citizens without risking contempt. Add to this the unilateral execution of suspects by the Executive, and tyranny is completed. Add to it the applause of the gallery, and the tyranny becomes plus perfect.
This is what we face in this election, and we have not even begun to address it. The betting is on, but the question is not who will prevail in the voting, assuming we could conduct an honest one. It is rather this – will our comatose democracy survive, or will this May 9 elections kill it?