• Jo Chanco

Trapo or not...


Good, old fashioned hypocrisy, perhaps played up to its height, had everything to do with the 2016 elections. It was unbearable. People simply cringed amidst the gaucherie of aspirants rallying behind nonsense talk and vague slogans that only masked non-existent political platforms. Politicians

fighting tooth and nail against rivals, acting less like statesmen and more like belligerent clowns in a dizzying circus, all the while unmindful of a public that’s grown evermore confused between the relentless mud-slinging and pretentious, self-glorifying advertisements. What a shame!

A shaky consensus made the race even tighter until last minute bloc endorsements emerged to define the common affinity, under whose name swelled telling numbers. It was confirmed at last, come election day, as it became all too apparent just a few hours after the polling precincts opened: Mayor Rodrigo "Digong" Duterte won the presidency.

The Odd Ball

Dubbed “The Punisher” in Time Magazine’s May 23, 2016 issue which featured him on the cover page, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte turned out to be the choice of the majority, garnishing close to 16 million votes (about 40%), and dominating 11 provinces. The other presidential candidates—Mar Roxas, who was endorsed and aided by the former ruling party’s political machinery; Grace Poe, who led the surveys just a couple of weeks before elections; and Jejomar Binay, who led in the surveys during the early part of the campaign period—at one point must have had this big question in their minds: why him?

Way from his nomination, when it took considerable public clamor to get his hesitant butt on the road to the presidency, up to the day of the elections, Duterte had pushed his already-intriguing image several notches, to the point of becoming a walking riot. He couldn't seem to stop uttering blunt, bizarre, out-of-the-blue public comments that, at times, made him sound like a rabid gunslinger, sometimes like an obnoxious chauvinist…and sometimes just downright insane. The business sector became concerned that he might get foreign investors all jittery. Even the media community found it increasingly hard to appreciate his often-tactless- remarks and in-your-face frankness. But he seemed unapologetic about all the stir brought by his scandalous talk. Some political analysts even got inclined to tag him as the “Philippine Donald Trump”.

On the other hand, the tough-talking mayor, no doubt, said some things during his campaign that resonated well with the general citizenry. Or there must be something about him that most Filipinos think they need in a leader.

A Call For Justice

Perhaps it was Duterte’s repeated vows to stop crime and corruption within his first six months in office that won him a lot of sentiments. That was new, and impressive to hear. People will, of course, buy that, especially after seeing how Noynoy Aquino and his so-called daang matuwid, in a span of six years, made no dent in the armor of the corruption menace, with the Pork Barrel Scam even happening right under his nose. Criminality may have even worsened, as atrocious massacres and scandalous exploits (many even by the police, military or public officer in-charge) seem to highlight P-Noy’s administration. With the other presidentiables not making any vows that are as audacious, who else will the people look to for order and justice?

Because there are too many crimes happening out there that go unpunished, the masses, of course, will go for someone who demonstrates a strong a enough character to go against criminals, one with enough passion to manifest the much- needed political will to stand as the catalyst for justice. This, understandably, is why even as Duterte articulated how he would be a “dictator” in the “battle against evil”, and employ draconian tactics like giving a “shoot-to-kill” order against members of crime syndicates or bringing back the death penalty (particularly preferring old-style public hanging), the people still favor him to lead. Many believe what this country needs is a punisher, an exactor of justice. And Duterte might just be the one.

Before Duterte became its mayor, Davao City was tagged the “Nicaragua of Asia”, infamous for crimes…rampant and brazen crimes committed in broad daylight and with utter impunity. Duterte, who is also trained as a lawyer, vowed to clean up Davao as mayor. That was 22 years ago. Today, Davao has the lowest crime rate in the country, and even tagged as the world’s 5th safest city by crowd- sourcing survey site Numbeo.com. This, supposedly, is attributed to Duterte’s efforts, not as the city’s father or manager, but as the judge, jury and executioner of all the scalawags who dared offend its honor during his watch.

He is actually known as “Duterte Harry” because of the methods he allegedly used to purge the city of evil-doers. International human rights groups condemn his alleged employment of “death squads” that supposedly targeted only petty thieves, street urchins and drug runners, instead of the “big fish” behind organized crime syndicates. It’s widely believed that Duterte sanctioned extrajudicial killings, using these roving packs of vigilantes called the DDS (Davao Death Squads). 1,000 people, including 132 children were summarily executed by these vigilantes, according to Human Rights Watch, but in spite of this the people of Davao loved him for it. Now, impenitent as ever, he promises to execute 100,000 criminals and throw them into Manila Bay once president.

Someone To Set Things Right?

The absence of justice, however, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems of this nation…problems many thought would be solved during the Aquino administration. The public, actually, is still reeling in frustration, after seeing how P-Noy’s daang matuwid turn out to be so profoundly crooked, with the bureaucrats therein not only immersed in appalling ineptitude, but seem as unscrupulous, or perhaps even more, than those of the past administrations. And at the close of the P-Noy presidency, a lot of Filipinos are still trying to figure out what part of it was supposed to be the epitome of good governance, as because much of their hopes simply evaporated with a chorus of unfulfilled promises. Who can blame them?

In the past several issues of this publication, it was repeatedly iterated that Noynoy Aquino’s term (2010-2016) would be a very crucial time for our nation, as a confluence of problems warranted immediate address if we were to become a competitive and stable nation moving into the 21st century. But it seems like another six years were wasted because of a leadership that chose instead to dilly dally and ignore the most significant issues about this country and its people. Subsequent corrupt presidencies before P-Noy’s term crippled the country for over a decade, putting the nation in such a malignant a disposition in terms of government that it put the Philippines on the brink of becoming a failed state. Many also thought Noynoy would be the one to finally set things straight and make it right, but instead of manifesting a better and corrected Philippines like he promised, his daang matuwid, more than anything, exemplified a horrific failure of governance, and perhaps the most lamentable disappointment in the history of our nation’s leadership.

An extensively corrupt government that rules with impunity remains to be the root of many this nation’s ills. Corruption in government is why, despite a spike in the GDP growth stat, our supposed “tiger Economy” is ‘exclusive’ and not ‘inclusive’ in its hikes, benefiting mostly the oligarch class and the capitalists instead of the majority of Filipinos, and therefore is really just a Paper Tiger Economy. It is also largely—why our public service is awfully deficient across the board, despite high taxes or even if the BIR achieves its collection targets; why our national competency level, be it in military, in technological advance, or in the super-industrialization race, seems eternally latched to the base ranks that imply gross ignorance and ineptitude; why opportunities right in front of us, for positive change and true progress, wantonly go to waste, almost all the time; why we, the Filipino people, ultimately, become the victims and slaves of our own government; and why the government can’t seem to resolve local conflict, whether with scattered pocket groups of communist rebels or with just a small band of Islamic separatists, even as many of the principles behind the struggles of such ideologies and ethnocentricities are already long passé with the dawning of the Information Age.

The Biggest Hurdle

It is crucial for us that Duterte, now the elected new leader of this beleaguered country of ours, targets the corrupt people in government first, more than drug lords or smugglers or petty thieves. And he should start particularly with plunderers.

The scandals on PDAF and the DAP should already be clear-cut proof of how public officials use lump sum disbursements schemes as a cover for institutionalized graft. It’s just odd how senators and congressmen simply dump lump sum funds to their NGO of choice. And it doesn’t matter if the NGO is bogus or not. It is gross negligence of public funds, plain and simple. Or perhaps not...for at their worst inexcusable forms, these mishandling of taxpayers' monies even point to deliberate and suspicious acts of malversation, which hints on something not quite considered a crime anymore in this country but actually common practice: plunder.

The very fact that plunder cases are piled up in the courts, and yet almost no one is convicted, says a lot already about the dysfunction in our justice system…and of the need for other, more effective methods of purging the government of corrupt officials. Six years of Noynoy Aquino’s daang matuwid yielded zero convictions among the biggest plunder cases. But generally, throughout recent history, if ever a ‘big fish’ gets convicted, we now know that pardon comes easy, like in the case of ex- President Joseph Estrada, who was even allowed to run for the presidency again, and now is the current mayor of Manila.

If Duterte truly means what he says about wanting to stop crime, he doesn’t really need to look hard. The government is the biggest, most vicious organized crime syndicate we’ve ever seen, as vividly illustrated by the Estrada administration’s “midnight cabinet” and illegal gambling protection pay-offs. This was likewise magnified by the dozens of corruption cases during Gloria Arroyo's and Noynoy Aquino's times. So we have to ask: will “The Punisher” now walk the talk?

The Promises

Duterte often emphasizes in his speeches that if he says something, he will do it at all costs. Unlike trapos (traditional politicians), Duterte supposedly tells it like it is. And what he says draw some clear distinctions between him and trapos.

Duterte would candidly curse at the sorry state of affairs in the country and lash at the corrupt system of government and oppressive policies which he describes as anti-Filipino, unlike most politicians who seem to be either blind or clueless to the humbuggery that's been going on. And with definitive boldness, he vows to usher in changes for the good of the Filipino people…changes that are crucial and long-overdue, and yet past presidents failed to effect.

Duterte made several impactful vows that were one hailed by the working class. He said he would put an end to “labor contractualization”, which had gone on for decades even as the practice is undoubtedly abusive to the Filipino laborer denying them security of tenure and making them vulnerable to capitalists’ exploitation. He said that instead of the usual economic agenda of attracting foreign investors fostered by practically all presidents before him, he would roll out national industrialization by building factories, to spur local manufacturing and to create new, as well as revive old, industries, particularly the Philippine steel industry. He also pledged to act primarily for the poor and strive to make food more affordable through policies designed to lower food prices. He said he would make minimum wage earners, and common citizens in general, prosper and have more cash by changing the existing income tax measures and social welfare policies that seem to favor the rich while oppressive to the downtrodden. He vowed to grant an income tax exemption to citizens earning P25,000 and less, and restructure labor policies so as to create rewarding jobs for Filipinos in their own country, curbing the need to work abroad. He wants to change the system of government to federalism, arguing that regions outside Metro Manila receive unfairly small budgets from the Internal Revenue Allotment, on top of the immense wastage happening regularly to the national revenue due to institutionalized corruption. And if Filipinos continue to be on the losing end of the Visiting Forces Agreement and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the U.S., he intends to push for the revocation of these unfair contracts.

Indeed Duterte has got a plethora of plans premised on views that would jolt any trapo from his comfort zone. The president-elect's rhetoric bears the tone of a populist or a socialist, sharing the sentiments of the masses so genuinely that it makes Joseph Estrada, with his “Erap Para Sa Mahirap” slogan, seem like a hypocritical and condescending elitist.

Supposedly, throughout Duterte’s long stint as a city mayor, he also made himself approachable to the common folk and governed the city without much garbo or extravagance to glorify either his office or his programs. People who know him say he is a "straight from the shoulder” kind of guy, and describe that he’d rather be “hands on” and dutiful than enjoy privilege or go power-tripping on a pedestal. Now he says he prefers a pick-up truck than a luxury car for his presidential coach, and would rather sell the 254-ft.-presidential yacht “Ang Pangulo” and give the proceeds to war veterans, doctors and hospital improvements. Unlike past trapo presidents who would just talk it, Duterte seems to be an honest-to-goodness "people’s man”.

What To Expect

Beyond the media hype, however, many surely wonder if Rodrigo Duterte truly has the makings of a great, or even just a good, president. So far, history has shown us that when it comes to presidents, a bad penny always turns up. But it’s

a coin-toss, really. If this new president of ours suddenly has nothing to show for his unrelenting verbal antics, then he’s really just your run of the mill panjandrum. And he could very well just be.

In several aspects, Duterte still bears the signature of trapos. For one, he is also a member of a political family, with his father, brother and uncle also mayors at one time in Cebu. And like many trapos, allegations linger around him on his or his family's involvement in illicit, organized-crime-like activites, such as smuggling, assassinations, wholesale acts of human rights abuse, and the amassing of ill-gotten wealth. Reckon up the probability of him being just another trapo with floating negative allegations—about his ties with the communist party; his authoritarian tendencies; and his supposed Antisocial Narcissistic Personality Disorder—and we’d be staring all of a sudden at a cruel, crude and self-adoring tyrant who’ll take this poor country to war in no time.

For now, a Duterte presidency could still mean the bets are up for this country. If our new president makes good on his promises, then that would mean he is no trapo, and therefore we shall see change for the better. It could be a good thing…but then again…since he announced that he would jet ski to Scarborough Shoal and hoist the Philippine flag there himself in the face of the world’s biggest military…maybe not.