Budol-Budol Governance (Part 1): Hocus Pocus Politics
Rodrigo Duterte is probably the most misconstrued president in the history of this country. Besides the unnecessary vulgarity, overly dramatic gestures and unfair slurs that usually come as part of his speeches and public addresses, there is, almost always, an excruciating ambiguity in whatever it is he is trying to convey. And in many cases, what he says and what his office does turn out to be different, even opposite, things.
Controversy, of course, will be the inevitable result of such a manner of communication by the president, as we have seen quite repeatedly in the past two years under the Duterte administration. Yet, a seemingly overzealous wall of Duterte defenders, comprised by his official spokespersons, political allies, and his army of online trolls, are quick to fault a confused public forced to admit that the inadequacy is on their part. We didn't hear it right or see it right. We misinterpreted or didn't take it in the right context. We are too sensitive or too unforgiving. We didn't see the speech in its entirety, or what we read was fake news. We got it all wrong.
It's almost poetic how spokespersons for the president are themselves seen fumbling in their interpretations of what the president says, and often end up in a foot-in-mouth situation on national TV. Or when Duterte's online army blasts out a chorus of denials, in defense of some scandalous remark by the president, only to be proven wrong the very next day, upon the issuance of an official statement by Malacanang admitting to the very thing the online trolls were denying. Such karmic occurrences not only disprove the Duterte government's claim that the confusion is maliciously caused by members of the opposition in their hope to bring anarchy. They also show that the root of the miscommunication between the president and the public is actually from the conveyor of the message, rather than the receiver.
Why Duterte's supporters couldn't see the gaping flaws in the president's communication, even when they themselves are lost in translation--caught between the ambiguity, the twisted facts and bigoted stance--is something that escapes logic. Their immovable bias is so inexplicable and yet so flagrant, it can already be likened to drug-induced dementia, or the miraculous denial of pain by people under hypnosis. And while this is a touching display of blind loyalty, it is loyalty to one man and not to any principle or set of values. So should that man change his principles, let's say from good to bad, these followers will change so too...blindly without questioning.
If Duterte's "bad words" were only limited to occasional cussing or distasteful jokes that in the end relay a good message, a moral lesson, or an insight for us to learn good values, then perhaps it wouldn't even be an issue. Sadly, this isn't the case. As we have seen, Duterte's pronouncements aren't merely offensive, controversial or eyebrow-raising, but have caused confusion and hatred among citizens, so much that people are ostracized, lynched, and killed. Since he assumed the presidency, his words have become impishly deceptive, divisive, and deadly.
The Philippine citizenry is caught amidst the destructive words of a leader and his die-hard supporters who have concertedly thrown accountability out the window. Too many unfortunate things have gone down as a result of what Duterte had said, but still his supporters come out to defend, repeatedly telling the public: Don't take him so seriously. Don't take what he said literally. He doesn't really mean what he says. What he meant was the opposite. Don't listen to him. You must read between the lines.
Well, maybe the hapless public ought to just take their advice.
Many who find Duterte's manner of speech revolting tend to focus on how such a foul-mouthed man could possibly be our president today. But perhaps the key to understanding his ways is to look, just some years back, and analyze how he was able win the elections in the first place, focusing particularly on what he said. Only this time, we digest his messages in the way his spokespersons have repeatedly advised. Let us not take his word for it, but rather "read between the lines", in the hope of dispelling any illusion that might be guarding the Duterte enigma. For as we shall discover, some powerful illusions are indeed at work here, captivating many Filipinos in the darkness of untruths.
The First Illusion is called Duterte The Savior.
Way before the 2016 elections, Rodrigo Duterte had already been going around saying how he thought the Philippines' system of governance is highly flawed, and that if only he had the means, he might just make the supreme sacrifice for the country and run for president, for a chance to fix it all.
Between the lines: Yes, there are flaws in the Philippines' system of governance, like patronage politics, political dynasties, the absence of freedom of information, the impunity of erring government officials, and persistent warlordism in the provinces outside Metro Manila, to enumerate just some. But these flaws are either supported or willfully taken advantage of by Duterte. Clearly, he infringed on the constitutional measure against political dynasties, as his daughter and son held the Mayor and Vice Mayor posts of Davao City at one time, after he himself governed as Mayor for 22 years. Duterte's long rule in Davao was facilitated by fear which allowed him dominion over political opponents and absolute control of its denizens...as a warlord. Davao was touted one of the safest cities in the world, but not without the haunting trail of more than a thousand cases of unsolved extra-judicial killings of petty criminals and drug suspects, an appalling reality which gave rise to talks about the infamous Davao Death Squad.
+++To dispel this illusion, one simply needs to ask the inner self: "How can Duterte save our nation and fix the system's flaws now when he didn't do anything to fix it then and, in fact, has even become a vivid embodiment of the flaws that need to be fixed?"
The Second Illusion is called, Duterte The Nemesis of Corrupt Trapos.
After presenting himself as a presidential option for the people, Duterte made a sensational announcement: "I will not run for president". He added this with, "I have no ambition to be president of this country."
Between the lines: This was classic reverse psychology. It made people believe that he is not ambitious nor power-hungry, unlike those who aspire to be president for power and self-enrichment. "I have no ambition to be president of this country", are actually magic words that made people forget how he has held on to power for the longest time, exhausting his 3-term limit as mayor in Davao, after which he made an ambitious jump to congress, serving as representative of the 1st District of Davao City under the 11th Congress, after which he became mayor of Davao again, while also grooming his children to assume posts of power.
Like magic, he was suddenly an innocent politician with no ambition for power, but only love and devotion for his country. So in the event he is forced to run for president, the spin would be: Abracadabra! Here now is the incidental hope of the Philippines! An accidental president!
This illusion actually removed a lot of presidential aspirant Jejomar Binay's chances to win in the 2016 elections, as it made obvious how Binay was desperately gunning for the presidential seat in order to have leverage in negotiating several graft charges he and his family were facing.
The image of another presidential aspirant, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, may have also been adversely affected by Duterte's display of hesitancy to run for president. It was going to be Defensor-Santiago's second try for the presidency, while also having been a senator from 2004 until 2016. Defensor-Santiago actually offered Duterte to run as her Vice President, which Duterte quickly declined, only to face her as a rival in the presidential race months later.
In hindsight, it could be said that Duterte's first step towards Malacanang was a step backward. The stage-act worked like a charm. And the more he seemed to reject the chance to be president, the more people rushed to his support. He exhausted this illusion until the last minute he could play it. When he finally announced his candidacy for president, the impression that he was not another corrupt traditional politician was already cemented in the minds of numerous voters.
+++To dispel this illusion, one must recite this incantation three times: "Duterte is a traditional politician. He is a fascist. And like all fascists, he is addicted to power. He tends to be a dictator. And like all dictators, his ambition is to be all-powerful."
The Third Illusion is called Duterte The Defender of the Constitution.
When asked why he suddenly changed his mind and decided to run for the presidency after rejecting the idea many times, Duterte replied that he was compelled to, as he will never accept "an American president", referring to Grace Poe's candidacy being permitted by the Senate tribunal, despite her being a foundling. Duterte asserted that the pre-requisite for a president to be a natural-born citizen must be "exacting" in its qualifications because "the presidency is sacred". He added that the decision of the tribunal favoring Grace Poe "cheapens the constitution" which he means to protect.
Between the lines: After causing a couple of presidential candidates to look bad by a simple drama that made him seem uninterested in the presidency, Duterte destroyed the legitimacy of yet another candidate in a sudden swing to the opposite direction, when he changed his mind and finally decided to run. In the same single stroke, he was also able to rally anti-American sentiments harbored by the masses by calling Grace Poe an American. Meanwhile, another image of him came to form, one which portrays him as staunch defender of the constitution...the same constitution he wantonly infringes on with his gross disregard for human rights...and the same constitution he means to scrap in his mission of Federalization.
Of course, we all know now just how "sacred" Duterte thinks the presidency is, as he constantly verbalizes the excellency of the office with the foulest mouth ever in the history of public service in this country.
+++To dispel this illusion, one needs to internalize these words at sunrise, preferably before reading the headlines of the morning news: "Duterte cannot be the defender of our nation, while he is in bed with the Chinese invaders. He cannot be the champion of our democracy, while he shuns our human rights. He cannot uphold the Constitution, while planning to nullify it."
The Fourth Illusion is called Duterte The Visionary.
This spell is so powerful, it crushed Mar Roxas' chances to win the 2016 presidential race (despite having the political machinery and resources of the incumbent party at his disposal) with just the utterance of one word from Duterte: "Change".
Between the lines: Deciding to run for the presidency, quite dramatically, and at the 11th hour, Duterte conjured up an instant campaign hinged on a simple, vague and overused platform: the promise of change.
With something as simple as "change", he got the votes of a considerable portion of the electorate that have become disillusioned and dismayed by the Aquino administration's assertions of the hypocritical "daang matuwid" and the useless "good governance" in the midst of such exasperating controversies as the Pork Barrel Scam, the DAP, the Mamasapano Cover-up, and the Yolanda Aid and Rehabilitation scams. Roxas, whose campaign was to "continue" the disappointing programs, obviously lost all his edge to Duterte's single magic word, which meant not to continue, but "change".
Without mentioning the names or works of leading writers and social philosophers who've conducted extensive research on the mind-boggling forces causing the paradigm shifts now besetting the world and the social transformations most needed for humans to adapt to these changes--here emerges Rodrigo Duterte, a traditional politician, and great fan of the obsolete ideologies of Ferdinand Marcos as well as Adolf Hitler, talking about "change". There are no indications that the "change" Duterte means is the same referred to by techno-economic futurist Alvin Toffler, or Third Industrial Revolution socio-economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin, or Peter Eigen and his propositions for transparency in governance...not even Al Gore and his environmental advocacies hinged on social transformation. Just plain, undefined, unintelligent "change". Duterte simply said that he won't go through the presidency without anything happening. He said something must happen or he doesn't want the presidency at all.
What if it is a "change" for the worse?
+++To dispel this illusion, one only has to bear this in mind: "Meaningful, positive change in society can only come from--the realization that we must let go of obsolete and corrupt systems that hoard information, power and resources; the understanding that these old ways are destructive and unsustainable; and the willpower to replace old frameworks with systems that promote the opposite, which is the sharing and even the democratizing of information, power and resources."
The Fifth Illusion is called Duterte The Man With The Masterplan for Philippine Progress.
Duterte succeeded in upstaging his rivals in the 2016 presidential elections. By just using a few basic tricks, he made their credentials, and whatever campaign slogans they had, disappear into a magic hat, from which he then pulled out a rabbit...a cute and funny act that allowed him to sway the affections of the less critical masses, from the other candidates to him, instantly gaining him a fighting chance to actually win.
As surveys started to point to a possible neck-and-neck race, Duterte's campaign needed to gain the more intelligent votes if he were to have that crucial edge. But the more discerning of citizens needed something more than just the unintelligible "change" that has so fascinated the ignorant masses. Pressured by the thinking class to present a concise platform of his government, or even just a draft of it, Duterte's campaign spinners came up with another set of ingenious, almost magical, words: "Change is coming". Soon after, Duterte supporters feverishly uttered the words until it became the popular mantra, drowning all the slogans of other presidential candidates.
Between the lines: As empty and amorphous as it sounds, "Change is coming" drew in more undecided voters to Duterte's side, with its suspenseful, exciting, trendy, and perhaps messianic tone, cleverly augmenting what was priorly just something new in the earlier "change". It also may have beguiled a significant percentage of the young, twenty-something voters to join the Duterte bandwagon, invigorating Duterte's campaign with some kind of second wind at the perfect moment during the final stretch of his campaign.
"Change is coming" was the perfect way to say, "I don't have a clue yet on how to bring about the change and progress I am promising, but I'm working on it" without the campaign appearing like a audacious scam. After ecstatically declaring "Change!", the plan for change was something that was still "to follow", or for presentation later on, probably because the idea was in really devoid of any definition. So "Change is coming" served as an efficient camouflage for a hollow crusade, providing false hope instead of anxiety, clueless elation instead disappointment, and misled pride instead of embarrassment. At the same time, it bought the Duterte campaign the time it needed to conjure up an assemblage of supposed convictions "on the fly" and package these in the form of promises born from thin air.
To entice the progressive groups, Duterte promised equality through decentralization under a federalism, an idea he'd been floating for some years with a group of Mindanao Council Leaders, although he wasn't quite clear what his concept of a Federal Philippine Government is or how he plans to execute the shift. He promised "a comfortable country" for everyone, where any Filipino could "go out at night" and wouldn't have to worry about their children. He said he'd push for the passing of the Freedom of Information Act which would "open all the books" and cause government to be "transparent with everything. And if his efforts to build a better Philippines were blocked by a corrupt Congress, he said he would "declare a revolutionary government" and abolish Congress.
To get the nod of patriots and nationalists, Duterte vowed he'd ride a "jetski" to the Spratly Islands and erect a Philippine flag there himself; and that he would assert the Hague ruling which upheld the Philippine's claim to several shoals and reefs where China had built artificial islands on. To seem like a populist, he promised teachers a wage hike, and minimum wage earners an easing on taxes and assurance of food on their table by keeping commodities affordable. He appealed to the sentiments of laborers, claiming he was in agreement with their pleas for security of tenure, and thereby promised to end crooked capitalist practices, like contractualization.
He said he would stop crime and corruption, smuggling and narco-politics within his first six months as president, and that he would accomplish this even if he had to kill 100,000 criminals. He also said he will solve the traffic problem in just six months, and build a new railway system along the Pasig river.
But he also mentioned that he will start the "change" with him, promising he'd stop cursing and, from then on, behave accordingly, out of respect for country's highest office. And for the sake of unity he promised to attain lasting peace with the communist rebels, and also put an end to political bickering and finger-pointing by working in cooperation with the opposition in creating solutions to our country's problems, towards positive changes and progress.
In short, Duterte said everything voters wanted to hear, creating some semblance of a platform by basically just "winging it" as he saw which sector of society he could still draw votes from. And it worked. Come election day, Duterte came up on top, with about 16 million Filipinos spellbound by his magic, believing his every word, almost worshipping him even...as a demented sort of god.
+++To dispel this illusion, all one has to do is to look around with "real eyes" and be honest, even just to one's self, and see the crass in the presidency...the worsening traffic conditions...the conflicts and clashes happening today...the unbridled, unsolved killings...the political rift between pro- and anti-Duterte...the crime and corruption...the thousands killed in the name of the war on drugs while the real drug lords are absolved....the conditions of teachers and laborers...the struggles of consumers amid more taxes and runaway inflation...the domination by China...the communist insurgency...the Muslim separatist movements..the Martial Law in Mindanao...the numerous abuses by the police against citizens...the culture of assassination and impunity...the concentration of power towards a one-man rule...persistent corruption...the confusion of information...the helplessness of the populace under a brutal dictator hell-bent on consolidating his power, destroying the constitution and undermining our democratic institutions.
If you don't realize these yet, then you are still under the spell of a con artist, a fraud, a master trickster, and lord of deception who rules in the blatant sham of Budol-Budol Governance.