Budol-Budol Governance (Part 2): The Conspiracy To Scam A Nation
The Hiligaynon language, also known as Ilonggo, is commonly spoken in the Philippines' central and southern Visayas region, and certain parts of Mindanao. Interestingly, the culture that spawned the language traditionally holds a notion that if you trick someone or outsmart someone in a game or an argument, even by using cleverly stretched semantics or upside down philosophy, you're somewhat a better person, or wiser, possessing a special knowledge that others can learn from. But not to be confused with the Ilocano stereotype, which is somewhat "boastfully clever", the Ilonggos are known for a more gentle, more charming kind of shrewdness. Instead of winning arguments by crude competitiveness of "smarts", this culture conquers contests of wisdom from the standpoint of agreeableness.
Budol-budol is a Hiligaynon term that literally means "to fool the gullible". The term is commonly associated with criminal activity, its perpetrators (often more than one individual) are called Budol Budol Gang, and are expert swindlers who use trickery and employ strategies that deceive and confuse their victims in order to carry out a theft.
Budol-budol is actually an art form, a skill to redirect attention to something else, while concealing an ulterior motive. Its practitioners are adept con artists. Many even believe that budol-budol also uses hypnotism to some degree. Victims of budol-budol gangs report having no memory of what happened or were so confused that they couldn't explain how they were robbed or "agreed" to get robbed. In the end, victims would say, "Na-budol-budol ako" (I got tricked), realizing they were robbed while they were in a state of confusion. There are cases recorded where the victims actually gave their money or valuables freely, without resistance, as if they were under some spell, similar to a Jedi mind trick. Some victims report they were somehow put to sleep with the use of some words, or made to sign checks while in a mental state not different from one who is drunk or drugged up.
Like any "con" (confidence) scheme, the most essential element of budol-budol is gaining the trust of the victim. Without the victim's trust, the ploy will most likely fail. To get the trust, however, the skilled con artists can come up with an infinite number of schemes, and quite often, it isn't just petty theft. Land titles, cars, and up to millions worth of cash have been lost to these hypnotic thieves. Whatever the design of the scam, it follows the basic two-step: first, confuse, deceive or hypnotize and then, rob or exploit.
A victim could meet a charmer and engage in a flirtatious chat, while a sneaky conspirator picks the victim's pocket. Another might be distracted or confused by what seems to be a fight or a mishap, while a handbag or the object target is swiped by a conniving gang member. There are reports that detail how text messages from several sources are sent to a victim describing a current promo and how they have won millions of pesos from that promo, after which a call will follow, explaining to the victim how to join the promo, and where to deposit money to join the raffle included in the promo. And there are many other types of such mind-affecting scams that fool even the intelligent and discerning.
Born in Maasin, Southern Leyte, Rodrigo Duterte was probably immersed in such a culture. And in case his penchant for deception is not a result of environmental conditioning, it might be intrinsic in his character, as he has become a remarkably adept trickster today. From the campaign trail up to his first two years as the president of this nation, it's evident, millions have fallen under his spell. After his deceptive tactics were quite efficiently used in his politicking for the elections (see Budol-Budol Governance Part 1: Hocus-Pocus Politics), Duterte's magic bag does not seem like it's going to run out of tricks any time soon.
During the first couple of months of Rodrigo Duterte's presidency, many (mostly the un-hypnotized) might still remember how he habitually made this almost theatrical act of bowing in front a large audience. This somatic display would, at first, seem like he is submitting himself to the Filipino people, with loving devotion to the service of the public. But it's a trick.
While making it appear that he is at the public's disposal, the bowing, in reality, is a gesture which connotes worship. As the population's tendency is to emulate him as the new leader of the nation, they then--whether knowingly or unknowingly--are brainwashed to be his devotees. And it matters little now if the effect of the gesture is inadvertent. What is undeniable is that many Filipinos have suddenly engaged themselves in the doctrines and practices of Duterte-worship. There is this sudden emergence of a Duterte cult, moved by pure fanaticism and unconditional support regardless of what is right or wrong. The effect, predictably, would be like installing Charles Manson, Jim Jones or, more precisely, Hitler in the Philippine leadership.
A horde of blind followers sprouted in the millions. Calling themselves DDS (Duterte Die-hard Supporters), it doesn't bother them one bit that DDS also stands for the Davao Death Squad referred to by human rights investigators as an assassination team that's responsible for scores of extra-judicial killings of civilians during the time when Rodrigo Duterte was still mayor of Davao City. They either shrug the 'death squad' matter off as a myth or fully support the move to cleanse society by killing those deemed as scum or useless vagrants. Any which way, they support Duterte. And they will support him until the end, even if he causes them to harbor hatred for those who don't believe him, rally for the destruction of the Constitution, commit genocide and blaspheme against God.
As Duterte's allies and supporters advance the idea that blind loyalty to the president is far more important than critical thinking, a vastly misinformed public then becomes a sitting duck to a plethora of scams and exploitation schemes. Worse, those who actually see through the deception and call out the kleptocracy are lynched like heretics. The resultant conflict, leading to more chaos, then becomes an additional smoke screen that further conceals the crimes of the master trickster. And if ever the mayhem besetting the country isn't caused by the deliberate acts of public officials, it does certainly seem like they are enjoying it.
The Solution Illusion
When Duterte won the presidency, he was so popular that most of those who did not vote for him were willing to give his platform of "change" a chance, and lend him the support and cooperation. Why wouldn't they?
He projected himself to be a populist and truly cared for the common Filipinos, with stories that paint him to be almost a pro-poor, pro-masses communist who is in touch with the pulse of the people and can relate to their problems on a personal level. He claimed to have the political will to go after corruption "in the high and low echelons of government", and knew how to deal with criminality in the streets, particularly with the menace of narco-politics and the illegal drug trade. He made it seem like he was going to be the one who would restore the people's trust in our government institutions, the enforcer of our democracy, the bringer of justice, and the embodiment of "change" in public service that would make lives "better, safer and healthier" for Filipinos. But, perhaps to avoid alarm during the early goings of his administration, he did warn that many might not approve of his methods, justifying that his ways may be unorthodox but swift in producing results. With this, he demanded the trust and cooperation from all government institutions as well as all the Filipino people. And for a while, he had it, perhaps unequivocally, after he echoed the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The test of government is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide for those who have little.”
Shortly after he stepped into the president's shoes, however, things started to transform, not towards the realization of these impressions, but a departure from them.
Love that hurts so much
Instead of being a true populist reformer, Duterte unraveled as an old school strongman, a true blue fascist, bringing about the shadowy nostalgia of a dictatorship by a corrupt oligarchy which still has a large part of the population traumatized by its long and terrible rule. His bloody drug war, after two years, has mainly targeted the poor, accumulating a death toll of more than 20,000 small-time drug suspects, killed in questionable police operations that seem to ignore the real movers, the billionaire drug lords, or the "big fish". Thousands of families of the slain are crying for justice, contesting the claims of police, but their cases rarely progress in court. The innocent who are accidentally shot, caught in the supposed crossfires of drug war shoot-outs are casually deemed as collateral damage, treated without importance, and if killed, are even slandered in their graves. Mass arrests are made indiscriminately, the suspects crammed in jail cells like sardines in a can, and made to languish indefinitely, with court hearings deferred, and without any pronouncements of guilt nor verdict nor sentence.
Human rights advocates who decry the senselessness of Duterte's "War On Drugs" are scoffed at and targeted as enemies of the state. Congress practically made a move to neutralize the efforts of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in probing the escalation of police-instigated violence against the poor, by deciding to limit its budget to a mere one thousand pesos a year. Senators compelled to look into the intensifying bloody crackdowns on poor drug peddlers concluded there are "zero extrajudicial killings" happening and that all police encounters against drug suspects are results of legitimate operations. Priests and church members criticizing the unmitigated violence against society's marginalized sector are demonized, harassed or sometimes killed.
People who first supported Duterte in his campaign against illegal drugs were banking on the estimate that it'll all be over in three to six months, and reasoned that the harshness was necessary for the solution to swiftly take effect. But with that timeframe long-expired, and gargantuan cargoes of illegal drugs still coming into the country undetected by the Bureau of Customs, many have come to question the strategy employed in this war...particularly after the president himself said he might have underestimated the problem and it really might take more than six years to solve. In another public speech, Duterte said he does not care if has to kill 3 million more criminals and drug suspects just so he could rid society of bad elements. As more are killed in the vicious dragnet, supposedly because of Duterte's love for his countrymen, he then tries to assure the public that his way is the right way because--while he cares little about human rights, he cares a lot about human life. Millions of Duterte supporters suddenly started uttering: "Their human rights end where our human rights begin", in an effort to justify the mass murders. And instead of love for countrymen, it now seems more of a hatred...hatred for the marginalized and hatred for the addicted victims of an invisible, untouchable, invulnerable drug cartel that is so powerful, it almost has the backing of the presidency.
The Divisive Uniter
Philippine society is so polarized today because of Duterte. His deceptive words have fragmented Filipinos so deeply that people could feel their very souls breaking up. But, of course, in order to garner the public's confidence early on, it didn't start that way.
Duterte, initially, sounded like a unifying messiah. He said he was ready to embrace the communist sentiments, listen to the qualms of Muslim extremists, and urge the rightist elements to be more considerate and sensitive to the voice of diversity--for the sake of peace. He claimed to know the situation of neglect suffered by the marginalized, talked about the importance of inclusive growth, and how going after corruption in government could give the poor a level-playing field and roll forth social justice throughout the nation. He praised Aquino and was thankful for his contribution to Philippine society, and said it was time to put politics aside and concentrate in nation-building and progressive change as a united people. And, perhaps mesmerized by such enticing thoughts of peace and cooperation, all agreed and believed Duterte's vision.
It didn't take long, however, before Duterte himself smashed that illusion of peace and unity, as his fascist, bigoted, exclusive, and hateful government soon became manifest and started rearing its ugly head with the evocations of persecution. Sixty five days after his inauguration as the new president, he declared that the nation was in a "state of lawless violence" after a mysterious bomb exploded in a market of what was touted as one of the safest cities in the world, his city, Davao. The president's intel suggested that the bombing was done by a Muslim extremist group call the Maute Gang, a band of young militants who supposedly was connected to the international terror group ISIS. The gang, according to intel, was planning to raise the ISIS flag in Marawi, in deviance of the Philippine government, and in hopes of recruiting more terrorists. While the War on Drugs was still intensifying, Duterte declares a full-scale military offensive known now as the War in Marawi, which included the strafing and bombing of supposed enemy hideouts, destroying practically the entire city, and killing dozens of civilians as collateral damage. On May 23, 2017, after the government had proclaimed victory over the rebels and thus has liberated Marawi, Duterte declared martial law, suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, not just in Marawi but in the whole of Mindanao. The Martial Law in Mindanao, having a limited time period, has already been extended twice, with incidents of mysterious bombings in the area, inuring and killing civilians, happening during times when the granted term for the martial rule was about to expire...as if terrorists want the Martial Law to continue indefinitely.
The peace effort with the communist insurgents was nothing but a bunch of hypocritical tokens and handshakes for photo ops that went sour and collapsed through hollow words in no time. Duterte seems to be evading the real paths to peace, contradicting his own promises and almost sabotaging all reconciliatory points--until it worsened to just an exchange of insults and mudslinging with the communist party head Jose Maria Sison, which up to this point is its current status.
The hand of cooperation that Duterte extended to the members of the opposition was instantly drenched with his presidential spittle as he frequently made innuendos of blame and hate in public speeches, vilifying them as "dilawan" (yellow), the color associated to the Aquinos and the 1986 EDSA Revolution. Duterte's supporters everywhere then started going after every critic of the administration, lashing a whirlwind of insults against any individual who presents a different view from that of the president, like rabid fanatics ready to kill for their idol.
Every critic in social media becomes subject to a barrage of abusive words by Duterte-worshipping trolls. Even the church and members of the clergy are not spared. Called "puti-an" (the whites) by the belligerent army of DDS, priests are increasingly being maligned, particularly since Duterte made his infamous statement, "God is stupid". Many Catholics had to choose whether to protest in defense of God's honor, or dismiss the blasphemous statement as a mere joke, not to be taken seriously. Many, however, still chose loyalty to Duterte.
As the polarity in our society grows ever more intense--brothers argue to death; officemates become estranged; neighbors become enemies; Facebook friends unfriend each other; children rebel against their parents...as if a multitude of demons suddenly possessed half of the Philippine population and caused people to change and become something far different from what they were before. It's almost like everything is cracking at all points, from political views, religious convictions, moral alignments, and even intellectual aptitudes. Never, perhaps, has this country been so deeply fragmented in so many angles. There is, however, a force that is uniting under the Duterte administration...one becoming more and more evident as the days unfold.
The United Re-Empowered Corrupt
"Change" was Duterte's battle cry during the campaign for the presidency, implying a different kind of governance than the corrupt regimes of the past. Anti-corruption, as a matter of fact, was his most powerful rallying point, convincing many who were already disillusioned with government misdeeds to vote for him. But two and half years later, the cat's out of the bag. The notion of anti-corruption being forwarded all this time, as it turns out, is a shameless farce.
Duterte, little by little, unraveled the faces of his true allies: personalities who were deemed corrupt by the Filipino people. He is actually paving the way for Ferdinand "BongBong" Marcos Jr. to be president, hinting that he would resign if Marcos will be the one to replace him. He's actually made insinuations about wanting Marcos to win in a bid for the Vice Presidential post via an official protest claiming that current VP Leni Robredo's camp cheated Marcos in the elections and by that premise renders her illegitimate. Meanwhile, Duterte has personally been busy lambasting Robredo, telling the public that he does not believe she is capable of handling the role of a president, in the event he resigns and she takes over. And whether it was said in jest or not, Duterte, at one point, even claimed that Imee Marcos, BongBong's sister, funded his presidential campaign. It is no wonder then why one of Duterte's first order of business was to allow the burial of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes Cemetery (Libingan ng mga Bayani), a wish denied from the Marcos family by the Philippine government for decades.
The Marcoses are now back in the political limelight, together with a cadre of history revisionists and online spin doctors dedicated to whitewash the dictator's misdeeds and shield this infamous family from current controversy. Former presidents implicated in plunderous scams have returned to positions of power and even become "untouchable", like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo now Speaker of the House, and Joseph Estrada, who is the current Mayor of Manila. The "Pork Barrel Queen", Janet Napoles, currently enjoys a partial witness protection status, despite the fact that she was the scam's main instigator. The three senators, Juan Ponce-Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, are pretty much on their way to full exoneration, their corruption cases expedited to their favor in the smoothest or most subtle way possible. And the Pork Barrel, deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, still exists today, only by another name (Infrastructure Fund) thereby, maintaining the congress' old corrupt function as a brazen bribery ring.
Nothing, however, gives away Duterte's secret love for corruption like the arrogance and impunity of his highly questionable cabinet.
They have become "sacred cows", defying the constitution, bending the laws at their whim, and without effort are able to invoke legal shields that reject any probe about their suspected mischiefs. Like gigantic monsters, they simply rear their heads in defiance of truth and scrutiny, and even viciously pounce on those who try to keep them in check.
With what is perhaps one of the most ridiculous Presidential Proclamation ever, Duterte and his cohorts instantly turned public attention from a Senate probe on Solicitor General Jose Calida, to the controversial voiding of Senator Sonny Trillanes' amnesty and thereby justifying a possible arrest--while Trillanes was on the Senate floor about to reveal Calida's anomalous multimillion-peso contracts with government. There's a general disinterest by the administration in probing contracts channelled to the kin of Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go, even as this amounts to more than Php 2 billion and casually shrugged off by Go like it wasn't anyone's business to question. The Department of Public Works and Highways, in line with Duterte's "Build, Build, Build" initiative is beleaguered by rampant corruption and either abandoned or ghost projects that comprise a huge part of a bill that would cost the country an astronomical PhP 8.4 trillion, and yet there is no crackdown on the shady infrastructure works, as if the government is just letting it all happen. The Commission On Audit (COA) has flagged numerous projects by the Duterte administration as anomalous, stating that Php 565 billion are already lost in erroneous billings, wastage and corruption scams, but instead of a commendation, COA earns the ire of the president who basically told the agency to back off from its investigations while discrediting the independent agency in his public speeches.
No, the Duterte administration does not look like it is out to stop corruption. And it's not because it is impossible to curb, or too difficult to address. It seems more like corruption is its main advocacy, as all high-level corruption is even protected, kept secret under a vast conspiracy, and wholly encouraged. The public simply got conned to thinking otherwise.
For all its self-conjured complexities and ridiculously placed conflicts, the Duterte administration, it seems, is nothing but Budol-Budol Governance.