In January this year, Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, faced with queries about the contradiction between what was promised by Rodrigo Duterte during the campaign and what he has ended up doing as President, thoughtlessly made this distinction: “Iba ‘yung candidate Duterte sa President Duterte. <…> May napapangako ka na kapag nakita mo ‘yung datos, hindi pala pwede.”
It was a most convenient excuse for the unfulfilled promises of the President – in this instance about the SSS pension increase that he had yet to sign at that point.
It also inadvertently highlighted the way in which this government has operated the past year: one the one hand as if they are merely speaking to their supporters, on the other as if they are still wanting to win an election. Either way this makes for the past year’s tragedy: a government taking discourse down to the level of campaign rhetoric, where it is always about black and white, pro- or anti-, friends and enemies.
A political crisis, regardless.
Strong man Duterte
Candidate Duterte had a script that was about his strong stance against crime and corruption, drugs and abuse. He had Davao as living proof: he had rid it of crime and drugs, people could walk safely anywhere in the city, at any time of day. People had become disciplined there: they followed rules, they took responsibility for their actions. They knew of justice, and they knew that it would turn against them if they refused to follow the rules of the city.
There were killings, sure. There was the Davao Death Squad (DDS), yes. But all those killed are criminals anyway. Their deaths make the city safer. Never mind rights. Propaganda would tell us that there were some families who were thankful that their kin had been summarily executed, difficult as it was to care for them. Reports would reveal that the people of Davao had already taken to this extraordinary state of affairs, normalizing the killings. It’s the price that must be paid to achieve peace and order.
Media and columnists, academics and political analysts looked upon this candidate with disdain: it was difficult to get over the human rights reports about Davao, and the violence in his rhetoric, the anger, the curse words, the misogyny did little to comfort us otherwise. But Candidate Duterte didn’t care, fueled as he was by the support he was getting, with crowds in his sorties growing by the day, a social media team growing his online following, celebrities chiming in about the country’s need for a strong man President to instill discipline, and effect change.
This is still the state of affairs, a year into this Presidency.
To counterbalance the strong man rhetoric of the campaign, Duterte’s team worked into his image the notion that he is the quintessential Pinoy father. He who will do everything to protect his children. He will always look out for their needs. He thinks of their future and knows that it is drugs that will be the death of the next generation. He will go to war for his children. He will shrug his shoulders at the rise in killings and label it as normal: gano’n talaga, wala tayong magagawa.
Tatay Digong is also just a “regular” person – an ordinary Filipino. He is most comfortable speaking in the vernacular. He eats with his hands. He walks with a swagger. He gets headaches from exhaustion and needs to rest. He can joke about anything and everything at all. He cries in front of the coffins of dead soldiers.
He carries a discomfort about him when he needs to read a speech in front of an audience. There is discomposure when he must adhere to rules of propriety befitting the position he holds. He thinks making a joke in the middle of an otherwise serious occasion is a way to lighten the mood – never mind decorum.
He has normalized curse words in Presidential rhetoric. Apparently our fathers throw around a string of p***nginas when they are frustrated or angry, as they do employ sarcasm and hyperbole to make a point.
Tatay Digong is honest about his mistakes, and shrugs them off: I have learned my lesson. Recently he admits: I was corrupt in the past, and the money I stole has already been spent. It’s all water under the bridge, and now I am strongly against corruption.
He is just like Juan dela Cruz. He is just like your father. Strict and protective, funny and lighthearted.
Except that of course he is President. And Tatay Digong’s refusal to be President is part of the crisis of the past year, too.
Our problem is that it doesn’t feel like we have a President – and this is not even about the recent spate of absences. The truth is Duterte has yet to evolve from being the mayor of Davao, to becoming leader of the whole country.
This is not about changing rhetoric, as it is about allowing that rhetoric to mature and evolve, given what Diokno says about data that the President now has access to. This isn’t about ceasing to be strong man or father figure – it’s about allowing for both those images to be changed by the fact that he is now President: the one who is in control, the one whose pro-people vision shouldn’t get lost in the quagmire of politicking, the one who can change promises for the greater good, the one who is concerned for all Filipinos – not just his supporters.
This is not what President Duterte has become. Throughout the year, he has fallen back on being candidate Duterte: allowing his men to dictate policies that are utterly anti-people, unable to speak confidently about the government’s vision for the whole of nation, always only redirecting all discussions to the war on drugs (and now on terror), seemingly ceding control to his “chosen” and “trusted” men never mind the backlash, and basking in his supporters’ campaign to portray him as the savior of nation we all need.
A year in, it is clear that Duterte is no savior.
It feels like he has yet to even be President. ***
Published in The Manila Times, July 2 2017.