I used to love being able to say that President Duterte’s followers, at least the ones that I deal with on social media, have been better than Liberal Party loyalists. Those from the latter group who I’ve had the good fortune of engaging with tend to be rabid and angry, and absolutely defensive to the point of blindness. They think when you say “Daang Matuwid peeps” you mean them all, even when you’re obviously pertaining specifically to those who served with the previous government. They take offense at anything you say at all against VP Leni Robredo even when, truth to tell, you have yet to see her doing anything substantial.
A friend told me once: the yellow supporters getting angry and trolling you, that’s a badge of honor.
I don’t know about that, but it sure felt like an achievement surviving President Duterte devotees.
The Presidential mistake, apology
Let it be said that probably more than anyone, I’ve made it an effort to think beyond my own comforts, and have considered it a personal challenge to gain a better understanding about where the President comes from when he speaks. I have never had an issue with the bad words, and have appreciated the kind of honest rhetoric he has brought to the table.
But then President Duterte made a mistake. Angry at being called the cousin of Hitler, he decides to claim the analogy and ended up not only calling himself the Philippines’ version of Hitler. Worse: he ended up likening the Jews killed by Hitler to the 3,000 drug addicts / criminals he wants to kill.
The video of what he said, and how he said it, is as clear as day. The context is embedded in the speech of 40 minutes. None of what he says throughout the speech changes the analogy he used. Spokesperson Ernesto Abella saying that it was but an “oblique deflection” was an utterly useless excuse for something that was inexcusable.
And President Duterte knew it, because he apologized some days after, at his next public appearance. This is the thing with the President: when he has made a mistake, the apology happens with ease and with clarity. “I said something wrong,” he said. “I apologize profoundly and deeply to the Jewish community.”
If you spend time actually watching the President’s speeches, you will find that it is in instances like this one, in the moments when he admits to his own humanity, that he is at his most sincere. Such a great thing really, given six years of no apologies from the previous president, no matter mishaps and mistakes.
The President’s followers
While President Duterte might be miles ahead of his predecessor, his followers, sadly, are far from being different from the uncompromising Liberal Party loyalists.
Fact: The President admitted to his mistake and issued an apology. His followers – not one of them – high profile and otherwise, have done the same to those they trolled and lambasted, those they declared as enemies of change.
Like many of the President’s supporters, Mocha Uson posted a social card on her page on October 2 with the photos of reporters Karen Lema and Manuel Mogato, calling them “The Real Culprits Behind the Fuss Over Pres. Duterte’s Hitler Comment,” and which asserts that: “Irresponsible Journalists Must Be Punished.” She captioned this social card: “Kaaway ng Pagbabago!”
Has she done a public apology to these two journalists? Nothing that has gotten mileage. Should she apologize? Of course!
Because when you are being followed by thousands, when what you say becomes the rallying call of so many of the President’s followers, when your credibility is built upon the kind of special access you have to government offices and officials, you also have the responsibility to the public – and to the government you speak for – when you make a mistake.
When the President himself admitted to this mistake, he effectively absolved these two reporters of any wrongdoing. In fact, both Lema and Mogato merely reported exactly what the President said, context included.
Yet not one apology from the President’s followers. These are the same followers who, in a span of three days, had already effectively questioned the credibility, called for the punishment of, and threatened the lives of these two journalists.
This is the thing: when we call out media on their biases and irresponsible practices, it only works when we ourselves try to do it better as private citizens. Otherwise, why are we any better?
The President’s liability
One sees now how both sides of this political spectrum are actually two sides of the same coin. And neither of those two sides are actually opposition, neither are critical of the state of affairs. They are merely critical of one another, of the personalities on the other side: the President and his men, Leni and de Lima and LP. Eaten up by defensiveness, each side is just a reflection of the other, whatever valid criticism is drowned in the trolling, the bad words, the suffix -tards.
I think there is more hope in President Duterte’s devotees, but Secretary Martin Andanar and all of the President’s men and women need to make a concerted effort to reign their public in. Because blind(ed) followers that are ready for the kill is not what makes for a changed government that stands for truth and honesty, humility and service.
The President himself has refused to be put on a pedestal; he questions blind loyalty. Yet his followers don’t seem to be listening.
Worse: they don’t realize that whatever they do in defense of the President reflects on the President himself. At this point in time, the bad press the President gets locally and internationally is as much borne of the media’s biases, as it is of the bad behavior of the President’s followers. And with no semblance of control among their ranks, none of this bodes well for this government.
Sometimes the best thing one can do is to rein one’s people in, especially now that they are turning into a liability.
Published in The Manila Times, October 6 2016.