Thursday, May 5, 2016

Never Again

I was looking through the almost 400 posts I have written for this blog and I was struck by the sudden realization that a few of them are still strikingly relevant today especially in the context of the Filipino electorate going to the polls in just a couple of days from now in what is probably the most critical local and national election in this country's recent history.

In November of 2013, I published a piece on Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who was at that time just returning home after leading an aid mission from his city to the hell that was Tacloban City in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda(view post). To my chagrin, many readers who skimmed through it thought it was an unreserved paean to the man who three years later could become, if most recent national opinion surveys can be believed, the next president of the Philippines. Closer reading of that post will clearly reveal that - that is certainly NOT the case.

Rodrigo Duterte in 2013 and today remains a truly dangerous man.

I will not detail here his already much touted achievements as the longtime mayor of one of the most progressive cities in this country. Like many Filipinos, I live in Mindanao and have been a frequent visitor to Davao and one cannot deny the positive benefits of Duterte's ironfisted rule.

Yet it is also obvious that city has become so indelibly stamped with the larger than life persona and mythic character of the man himself that many residents there and even most outsiders can no longer conceive and imagine of a Davao without Rodrigo Duterte or at least any other Duterte at its helm.  The prevailing fear is that the absence of his style of firm, paternalistic yet unforgiving leadership would surely be chaos, anarchy and even the gradual destruction of their beloved city. One immediately is reminded of Gotham City with its Batman or Metropolis with its Superman.

The appeal of the Punisher as a national political savior cuts through all social levels and income brackets and much of that attraction is largely the result of the deep disgust and disgruntlement of many Filipinos with a government and political order dominated by a scandalously wealthy and deeply entrenched political and economic elite who continue to rake in the lion's share of the wealth being generated by the country's fast growing economy. They now believe that the 1986 People Power Revolt that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos has failed to bring about a truly democratic government and a real inclusive national economy(view post).

Enter the man from Davao who styles himself as the man of the people with the supposedly incorruptible heart of gold and firsts of iron. Never mind the lack of a clear, comprehensive and workable program of government or a clear idea of how to deal with multiple national and international issues facing a prospective leader of this country. Never mind the cussing and gutter talk or the womanizing and the charges of sexism. Ignore the fact that like most traditional politicians he heads a political dynasty with children and relatives in the city government and that he has been linked to undeclared millions in cash deposits and real estate properties.

Rodrigo Duterte instead calls on all of us to just trust him. To let him bring his patented vigilante brand of justice and discipline from Davao to all over the country. To let him do what needs to be done at whatever cost. He has not shied away from bragging about killing people in the past, criminals and lowlife they may be and he has talked about turning the waters of Manila Bay red with the blood of these people when he becomes President. Shutting down Congress or abolishing the Constitution? He has said he would do that too if he needs to.

That is why I had said in the past and will say now he is indeed a dangerous man.

The ideal political leader in a democratic order or even in an imperfect and developing democratic system like the Philippines is one that has a true vision for the country and how it can achieve lasting peace, political progress and real economic prosperity for all. He encourages people empowerment and peaceful discourse. He obeys the rule of law and because of that he shuns corruption and the abuse of political power.

He respects all people irregardless of gender, religion, color or political beliefs and he inspires others, whether they are his followers or not, to do the same. In essence, he brings out the best qualities in his people and not their worst. His followers do not threaten, insult, harass or demean those who do not agree with them whether on the internet or in the real world (as if there is now a true distinction between the two).

In the almost three decades since Edsa 1986, this country has been through so much. We have had more than our share of missteps and shattering disappointments as a people and a nation dreaming of real political and economic rebirth. Yet we also have achieved much even if the going has been tough and not as fast as we would have liked it to be. We cannot fall back on the false promises of easy shortcuts that can achieved using questionable methods or based simply on the personal word of a charismatic yet deeply flawed man who wants to promise heaven for all of us in return for the crown of absolute kingship.

The Philippines does not need a Rodrigo Duterte. We have suffered too much and lost so much as a nation under almost two decades of the "benign" dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, another would be "king" who incidentally Duterte has said he greatly admires. We need another political strongman like the Punisher on May 9 like we need a a swift kick in our nuts, or a hard left straight to our noggins - from Manny Pacquiao.

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