Advising Duterte: Carry On, But There Must Be Changes

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I have seen President Rodrigo Duterte perform in public long enough to think that he does not need advise from anyone, even from his trusted allies. This article/post is therefore not meant for the prince or his principality. It is meant for my friends who may have found some of my public comments lacking in clarity when I suggested that he needs to be advised.

Know thyself

The Greek aphorism “know thyself” has a long history of usage in literary discourse. But probably its most enduring traction has been established in the military mind when Sun Wu Tzu, in his “Art of War,” shared this timeless piece of wisdom: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a thousand battles without disaster.”

Since Duterte is battling many fronts, it should be fair to assume he is done with this step. However, there are signs that the tough guy reputation he brought to Malacanang–very solid at the start–has now appeared shaky. He needs to do more to match the projection.

The problem with animals–humans included–is that they have developed this notion that whenever one gets around to kill fellow animals, they have earned the company of the brave.

Mahatma Gandhi mentioned something about violence being a close relative of cowardice. One inference is that he who makes love is brave; he who makes war is a coward.

In reality, it is hard to know who the brave and who the coward is. The powerless guy who resist the powerful guy appears to be the brave kind, like the people of Balangiga who fought American troops in 1901, or Maximillian Kolbe who embarrassed the Nazis in 1941. The big guy who picks a physical fight with a small guy does not appear to be in the mold of Kolbe, like the policeman–in tagging suspected or perceived criminals–who pounces on the poor and powerless but spares the rich and powerful. The one who hides behind a pack to pick a fight with a lone ranger makes him more of a goat than a hero, like Aguinaldo when he sanctioned the execution of Bonifacio, or when Dictator Marcos failed (intentionally or not) to use his power to prevent the murder of Ninoy Aquino.

For as long as there is evidence supporting the charge that casualties of Duterte’s war on drugs consist mostly of poor suspected (or perceived) drug users and peddlers, the values that underpin that war cannot, by the above analogy, be considered a product of bravery. Duterte’s strong-willed, get-the-job-done, image is challenged by what is happening on the ground, and people can see through the truth.

The truth is Duterte acknowledges that gods bigger than him exist or, worse, he does not have will to go after the rich and powerful suspected or perceived criminals. Proof: despite the bloodbath, the illegal drugs business continues to flourish, as recently shown by smuggling of 6.4 billion worth of shabu. Government seems gutless in confronting the big dogs, hitting the askals instead, probably hoping that elimination of users would drive the big dogs out of business.

For cover–to conceal the truth that Duterte does not deliver in the way he is advertised–he jokes around in one extreme, and trash talks in another.

It is therefore not true that cursing is second nature to him. The moment he discovers the truth, he will find no need for trash talking. Change in the way he regards his enemies (perceived or real) and himself must come.

Carry on

What is cause for long-term concern is a creeping sub-culture under a presidency that applies methods so unconventional that not all are bound to implement them without error. The immediate symptom of the disease is the rise of lies in official communication, such as EJK data produced by PNP and regurgitated by the Foreign Affairs Secretary in international events. And what better time for rogues and the big dogs to strike than now when the “strongman” exists as if everything depended on the police and the military? Soon that sub-culture will take a life of its own, the killings continue like it has been set on automatic mode, regardless of whether there is prompting or there is none.

What Duterte needs to do is develop professionalism and capacity for serious investigative work among law enforcement authorities. If the 7 billion intelligence fund he got from Congress were used as monetary reward for killing drug suspects, as reported by some media organizations, focus should now shift towards rewarding competent investigative work that leads to successful conviction in court of suspected criminals. Opportunities for improvement beckon everywhere.

I therefore do not subscribe to any view that calls for, or even hints at, his ouster. Let us give him time to redeem himself. All of us have responsibility for him to succeed.

Tales have it that when Fidel Ramos was president and then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was chair of Region 11 Peace and Order Council, then DILG Secretary Rafael Alunan, in a national council meeting, asked the mayor how he kept criminal statistics low in his city. He answered: “I just kill them.”

When people asked him to run for president, the clever Duterte hesitated, telling them he did not know what to do in the event he got elected. “Just do what you did in Davao,” they nudged him.

The rest is history. He got elected. And he is doing what he did in Davao. If there are issues, he made sure that those who pushed him to run for president would be equally responsible. And so we are all equally responsible for these killings, left with fear and the bruised hope that something good might yet come out of things that are patently bad.

In short, he must carry on. Not only because the vote that sent him to Malacanang is sacred. It is also because you always give fellow animals second chances, unless you are a terminator yourself.

Putang ina as economic issue

When I hear him speak in public, I have this feeling that Duterte is trying to be as elegant as Ferdinand Marcos, as eloquent as Ninoy Aquino, and as sarcastic as Winston Churchill. He surely does not have the brevity of Abraham Lincoln though, whose immortal Gettysburg Address was delivered in less than 5 minutes.

Along with his grumbling, rambling, long-winding speeches, what sets Duterte apart from Marcos et al is his ready use of putang ina in his arsenal. (Can’t hit the target with bullets? Knock it out with words.)

I lack the moral eye to look at the cultural dimensions of putang ina. But from the perspective of saving the economy from opportunity costs, one can calculate that dropping this word from his official talks would be the equivalent of breezing through greenlights in at least 5 intersections at Roxas Boulevard in Manila.

The economy will save at least 15 minutes of presidential time by simply dropping putang ina in his speeches (that estimate includes the time spent for foreplay associated with this verbal ejaculation). The multiplier effect should result in more savings: 15 minutes more from each government official who is under obligation to listen to and applaud him, and who should be hard at work instead (the opportunity cost). The total amount of time saved could theoretically reach a hundred hours in a single setting of Dudirty talk; quite an atrocious waste when one remembers how he complained about Pope Francis causing his being trapped in 4 hours of traffic gridlock.

For the nth time, therefore, I (with imaginary access to his ears) ask him to just cut his tongue.

Build with caution

Duterte is not all about destruction, contrary to what his detractors might think. His administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program is touted to usher the Philippines into a new, golden age of infrastructure. Both its size and the cost it entails make one miss Marcos.

Then we had EDSA, LRT 1, Super Highway, the CCP Complex, the school buildings, and San Juanico Bridge, among other eye-catching infrastructures. Now we will have a subway, railways, skyways and modern airports.

Then we drowned ourselves with loans, taking advantage of petro dollars peddled at a bargain by middle east countries and their fellow gangsters from the west. Then we produced cronies who made a killing from government transactions.

Now we look China as likely source of a large chunk of the 7-8 trillion pesos that we need to fund these new projects. Now the ranks of the super-rich new-age cronies should also swell.

The size of budgetary requirements can rock government’s debt strategy of favoring domestic fund sources over foreign loans. The idea is to reduce risks associated with the sometimes unpredictable behavior of foreign exchange rates. Another way by which government tries to shield its fiscal position from exposure to risks is pushing maturity dates of loans to a later date, in effect imposing on the younger generations the burden of worrying about what should have been their elder’s troubles.

Three things to consider when counting the cost of progress:

One, the diaspora surplus (aka OFW remittances) constitutes at least 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, potent enough to serve as buffer against shock waves that normally would sink–or at least trigger dislocation of–the local economy. In other words, the OFWs make the economists look good. The Philippine economy has grown at a steady pace over time despite occasional lapses by government. The credit ratings are high, giving the domestic money market confidence as it gobbles up government debt papers. Thus even with China money (whose conditionalities are yet unknown) in the mix, the government’s fiscal position is expected to remain in good shape for years to come.

Two, infusing funds for development projects (hard or soft), has the immediate effect of generating employment (for construction workers for example). The benefits (positive externalities) are therefore manifold.

Three, passing on to succeeding generations the burden of paying for what we enjoy today is not unfair for as long as we ensure access to health and education services for our young. Protecting them from illegal drugs is fine; but killing them is not.

March on with Federalism

Debating on the merits and demerits of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in 2015, Ralph Recto turned sarcastic when he brought up the provision requiring national government to subsidize the initial year of Bangsa Moro operations in the amount of 75 billion pesos. Two years later, the Marawi siege happened and government spent 100 billion to finish the conflict, while staring at the prospect of spending another 100 billion for the rebuilding of Marawi. I made up the numbers of course, but the point is winning the peace has its cost, and our national leaders need vision to understand that loss of lives and how bleak the future of succeeding generations can be due to armed conflict are beyond quantification.

Thus if Federalism can be framed as one way of winning the peace in conflict-ravaged areas, particularly in Mindadano, the march to its fruition should continue. People of course are wary of the unknown. But what we already know about conflicts and divisions in our land is enough to justify our shopping around for alternative ways of getting to where we want to go.

Mistakes in the details of the proposed constitutional amendment to give way to building a federal government–these we can correct later. But mistakes in not taking action now, and suffer one Marawi siege after another–these, from the perspective of the casualties of war, we cannot correct forever.

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Author: ingming aberia

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