Monday, December 11, 2017
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There’s The Rub

Power corrupts

The guy is just out of control.

Lashing out at his critics last Monday, Rodrigo Duterte flashed a dirty finger at the cameras. And as with the case of his daughter beating up a local sheriff, he offered no apologies for it. In fact, when the local media told him that the Department of Human Rights wanted him sanctioned for it, he flashed the finger again. It was freedom of expression, he said. “It is a sign of anger, it is a sign of extreme disgust. It means galit ako sa iyo,” he said, and spat out expletives to go along with that explanation.

I haven’t written about the Sara Duterte incident simply because others have already done a good job of it. Our editorials especially, which have given a very good perspective on it. The mayor’s wrath was not unprovoked, but her response was thoroughly disproportionate. Beating up a sheriff because he was overeager to demolish shanties does not make things better, it makes them worse. A lot, lot worse.

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It shows a public official who is judge, jury and executioner. Or judge, jury and thug.

And now, this.

I know that Sara Duterte’s tough-guy stance has met with a good deal of support in Davao. I know Rodrigo Duterte’s tougher-guy antics have met with a good deal of support in Davao. I know father and daughter are fairly popular in Davao. That has got nothing to do with it. Some things are not a matter for public acclamation. Some things may not be put to a vote. Some things are a matter of right and wrong. Burying Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is one of them. Condoning behavior like this in a public official is another. It is wrong. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

At the very least, it is one thing to be irreverent, it is another to be crass. It is one thing to be tough, it is another to be abusive. You can’t see the difference between the two, you do not deserve public office, you deserve jail. Or time in a ladies’ polishing school.

Freedom of expression? How long do you think someone who flashes a dirty finger at Rodrigo Duterte in Davao City to suggest anger and extreme disgust at him will remain free? In fact how long do you think someone who flashes a dirty finger at Rodrigo Duterte in Davao City to say “galit ako sa ’yo,” will remain on this earth? That freedom is completely one-way. It is Rodrigo Duterte’s freedom to say, “F-k you,” to the world. It is not the world’s freedom to say, “F-k you,” to him.

Courtesy is not there simply because people invented it out of having nothing better to do, it is there to make communication possible. It is there to make dialogue possible. It is there to make reasonable argument possible. Courtesy from public officials is not demanded simply because polite society wants its pound of flesh, it is there to make public discourse possible. It is there to make public policy possible. It is there to make governance possible.

Rodrigo Duterte may no more flash a dirty finger at the world, or indeed the very thing the finger is supposed to represent, than Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may flash whatever she wants to flash at the world to propose that she is angry, disgusted, galit ako. Though in her case, it would be completely superfluous, her very rule was a metaphorical flashing of the dirty finger at her compatriots. The same can now be said of Duterte’s rule.

I grant a good deal of this country is ungovernable and you have to show machismo, or cojones as the Mexicans say, to tame the lawless places, if not indeed to merely get by. But the principle has always been, “Walk quietly and carry a big stick.” It has never been, “Walk noisily and carry a small dick.” The latter is the principle behind painting the doors of suspected drug pushers red, pushing the bodies of dead criminals into empty oil drums with signs that say “Huwag tularan” and dropping them into rivers, and making sigas and other lowlife disappear from the face of the earth. That doesn’t make things better, that makes things worse.

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We know that from the long nightmare we’ve had in the not so distant past. Ferdinand Marcos also made crime disappear immediately after declaring martial law. Suddenly the students were no longer marching in the streets, suddenly the kids were coming home early and no longer smoking joints courtesy of a curfew and harsh anti-drug laws, suddenly the youth were no longer sporting long hair, the thing being punishable by an ROTC haircut and an overnight sojourn in Camp Aguinaldo cutting grass. Parents loved it and wondered how long martial law would last.

Suddenly, a Chinese drug pusher was lined up against a wall and shot to death as a warning to all criminals that this was the fate that awaited them if they defied martial law. Suddenly, the sirens were quiet in the night, wailing only in sudden spurts, the police cars probably chasing down an activist or two who hadn’t yet come to terms with the new world and was painting a protest sign on a wall. Suddenly the crime rate dropped to near-zero. The residents of the Greater Manila area loved it and wondered how long martial law would last.

Well, martial law lasted a decade and a half. With results so catastrophic the country is still reeling from them. And eventually crime came roaring back with a vengeance. There is another principle here, and a far more obdurate one:

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

To those in Davao City and elsewhere who say, “We don’t mind that Rodrigo Duterte is an SOB so long as he’s our SOB,” think again. The next time you extol the virtues of a Dirty Harry or a Dirty Rudy, mind that the last dirt you could see could be, like martial law, the one being shoveled up your ass, or face.

While you lie in your hole in the ground.

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TAGS: Davao City, Department of Human Rights, dirty finger, Dirty Harry, Dirty Rudy, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., freedom of expression, martial law, Rodrigo Duterte, Sara Duterte
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