Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Reading between the Duterte lines

FIRST HE said he decided to run because he disagreed with the Senate Electoral Tribunal decision on Grace Poe. If Poe gets disqualified, will he withdraw from the presidential race as the reason for his running will no longer be there? That is not to throw a hypothetical question. It is simply being consistent with Rodrigo Duterte’s reason for

running in the 2016 presidential election. What has happened to his advocacy for federalism?

In the proclamation speech he gave last week, he assailed Pope Francis for Manila’s monstrous traffic jams during the January papal visit. When interviewed about it, he denied doing it, saying he didn’t attack the Pope; his target was government. Didn’t he even say, “Go home, Pope”? A few days later, we get to know what transpired in his meeting with Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles. Duterte came out of the meeting knowing fully well that the public will relish his “repentance”—which was followed by two more cusses, the journalists around him counted.


We are beginning to see through the “amusement” in listening to the so-called Duterte tirades. He sounds brutally frank and it is entertaining. It is even awe-inspiring—who among our politicians in the last 50 years has had the gall to speak against government establishment? Here at last is a man who hits the nail really hard on the head. Is he truly such a man?

First, he lashed at the Church, singling out the Jesuit priests of his Ateneo de Davao youth, for sexually molesting him. “We lost our innocence,” he said. In this day and age of trendy anti-Catholic bashing, that made a good sound byte. But then he continued, “I will reveal the names. They are well-known ones.”

Is he not suffering from dementia? I wondered. Duterte is 70 years old. His teenage days at the Ateneo could have been spent under Jesuit priests now long dead. I grew up in an Ateneo school, graduating from high school in 1975. Forty years later, among the Jesuits who taught us, only one remains alive. Fr. Hilario Belardo is suffering from a debilitating illness. The last to die, recently, was our principal, Fr. Felix Unson. The rest are buried either at the Jesuit cemetery in Novaliches or in the cemetery for Mindanao Jesuits in Manresa, Cagayan de Oro.

But to reveal names of “well-known” Jesuits? A few days later, he finally came up with one—an American Jesuit priest who had long died. The name does not even ring a bell.

Duterte enjoys this public tit for tat. He loves being at the center of the spectacle. That can only mean he has mastered the art of traditional politics. He knows how to use a two-pronged tongue. He has even transformed the cussing into a thousand-pesos-per-cuss fund-raising exercise for the benefit of Caritas Davao. He has become a success in the field of news headline-making.

“I will withdraw if the Pope asks me to,” which we know, of course, will never happen. Therein lies Duterte’s fundamental weakness. He knows fully well that the Pope will never ask him to withdraw. Aside from pulling our legs, the statement can only mean one thing—Duterte has no sense of accountability.

We must fear a Duterte presidency. Not because he can kill. Actually he can’t, in a way. That is not to trivialize the 800 human deaths in the scorecard of the Davao Death Squad. That is not to deny the record of extrajudicial killings in Davao City. Duterte claims he kills smugglers and drug pushers. Look at the records again. Have we heard of any big-time drug lord or smuggling operator eliminated in Davao City? Nada.

Consider the deaths of three prominent, hard-hitting anti-Duterte journalists: Jun Pala (killed September 2003), Ferdie Lintuan (killed December 2007 after exposing the alleged misuse of public funds in the construction of the Davao Peoples’ Park), and Rene Galope (killed November 2004 after criticizing the mayor’s management style). All killings remain unsolved to this day. This is what we must fear in a Duterte presidency—he will revise history. He will bring back “the days of wrath” under Marcos, whom he praises to high heavens.


Consider his revisionist tendencies at interpreting the law. A Davao City police chief was caught on video battering his wife. Duterte defended the police chief: “It is normal for a husband and wife to fight.”

If for these past five years we suffered under a president who has the temerity to violate the same Constitution he had inherited from his mother, one can only imagine what violations Duterte will commit as president. No one, but no one, will have the guts to point out his constitutional deviations.

It is true there are many ways to skin a cat. That Davao City has reached a highly liveable status does not justify the means. It is entirely a surface with no inherent value. The means will not be the version that mandates us ordinary mortals to follow the rule of law but exempts the mayor by breaking the law.

Here is the greatest irony—fickleness is said to be a trait of women. Dash to pieces all your image of the Duterte machismo. It appears now that there is no such thing.

What is it that they say about stray cats that are like two-timing men? “He got tired of you and took off. He doesn’t find anyone new? He’ll come slinking back. By then, if you’re smart, you’ll have decided you’re better without him.”

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