Thursday, July 19, 2018
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Pinoy Kasi

Trusting ‘Tatang’

Trust is essential to governance. A failed state is said to have developed when the levels of trust are so low that chaos and anarchy takes over.

Trust among Filipinos has intrigued social scientists. When it comes to day-to-day interactions, we seem quite distrustful of people, suspicious of their motivations.

Blame it on our archipelagic geography that has created insular thinking, such that we literally don’t trust a person from another island, or mountain, or barangay.

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Then there’s the centuries of abuse by colonizing powers as well as by fellow Filipinos. From day to day, too, we are hounded by con artists, each new form of communication engendering new scams—from phone budol-budol gangs to totally legal media, also known as advertising.

Despite all that mistrust, we give our politicians wide latitude, the benefit of the doubt, which usually translate into very high trust ratings at the beginning of their terms. Social Weather Stations, in a survey conducted June 24 to 27 this year, yielded a 79-percent net trust rating for then president-elect Rodrigo Duterte, compared to Noynoy Aquino’s 83 percent during the same period in 2010.

Pulse Asia conducted a survey from July 2 to 8 and found 91 percent trusting Duterte, compared to Aquino’s 85 percent in 2010.

Many of my colleagues in the academe expressed incredulity with the figures, but I wasn’t surprised.  These are trust ratings reflecting a pattern from the past—starting high, then dropping in time.

How long will Duterte keep his high ratings? After yesterday’s State of the Nation Address (Sona), I will predict Duterte just might be able to keep them much longer than previous presidents did.

Take this from someone who, if you’ve been following my columns, has been very ambivalent about him. I have been vocal about my reservations about the man, especially because of the human rights issues surrounding him. But after yesterday’s Sona, I will say, at the very least, that I can trust this man, with hopes that I can trust many in his inner circle of advisers.

Why ‘Tatang’

I will change, too, and say I can—I want to—trust Tatang Digong as more and more Filipinos are beginning to call him so.

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It was a nation charmed that I saw yesterday after his Sona. For many reasons (which I will enumerate in a while), all of which converge to create a “Tatang aura”; Digong did come through like a tatay (father) or lolo (grandfather).

First, there was the spontaneity, the many times he strayed from his prepared speech. You could tell he was uncomfortable with several passages there, the rhetorical parts especially, which he would then cut short—acknowledging that he was driving the teleprompter operators crazy—to bring in his ad libs.

I would hold my breath and wonder if he would break out with his trademark profanity but, no, he was perfectly civil. He would then qualify, “Wala ito sa script” (This one is not in the prepared speech), then ramble a bit, then get back on track.

There’s much to analyze in those ad libs because, as we know from experiences with fathers, there’s always the prepared speech to which we listen while rolling our eyes. But we perk up when they become more spontaneous and they think aloud, thus showing their humanity. Politicians don’t usually do that, especially in a Sona, but here’s a man willing to take the risks of honesty and candor.

Second, his spontaneity revealed a flexibility that I didn’t quite expect because he’s always come through as an authoritarian tatay (rather than a tatang).   At one point in his Sona, he asked Congress for emergency powers so he could tackle our horrendous traffic problems but he added quickly: “If you give it, fine.  If you don’t, we take the longer route… slowly.”  He hesitated, groping for words as he went on, expressing how he would understand the legislators’ unwillingness to give him emergency powers, mainly because of fear that the exercise of those powers would be attended by graft and corruption.

He paused, then assured the audience, and the nation, this would not happen, that his administration “will be a clean government.”

From there he moved into his call for federalism, reiterating that he was not going to rush the shift. In the fourth or fifth year of his presidency, he said, maybe there could be a referendum, followed by elections—he favors a French parliamentary system that has both a prime minister and president.  And he assured Congress again, he would be out of the picture: He would not run.

Past attempts at constitutional change have been hounded by suspicions of the incumbent president’s ambitions to stay in power.  Here we have Digong saying, no, I did not want to be president but I did make it, and I will only serve out the time you want me to.

You’re lucky if Digong reminds you of a father you had, strong and firm, yet saying: You can disagree with me, and I will still say this once more, this is for your own good, but (maybe letting loose an expletive softly) I will not force you.

I noticed, too, that he didn’t even bring up the death penalty issue. But that’s the way wise fathers operate. I doubt if he has given up on the death penalty, but the Tatang side guided his Sona, aiming first at the low-hanging “fruits” (e.g., extensions of passports and driver’s licenses, more trains for the LRT and MRT).

No grand promises yet of national redemption except for the drugs but, and this is the third point about the Tatang that is Digong, the most surprising about the Sona was the revelation of his compassionate side—compassion being so important in governance.  Here is someone who has noticed the long lines of people outside SM in Davao City where a satellite office of the Department of Foreign Affairs process passport applications.

Never mind the Davaoeños; he said he was more upset about the many people who come from all over Mindanao and end up camping out, sleeping on the pavement so they could beat the long lines.

Politicians don’t usually see, much less understand, the daily ordeals of people. Duterte did notice, wondering as well why government red tape exists to so torment people. In this age of computers, he argued in his Sona, government offices should have a clear list of what is required, so when people turn in the papers, they should only have to check online to follow up. “Walang balikan”—no need to return to the government office.

It’s common sense, but it’s powerful compassion at work as well. I know he’ll cringe to read this, but those moments of kindness and insight made him come through almost as lovable… like many a Tatang who try to put up a grumpy façade.

It’s the Tatang side of Digong that helps me to understand where he’s coming from with the drug problem. He is angry, very angry indeed—and for good reason, believing drugs will destroy the country. We may not agree with the way he is fighting the problem, but in one of his ad lib moments, he showed how he feels almost helpless, chiding the media for using “drug lords” to refer to those arrested and killed.

The drug lords, he said, are not in the Philippines. He knows that, the exasperation showing in his voice, again like a Tatang trying very hard to eradicate the drug menace, but can’t understand why we can’t understand that.

I hope Tatang Digong will continue to create spaces for us to negotiate, to understand each other.  Let’s remain vigilant, but with a healthier dose of trust.

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mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: Rodrigo Duterte, Sona, State of the Nation Address, trust
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