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A man of charisma

/ 12:22 AM December 29, 2016

Those who wish the Duterte presidency to somehow fall on its sword and disappear from the face of the earth must have been terribly disappointed by the show of unabashed adulation by the Filipino communities abroad. In these communities of Filipino overseas voters, Rodrigo Duterte drew as much as 70 percent of the vote last May.

In his most recent meetings with them, during the course of state visits to Cambodia and Singapore, the mood was as electric as the other previous meetings. Filipinos waited for hours to see their President. They filled every available square foot of space in the largest available venues. They did not need warming up.

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As soon as President Duterte appeared onstage, the overseas Filipinos were on their feet, cheering, clapping and stomping. They hung on to his every word, laughed heartily at his every joke, and made great show of the signature raised fist popularized during the campaign. He was their President and they were not shy about making that known.

The President obviously drew strength from the enthusiasm of his audience. Always speaking impromptu, he launched into yet another prolonged banter liberally sprinkled with invectives for emphasis and thoroughly marinated with funny anecdotes. Some of the anecdotes were so downright banal they would make his critics frown. Others were simply hilarious. When he attacked his enemies, he did so by reducing them to farce. When he professed such great love for his people, the audience felt the sincerity.

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Once the cheering crowd wanted more from the President’s appearance. They asked him to sing. The President obliged. After that, the audience was entirely his.

Some critics may fault the President’s banter for being spontaneous and even repetitive. Almost inevitably, he zeroes in on the war on drugs and the many politicians involved in protecting the illegal drug trade. Almost predictably, too, the President ends up attacking the US government and human rights groups for taking him to task for the deaths that have happened in the course of the campaign against illegal drugs.

These critics should sit in during the sessions with overseas Filipinos. They should witness the enthusiasm. They should feel the energy. They should experience the adulation these audiences heap upon the President. There is genuine love there, the love of citizens for their leader.

Our migrant workers, more than any other sector, hope so earnestly for change. They were forced out into the loneliness of foreign destinations by the sheer inability of our domestic economy to provide jobs for them. They have seen abroad how quickly countries could progress if these are governed well. They so wish to return to a homeland that is orderly and caring, that is progressive and safe. Those earnest hopes they have invested in the person of Rodrigo Duterte.

But it is not only the earnest hopes of our migrant workers that produce the energy and the passion that happen during their meetings with the President. There is also the matter about President Duterte’s extraordinary charisma. In every face-to-face encounter between him and his various constituencies, he never fails to win over the crowd, to get them to share his point of view.

The President speaks in a language every Filipino can understand. Because his speeches are impromptu, they are never stilted. These speeches are never overbearing. They are more closely associated with light banter, the one you pick up as you walk the streets or hang out with friends. They are never tightly structured and therefore never stifling. The thick Visayan accent does not distract; it helps convey authenticity.

The way he talks and the way he comports himself are the means by which he has won a legion of adoring admirers. These are people who share his belief and who agree with his methods. His base will stand by him through thick and thin.

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Few of us were born when Ramon Magsaysay was president. But from accounts he was profoundly loved by his people. He was plainspoken and self-effacing, much like President Duterte is.

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TAGS: charisma, drug war, Filipinos abroad, Ramon Magsaysay, Rodrigo Duterte
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