Sunday, September 23, 2018
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Transformational leader or false messiah?

Rodrigo Duterte was elected as our country’s president because 16 million Filipinos pinned their hopes on the expectation that he would be the transformational leader our nation has long been waiting for. When he won, did the President understand correctly the people’s expectations of him? Two years into his term, is the President fulfilling the aspirations of his countrymen?

President Duterte’s election into office was a resounding rejection of the politicians of the status quo. It was a strong rebuff against the usual suspects that have lorded over our country for so long — sweet-talking during elections, but who turn out to be false messiahs when they assume power. There was widespread belief that Mr. Duterte was the complete opposite of these politicians.


The people chose Mr. Duterte with the deeply held hope that he would fix the rotten culture of politics. Mr. Duterte began as a well-suited leader who could implement lasting structural changes in our society. As an outsider to “Imperial Manila,” he was not beholden to vested political and economic interests that had held hostage virtually all past presidents.

Forceful in his manners, with no scruples about rudely humiliating his detractors, and with the propensity to issue threats of persecution, President Duterte could bamboozle corrupt politicians and business crooks and strip them of their exploitative powers. The rare confluence of his unique personality and his detachment from entrenched interests armed him with the ability to disempower political and business personalities that have long exploited this country.

This was the most fundamental expectation of the people who voted for Mr. Duterte: to disempower corrupt politicians and crooked businessmen, and to institute reforms in order to make this disempowerment permanent.

On the ground, the people’s aspirations are couched in slogans like “end corruption,” “more jobs” and “lower prices,” but these are the mere effects of exploitation. For Mr. Duterte to be a real transformational leader, he should address the root causes of exploitation.

But what has the President been doing? Instead of disempowering the bad elements of politics and business, he has empowered them all the more. Traditional politicians and their families who have had a long history of wrongdoing in this country are enfolded in his camp.

Read the list of politicians who are allied with the President or who perform influential roles in his administration, and you develop sore eyes and gingivitis. If the President’s federalism venture becomes successful, it will result in making these politicians even more powerful.

Worse, the President is working instead to disarm the people of the ability to fight the abuses of crooked politicians and shady businessmen. This is shown by Mr. Duterte’s repeated vilification of the entire Catholic Church and the blatant persecution of critical members of the press. These are the two sectors of society that are able to mobilize the people into action by exposing shenanigans in government and in business.

While it is true that there are rogue Church officials, they are the exception rather than the rule. To vilify the entire Church based on the sins of a few betrays an ulterior ill motive. Besides, where is the moral authority coming from when, among the President’s allies, there is a reversal of proportions, with good politicians as the exception while the bad ones constitute the general rule?

It is grievously disappointing that the President empowers “trapo” politicians instead of disempowering them, and disempowers the people instead of empowering them. The President terribly misreads the aspirations of his people.


The President still has two-thirds of his term to change course by becoming the transformational leader our people have long aspired to have, and which he is in a unique position to perform. But if he continues in the path he has taken so far, he will join the line of false messiahs who end up forsaking our long-suffering people.

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