Act II, Scene 1
Over the past few weeks, as the second anniversary of the President’s assumption of office came and went, media abroad took to reviewing Jonathan Miller’s biography, “Duterte Harry: Fire and Fury in the Philippines.” It remains to be seen how widely the book will be distributed here—whether shops will have the courage to put the book on their shelves. If the book does get read by Filipinos—and judging from the reviews, it should—it certainly won’t be because of local exposure. After the initial flood of extremely interesting reportage on the President soon after he assumed office (many of which I made use of in my own effort to get a handle on the man), coverage has petered out, because the President’s poleaxing of this newspaper proved that publishing explorations into the President’s past was asking for trouble.
Two books were published domestically, and carry the flag for the Filipino academic viewpoint. But Miller’s is the sort of book that actually might cause sleepless nights for officials, because as the author himself puts it, “I come to this book like a journalist who likes a good story and a strong top line.” The President provides not only great copy, but also endless material for those interested in asking, is the president a reflection of the people or are the people a reflection of the president?
Take, for example, his zest for saying the shocking—and how the public laughs and cheers him on. Yet what seems strange today was true as early as 103 years ago. Writing in his diary on Feb. 16, 1915, an American Quaker named William C. Allen recounted a remarkable experience that bears quoting in full:
“This morning, I addressed the high school on ‘International Peace.’ The student body constituted 600 young people and, as usual, they manifested intense interest. The Filipino audiences are more emotional and applaud much more easily than do those of China. A curious indication of the national temperament was manifested when I happened to refer to the sufferings of women in times of war. About half the students looked very sober, but the rest of them giggled. At the conclusion of the lecture, one of the audience remarked upon the different mental attitude of many Filipinos toward trouble from that of Americans. For instance, a young person will, with smiles, announce that he or she has just lost a parent by death. A teacher in one of the schools of Manila told me recently that, when she was going over a lesson, she spoke of how Ghazan Khan had some of his enemies thrown into a caldron of boiling oil. Immediately, the whole class laughed outright. She asked, ‘Why do you laugh? Would you like to be thrown into boiling oil?’ They responded, ‘No.’ At the same time the thought of suffering amused them very much.”
Next week, the State of the Nation Address will be the opening act in the second scene—the midterms—of the current era. It might do us all well to read an excerpt from what seems to be Miller’s introduction to his book, which is readily accessible online in The Weekend Australian Magazine, together with a chirpy interview in New Mandala.
In the excerpt, Miller makes the striking point that the President is a very predictable person: “Almost everything about the style and direction of his governance has been uncannily predictable, if not quite written in the stars. His personality traits, his patterns of behavior—observable since his teenage years and through his seven terms as mayor—presaged exactly how he would behave as President.”
And in his interview, Miller is pointed about what he thinks the President represents, and where he thinks he’s headed: “I think Duterte is a really authoritarian, anti-democratic force who wants power, has proved that he can manipulate democratic politics in the way that he did when he was mayor of Davao for 22 years and retained the governance of that city within his family, and that remains the case today. I don’t see Duterte as wanting to give up power any time soon no matter how much he goes on about whether or not he’s going to survive his six years in office, or whether he’s ill or whatever. I don’t think he is ill. I think he’s wanting to see what vultures start circling and who’s after the top job. And I suspect that having fired his … Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he will find a way to subvert the judiciary to the point that he can amend the Constitution at will and change it to his advantage.”
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