Duterte’s perfect storm
There is a gathering storm of enraged public opinion because of the aborted release of Antonio Sanchez. Everybody is angry, from the President down to the Sanchez family itself. The Duterte administration is clearly to blame for its monstrous deviousness — or clumsiness. The combustible mixture has just started to burn as evidenced by the recent murder of a Bureau of Corrections document custodian.
But the perfect storm that will wallop President Duterte is still aligning on the horizon. Senate investigations, media coverage and an attentive general public will likely be the intensifying source of more damaging information and insights on the brewing problems of the nation. The public is agitated, and the Senate will be more than happy to oblige with investigations in aid of legislation.
The lineup of likely losers is long. Filipino farmers who will be pauperized by the rice tariffication law. They will not be able to buy the rice that they have refused to produce. This sector will be a richer recruitment ground for the New People’s Army than the studentry.
In fact, student activism, like pain, is the warning system that lays bare the consequences of misgovernance and gross inequality in society, so that they may be visible to the visually impaired and mentally challenged coercive agents of the state — the police and the military. Ironically, using coercive measures against the studentry only serves to stir the hornet’s nest. Student activism becomes an end in itself, and issues like the revision of student handbooks only become a welcome excuse.
Urban segments of the population that have helped hype Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) as a sunshine industry in the Philippines over the past three years may be in for a shock, as China calls for a stop in their operations, and they are suddenly transformed into a sunset industry. The massive influx of Chinese workers is feeding a national paranoia. Over the short term, the economy is slowing, the increase in public debt is getting to be alarming, and the scale of massive corruption remains mind-boggling.
There may be an intelligent, strategic way of shielding Mr. Duterte from the whiplash of public opinion from these holes that are sinking the ship of state. But Francis Tolentino, Ronald dela Rosa and Christopher “Bong” Go are not up to the task. They will more likely douse the flames of the angry public with gasoline than water. These senators are in office not on the basis of their own generated light. They are asteroids, not stars.
The problem is Mr. Duterte is not defensible past midterm. He has revealed himself in all his glory, warts and all. Mr. Duterte himself is at best only a moon — a reflection of what the people imagined him to be, that is, a sun that would brighten the lives of Filipinos. That includes the idea that he would “disinfect” society, killing not only the germs of drugs, crime and corruption. At midterm, people are beginning to see that Mr. Duterte is not even half the fount of political will and efficacy that people imagined he would be. Apart from the impossibility of solving the nation’s problems in one presidential term of six years, Mr. Duterte has also been sickly, like an old lumbering bulldozer that needs constant repair.
The initial outing of the three senators out to save Mr. Duterte has been disastrous. Tolentino’s miscalculation was to argue that the oral agreements that Mr. Duterte has made with China are part of the law and are valid. For a lawyer with access to competent staff support, he should have had a ready answer to Sen. Franklin Drilon’s simple question: Have you seen transcripts of the agreements, on which basis the nation could determine what the agreements contain?
Dela Rosa’s miscalculation was to browbeat, bristle and bark at an unassuming representative of students invited to the hearing on the proposed return of mandatory ROTC. He raised his voice and went on a verbal rampage when he was reminded of his endorsement for Antonio Sanchez’s release from prison amid his continuing support for the “tokhang” of drug users and pushers.
Go’s miscalculation is to assume the insulting pose and style of Mr. Duterte, firing back at Rep. Edcel Lagman by saying Lagman’s image is “beyond repair,” as if his own physique is significantly agreeable compared to Lagman’s. Certainly, Lagman has demonstrated his ability to comprehend national issues and their implications on the poor and vulnerable, and courageously champion innovative policy proposals.
When Go was talking of an image beyond repair, he was talking about Lagman. But in the minds of the people, all they could see was a lameduck Duterte, his image beyond repair, sliding the country into a perfect storm.
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