On The Move

Revenge of the woke political zombies

The Philippines is so fortunate that Rodrigo Duterte never understood the need, nor had the ability, to formulate an ideology of governance or development. He never saw himself as a cathedral-builder. He was at best a wall-builder, and at worst merely a bricklayer. And like bricks, his policy pronouncements and decisions, embedded in the same curse- and insult-laden speeches, were repetitive, often inconsistent, and often no more than jokes, if not altogether reprehensible lies.

This microgranularity of President Duterte’s style sat well with his supporters, as they responded well to anecdotes but not to intangible webs of meaning and visions like frameworks. The whole Duterte teleserye is nothing more than titillating episodes that do not add up to a grand tale.


The lesson from the Duterte governance is, a little bombast goes a long way. It is not the strength or quality of the stimuli, but the exaggerated gut response provided by the gullible and the innocents that defines the worshipful situation. It is not that the tikbalang is real that creates the fear, but the belief by the naive that it is real.

It is funny how, in the end, Mr. Duterte might just turn out to be the front act to Leni Robredo’s star performance. In project management, what is happening is project recovery—bringing in the real experts to clean up the mess the amateurs have created. The DDS will violently object to this characterization, but they will not always be around to massage the harsh judgment of history.


Because there is no real ideological political party around Rodrigo Duterte, everything slows down with him, as age and the price of his spurts of political machismo at the start of the race now catch up with him. His supporters longingly look to Sara Duterte or to Polong Duterte, the way the Marcos loyalists look to Imee Marcos or Bongbong Marcos to sustain the illusion of progress.

But as the DDS look to politically stillborn successors, the Alan Peter Cayetanos, the Cynthia Villars, the Manny Pacquiaos are beginning to dismount from Mr. Duterte’s back, and the Ping Lacsons and the Isko Morenos likewise emerge from his shadow to run their own races. And Mr. Duterte no longer has the energy or the will to manage the increasingly turbulent tossups leading to the 2022 presidential election.

More and more, Mr. Duterte is looking like his contemporary and unwitting partner—Joma Sison. They hold a fading reputation for power, but it is all now hollow. At least for Mr. Duterte, there is mercifully the end of his term as a marker. Joma, however, is locked to the termination of his physical presence on earth to pull the plug for him.

All Mr. Duterte has to do now is to let Robredo do some magic. It is not a magic that will win the drug war in six months. But it is a magic of moving minds, moving people, moving resources and moving movers. If Mr. Duterte does not pull the rug from under Robredo soon, he will no longer be able to do it without threatening his own political existence. For the same hope of deliverance he provided when he ran for president in 2016 is the same hope of deliverance Robredo is now providing—this time, deliverance from Mr. Duterte’s dismal presidency.

Robredo is attracting a new kind of political zombie—those who have played dead, giving up hope and not lifting a finger to join the political fray. This silent woke zombie power is no less than a people power process. It is a mobilization of millions, but they do not gather in the streets. They vote with their minds and daily actions of new political attentiveness.

Ironically, the only hope of redemption for Mr. Duterte is if Robredo finds a less murderous door to solving the drug problem that will not siphon off all energy and hope needed to resolve all the other wicked problems the country faces. And if Robredo will eventually also be able to ward off and defeat all the boisterous pretenders trying to succeed Mr. Duterte using the devious political corridor he created.

Even then, we are just poised to start again on our systematic quest for national development and strengthening institutions for democratic governance. Then maybe, just maybe, Mr. Duterte will give out a hearty laugh and say, “See? I just rebooted Philippine society. That was all I meant to do.”


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TAGS: political zombies, President Duterte
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