The president and the people
Again, as in every quarter since his presidency began in the middle of 2016, I look at the latest published reports on approval and trust ratings of Rodrigo R. Duterte
What a relationship between a president and the proper! It is not as though there is a lack of controversy in the last three and a half years of Duterte’s term, yet the people either condone or forgive whatever shortcoming or mistake he may have committed. This is a unique story of a man’s instinctive understanding of the complicated angst of the Filipino people, or at least the vast majority of them, and his own capacity to engage that angst.
Beyond that, though, this is the story of our people, what they do not express enough in words, or what they may not even be conscious of, yet reveal through their sustained support of the president. Whatever he does or does not do all fall within the acceptable and tolerable because these are seen as done for the people. I believe the people know what is wrong and what is right, see who is favored and see who is prejudiced, assess what is real and what is fake, but not as meaningfully as they feel if he is for them or for himself. By maintaining their positive sentiments, they are sharing what they feel.
It is a great affirmation of a president and his presidency. I am sure he deserves to bask in it.
It is also a great lesson for the political opposition, how they have greatly misread the vast majority of the people.
Most of all, it is a challenge for all of us, including an affirmed president and a rejected opposition. While on the surface there is a perceived fickleness in the character of an emotional people, there is as well an established capacity for loyalty that means more than their need for institutional order or systems. In other words, people can absorb, tolerate, or even admire exceptions to the rule if the decision comes from the leader they regard as a father or mother, and whose true instincts are perceived to be for the protection and benefit of the family.
Even the least performing, the least liked of presidents, have received great tolerance and condonation from the people despite their disappointment. However, when there is a peaceful opportunity to change them, as in elections, people do vote for others according to their sentiments.
That money does influence people’s choices is a given for both rich and poor. Whenever has money not been a major, often primary, factor of influence in our society? What important sector of society is not substantially influenced by money? The Catholic Church and any other religious group? The academy and people of culture and arts? The professionals like doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, accountants, etc?
Money as a powerful influencing factor is a grim reality. Yet, even money has to correlate and satisfy a deep need of the moment if such urgent concern festers in the collective heart of the people. Only if money conflicts with that urgent need of the moment will it prove to be less effective. Many a losing candidate or business has learned this the hard way.
The approval of a people sustained at a high level over three and a half years is not a guarantee that it will always be there. With great approval is great expectancy as well. As everyone knows, high expectations pose a serious challenge. Yet, a president who has dealt with high expectations from the beginning of his term to more than half of it and keeps earning the approval of the people has the proven capacity to maintain it. Unless arrogance steps in and blurs his clarity. Unless greed whets his appetite and dulls the other senses.
More than the risks that high expectations bring as a constant companion is the momentum for even greater heights that has been generated through the president’s special relationship with the people. Sustained high approval is like a strong wind beneath his wings. Never has there been a better moment for meaningful change in the lives of ordinary Filipinos. The Philippines can be put in an ambitious mode for progress if the president can provide the nation with a clear vision of where we can go from stage to stage. A clear vision that is at the same time propelled by momentum is a rare phenomenon.
An ambitious vision will necessarily cater to the higher aspirations of people longing for a brighter future. If the people know the destination and the pathways, they may choose even to sacrifice for it. A long prejudiced population naturally wants freedom from the oppression or suppression it has experienced. By even just seen as confronting the source of the resentment already brings a level of instant satisfaction. I believe that Duterte gained much of his popularity by understanding and acting on this principle. He still has more opportunity to please a greater majority by going against a small minority. That direction, though, as history points out, is fraught with landlines. A dictator once played that game and both he and the Philippines paid dearly for it.
The depth of Duterte’s concern for the Filipino of today and the Filipino of the near tomorrow will be revealed when the common good, as accepted by the people, conflicts with personal interests. When people accept or even admire the most controversial behavior or statements from the president, it ultimately means that behavior or those statements are not regarded as conflicting with what the common good is according to the people.
Life is ever dynamic. Whatever the past, whatever the present, the future promises that life will remain dynamic. Changes, then, are opportunities or traps. This is the challenge before us. It is best to remember always that what is good can be better, and what is bad can be worse. It is Duterte’s challenge as well.
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