Proof of a failing, flailing Duterte

/ 04:07 AM March 17, 2020

The surest sign that President Duterte has mismanaged the COVID-19 crisis is the succession of scripted shows of support for him surging on social media. After his calamitous TV appearance on the evening of Thursday, March 12, an even more anxious public woke up to see organized information campaigns pushing one message. Was it a campaign to soothe public unease over the President’s haphazard policymaking, perhaps clarifying the scope of the lockdown over Metro Manila? If only. Instead, perhaps recognizing that the best argument for impeaching the President is Mr. Duterte’s own wanton display of irrationality and incompetence, the campaign masterminds pushed a message of — wait for it — abject pity.

“Seriously, naawa ako sa President. He looked so overworked. He may not be perfect, but he truly loves this country. My heart breaks. Praying for the country.” Like termites scattering when a nest is stirred, the supposedly authentic messages in support of a supposedly authentic President darkened the landscape.


Seriously? At a time of great peril and even greater uncertainty, the President’s diehard supporters want us to consider his own mortal frailty, as though it were the responsibility of the citizens. There is a simple solution for this pitiful problem: It is to finally admit that this man is not qualified to unify a divided country, in a time of crisis; for a man whose stock in trade is fear and divisiveness, the crisis demands that he either level up, or step down.

And did he in fact look overworked? He seemed at times overwhelmed, yes, but if even his own Cabinet secretaries and senator-aides show him, inadvertently, to be either ill or resting, “overworked” is not the best description for the most self-indulgent president in Philippine history. He even arrived late for the news conference — and then consulted his officials in full view of the TV cameras. So much for putting in the necessary work beforehand.


In an extraordinary letter the following day, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea humbly acknowledged that the policies announced the night before could have been better prepared for, and noted that the public’s anxieties could have been anticipated.

But the online and social media campaign to create a mellow, vulnerable, sympathetic version of an unprepared, single-track President continued to spread, running more scripted authenticity in the following days. We will continue to see, and suffer, more of that, because that is the one thing the Duterte administration and its inner circle are admittedly good at: organized disinformation.

* * *

The political thinker John Rawls made an important distinction between rational and reasonable. Simplified, it can help explain the actions of hoarders and profiteers—and their impact on the body politic.

Rational means thinking of, and acting on, one’s own good alone, or primarily. It is in fact rational to try to buy as many bottles of alcohol as one can, if the objective is to maximize one’s advantages. Reasonable means thinking of, and acting on, the common or greater good. It is reasonable not to buy all the bottles of alcohol in the drugstore or the supermarket, because one lives in a social setting, and having sick neighbors, deprived of their fair share of 70-percent isopropyl alcohol, is both a risk to the community—and to one’s own good.

* * *

In an attempt to organize the information on social and online media, and to make the most important and most urgent updates more readily accessible, a group of journalists representing different newsrooms, together with social media activists, met online yesterday to agree on common hashtags.


Please join us in using, and sharing, the following:

#COVID19PH: For general Philippine news and updates in relation to the spread of COVID-19 in the Philippines.

#coronavirus: For information (such as new knowledge) about the novel coronavirus.

#COVID19Quarantine: For updates on areas under quarantine; with room for location-specific hashtags, such as #MMQuarantine for Metro Manila

#ReliefPH + #COVID19PH: For relief operations and donation drives, etc, using the old standby and adding a new hashtag.

#CoronaVirusFacts: For fact-checking misinformation or disinformation about the current crisis.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]

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