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US politics through Filipino eyes

/ 05:05 AM September 20, 2020

With news going around the globe in nanoseconds, it’s easy to follow what goes on in the United States, particularly the frenetic presidential campaign. Filipinos at home and resident in the United States have been watching the spectacle of how a democratic country elects its leaders. The fascination is surely because there now are 4.1 million Pinoy immigrants in that country. What’s ironic is that most have traditionally leaned toward the Republican Party whose illiberal policies don’t favor immigrants. Latinos, Chinese, and other Asians are seen to be overwhelming the white majority, adding to the long festering racism against blacks that has changed the demographics in what has long prided itself as a white Christian nation.

Events in the United States are so fraught, with Americans polarized over major issues affecting their country, that one could rightfully call the nation the DSA, “Disunited States of America.” A sad commentary on what is arguably the largest melting-pot country on the planet.

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There’s no doubt that Donald Trump has hastened America’s decline. Losing that country’s leadership role as well as the respect of the rest of the world seems not to faze him or his followers. His hijacking of democratic values and engaging in jingoistic flag-waving make one wonder how many of his citizens can admire such demagoguery. Equally, there are many who loathe his unscrupulous character, which has placed power over principles.

A European analyst on the US situation under Trump has concluded that “the lunatics are running the asylum.” One could say the same about the Philippines.

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Comparing President Duterte with Trump is an easy exercise. The latter has had two wives before acquiring the present one, called Americans taken prisoners in foreign wars “losers,” built a wall on the US border to thwart Mexicans he called “rapists,” termed Haiti a “shithole,” ignored the climate crisis by rescinding existing laws to mitigate it, and engaged in unconscionable misdemeanors. Asked by a reporter during a recent press conference how many lies he has told so far, he simply ignored the man.

No Filipino journalist would dare do the same at a press conference of Mr. Duterte’s, especially since he’d issued a grim warning in 2016: “Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong.” The international agency Reporters Without Borders has a press freedom index listing the countries unsafe for journalists that includes the Philippines.

Mr. Duterte recently engaged in histrionics by kissing the ground of a bomb site in Jolo. Similarly he made a big show after winning the election of keening over his mother’s tomb, crying “Tabanga ko (help me), Ma!”

There’s nothing more cringe-making than watching Mr. Duterte ramble on during his speeches, peppering his language with “p_tang ina,” calling mothers whores. Surely Filipino women should counter by saying “y-wang ama mo,” since quite a number of Pinoy men are devils like crooks, bent politicians, pedophiles, killers, and other scoundrels.

New York Times writer Michelle Goldberg has said about Trump: “The most powerful country in the world is being run by a sundowning demagogue whose oceanic ignorance is matched only by his gargantuan ego.”

Mr. Duterte himself seems to have a wobbly ego, especially since he once told a group of Chinese-Filipino businessmen, “If you want, just make us a province, like Fujian.” Whether this was said in jest is uncertain, but his spokesperson scrambled to say it was. Shedding all pretense of nationalism, Mr. Duterte has allowed China to have its way on our sovereign territory, permitted their businessmen to set up shop in the country, and, worst of all, has been lax on the vigilance required to ensure that COVID-19 was not being brought into the country by Chinese visitors. His longtime factotum turned senator may be his Machiavelli, but the lack of scruples is distinctly Mr. Duterte’s own.

The late British writer Christopher Hitchens once described former president George W. Bush as “unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, extraordinarily uneducated — and apparently proud of those things.” Such a definition fits our own President perfectly.

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The Inquirer recently ran a Young Blood piece by Paul David Cruz called “So what if I don’t want to be a Filipino anymore?” Cruz is a 29-year-old professional who articulated what many Pinoys found shocking for what seemed his lack of patriotism. But he made salient points that cannot be denied by many who share his sentiments and hanker to flee from the land of their birth. A sad commentary indeed.

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Isabel Escoda has been writing for the Inquirer since the late 1980s.

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TAGS: Commentary, Donald Trump, Isabel Escoda, Rodrigo Duterte, US Politics
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