At Large

Change, or a U-turn?

“Change is coming” was the campaign mantra of Rodrigo Duterte’s camp, and indeed it was a most tantalizing prospect, especially given that the main opponent was promising “continuity” via the “daang matuwid.”

But if “change” meant new faces, new policies, new directions and a fresh perspective, it seems we’ll be disappointed. Let me start with the cast of characters surrounding the presumptive winner of the presidential election, beginning with that sleaze ball lawyer Sal Panelo on the fringes of the circle of followers surrounding the Davao mayor wherever he goes. Then there are the other old faces, mainly former Cabinet members dating back to the Ramos and Arroyo administrations, indicating that instead of moving forward, what we’re witnessing is in fact a U-turn. Reports have it that these former secretaries, along with retired generals and big-time Mindanao business leaders, were largely responsible for engineering and financing Duterte’s run for president. What was their motive?


A possible scenario, hinted at, if not stated outright, is the release from hospital detention of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, even if she still faces corruption charges. Then there are Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, doubtless salivating at the prospect of joining Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who was released on bail on compassionate grounds. Will Janet Lim Napoles be crashing the party, too?

I don’t get it. Opinion polls say that “graft and corruption,” second only to crime and drugs, I think, is the issue about which voters, many of them supporting Mayor Digong, were most concerned. And yet, why this seeming tolerance for the return of the “big fish” finally caught in the net of anticorruption bodies in public life? Where’s the change—at least the positive change—now?

* * *

There have also been claims made that ordinances that have supposedly made Davao a peaceful, crime-free city will be implemented nationally.

These include the imposition of a curfew on minors as well as the ban on smoking in public places, on the sale of alcohol, and even on loud karaoke sessions that disturb the sleep of neighbors.

Is this indicative of the priorities of the presumptive winner of the presidential election? I thought he promised to go hammer-and-tongs against major crime syndicates, smugglers, drug pushers and street criminals. But with police kept busy chasing after young people out on the streets past 1 a.m., public smokers, drinkers and out-of-tune singers caterwauling in the wee hours, will they have the time and energy to go after big-time criminals, much less manage the traffic?

Perhaps the mayor’s image-builders are just trying to create a more accessible version of their tough-talking principal, addressing the “little” problems that pose a daily, constant irritation to ordinary folk who can be easily placated by little measures, forgetting the bigger, more difficult and vastly more dangerous and complicated issues that bedevil society.

We were promised “change,” but so far the changes in the works are rather underwhelming. We’re still waiting for clearer directions that promise more decisive policies and actions. But if overturning the historic rulings against corrupt officials is the starting point, then the road to change will be rocky indeed.

* * *


More humanizing are the video footage of the mayor breaking down in front of the graves of his parents, especially of his mother Soledad, a public school teacher known to many Davaoeños as “Nanay Soling.”

Described as strong-willed and of imposing demeanor, Nanay Soling retired from teaching when her husband entered politics, and even as an elderly widow was an anti-Marcos activist, even debating then visiting Defense Minister Enrile in a public event. No doubt she played a big influence on her son, even if the mayor’s political genes can be traced to his father Vicente, who served as Davao’s governor for many years.

Duterte was overheard begging his mother for “guidance” as he prepared to assume the presidency, a reality that may have suddenly hit him the morning after the voting. Who knew the tough-talking, swaggering mayor was a “Mama’s boy”? But as sociologist and Inquirer columnist Randy David has observed, isn’t every macho a Mama’s boy?

But it was refreshing to see the mayor caught in a vulnerable moment, allowing the public a tiny peek into his humanity and, yes, his weakness.

He might yet defy the stereotype of the macho who is unfeeling and incapable of empathy. His lingering devotion to his Nanay Soling might yet soften the rougher edges of his persona.

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I’m also glad to see former senator and now Taguig congresswoman-elect Pia Cayetano joining the Duterte “transition team,” mainly, so reports say, to ensure that gender fairness prevails in the incoming administration.

To be sure, Cayetano may have been recruited as a “deodorizer” for the multifarious odorous offenses that the mayor has committed against women—from “joking” about rape, and the gang rape of an Australian missionary at that, to bestowing his lascivious favors on women at his rallies, some of whom were visibly unwilling, if not offended.

Cayetano has been quoted as saying that a “gender-sensitive” Duterte Cabinet doesn’t necessarily mean having an equitable number of women in it. That what’s more important is that all Cabinet members, as well as the president, are gender-sensitive and will mainstream women’s concerns.

I don’t know about that, “Cong” Pia. The cast of characters around the mayor don’t seem all that feminist to me.

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TAGS: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, pia cayetano, Rodrigo Duterte, Sal Panelo
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