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Duterte, a Leviathan

Filipinos have always had a desperate yearning to be saved from their miseries by some guy on a white horse, some knight in shining armor, some great leader who, with a magical gesture, would raise them from degradation, squalor, poverty and other misfortunes. The majority of our voters do not consider issues, program of government, or track record, but pick a candidate perceived to be a victor—their champion or messiah who would pursue their most intense yearnings for the good life. It is never a rational exercise.

In national elections, the voters consist of the middle class and the masses—the social classes most buffeted by the pincers of inflation, paucity of basic services, endemic criminality and dubious “way of life.” They search for a savior-hero who can forthwith uplift them from the morass of their daily lives in a dreadful status quo.

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We are weak and find our support in saints, heroes and strongmen. Tall and dashing, no doubt. Deliberately marching into death for his people, of course. Petty burgis and prudent of hacienda wealth, of course not. A conceited mestiza who abjured Filipino women for milk and honey by adopting US citizenship, contemptible. A charismatic leader, a lofty intellectual, a passion that levels mountains, a Viking berserker, a seer and superb administrator all at once, certainly! To lay one’s hope on these qualities is to be human.

Must a lider be only what he is? Can he not also be what we want him to be?

Three days before Election Day, Rodrigo Duterte pulled away from his rivals in the voter preference polls. The tough-talking and anti-Establishment mayor of Davao City generated a massive following that threatened martyrdom for those with contrary views.

Given six years of bitter division and wasted opportunities under Benigno Aquino III, angry voters were enthralled by a promising leadership of strength and decisiveness who could make things happen. They would take a chance on a straight-talking mayor against trapo oligarchs unable to fulfill promises of meaningful change, and who can spit on the yellow throne.

The wiliness of Duterte’s band was the realization that only a genuine political movement can dominate a multisided contest with motherhood statements floated as palliatives to the people. The fighting faith organizes and equips one’s soul for action. The homeland cannot wait for the hesitant and will never belong to the half-hearted. With neither a war chest nor machinery, he used his foul mouth to the optimum, amplified by a forceful persona.

The challenge from an entrenched bureaucracy, cunning in the ways of getting its way while seeming to obey, is the biggest obstacle to the success of any president. As policemen turn criminals and other government personnel destroy what they should nurture, the temptation to cut a few thousand heads is an open invitation.

Those who rise from our ranks must know by now that man remains a wild beast. It is a general inclination of all humankind in the state of nature to desire power after power, that ceases only in death. The reason for this is not intensive delight, but because one cannot assume the power to live well, which one has at present, without the acquisition of more. Civilization, like beauty, is only skin-deep, and the use of force, under rules acceptable to most, must remain a tool of public administration.

Hence, Duterte promised to cut red tape, kill drug lords and criminals, reorganize the bureaucracy, put up a federal government; focus on education, infrastructure, agriculture and promote peace through dialogues with the Communist Party of the Philippines; offer Mindanao to Muslim Filipinos; and provide greater resources to local governments. All this he will initiate in three to six months, he said. If he is blocked in his reform moment, he will abolish Congress and declare a revolutionary government.

In Duterte, one foresees a construction of Filipino women along the Leviathan. While the state is a Leviathan, no man loves or reveres one. It is a word derived from the Hebrew for “sea monster,” a creature in the Bible, and a metaphor for Thomas Hobbes’ perfect government to preserve peace and prevent civil war through social contract.

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Humanity’s state of nature is not an imaginary condition. It is an ever-present menace that lurks beneath the glossy surface of civilized life—a condition of war where each is at war with the other, making life nasty, brutish and short. Hence, the state comes as a phenomenon of force, but qualified and harnessed through law—a transition to civil society—where finally human relations are secured and predictable.

But the rule of law without force would be void: “Covenants, without the sword, are but words.” Hence, a Leviathan must have the sovereign power to enforce peace at home and mutual aid against enemies abroad.

The modern state, therefore, is a system of force besides being a legal system, exercised by the sovereign through authorization, not habitual obedience that takes place with the social contract.

To conceive of the state and law as coeval means that there are limitations on the sovereign power. It implies that the sovereign can legislate under certain existing rules and be conferred unrestricted power. “Leviathan” then is a description of the state in terms of power, not of might; the modern state can be understood only as a legal system.

Duterte, who studied and practiced law, can thus achieve unity of power at home with independence abroad of the nation-state, under whose banner the world has moved during the last three centuries.

Reynaldo V. Silvestre, a retired Army colonel, bemedalled officer and multiawarded writer, is former chief, Office of Strategic and Special Studies, Armed Forces of the Philippines. He belongs to Class 1968 of the UP Vanguard Diliman, and taught political theory at UP Manila when called to active duty as first lieutenant in 1975.

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