The Duterte effect
Would you believe it’s only been two months into the Duterte presidency? From the fast, furious, loud and graphic news and exchanges that have captured our attention, you would think the Duterte government had been in place for a few years. This tells us of the ripeness of the moment for change, not the usual kind that we take for granted, but change that needs to erupt from almost nowhere. This also speaks of the character of a man handpicked by destiny more than by a personal ambition.
Destined leaders can achieve great things. They can also be monumental failures. But whether they accomplish or fail, they do so in the midst of controversy. They, too, are not exempt from the law of the opposite potential, which says that whatever one’s capacity for good is the same capacity for bad. Capacity is neutral, it’s for what and how it is used that makes it beneficial or destructive. A leader can be loved by his people and the rest of the world beyond his term of service, or can go down the annals of history as one of the greatest thieves or mass murderers.
Great revolutions are won by people, not by a leader. Yet, great victories will honor the leader and the greatest warriors, first for their personal valor, and second for how they inspired the people to be brave and achieve great deeds as well. The greatest capacity, or power, resides in the people, but it is the leader who sets the course and steers the state. When the people follow the leader, the leader has great power. It is important, then, that capacity is maximized, that people give their approval and support to the leader. If the people are divided, capacity is divided. If people go against one another, capacity is neutralized within itself, and the leader has little net capacity to move with, much less move forward.
President Duterte was blessed with a 91 percent approval rating in his first weeks in office. That is serious capital; that is awesome capacity. He is beginning with numbers that provide him support and little opposition. With approval levels like this, it can be said that nothing is impossible. While all presidents say that doing what is right is better than what is popular, that most probably is not true. But even if it were true, then they must convince the people to understand the soundness of their decisions so what is right can also be popular. Or else, the capacity or power that leaders can utilize becomes dissipated, diluted.
This, then, may be good for President Duterte to remember in the crucial moments and in the crucial policies. I know he already has a good instinct regarding this because he has had the open and proven support of the residents of Davao for over two decades. He should be able to sense when support is lessening. His challenge is how to expand his options when opposition does come, as a little of it is already there. How he kept Davao believing in him all the while through whatever controversy would not suffice for the variety and depth of national and international issues. He can rely on his instincts, but he would need the expertise and creative perspective of new people, of new warriors. It is not only about Davao, it is not only about the country, it is now about our future.
It would be nice to discuss important issues and challenges other than illegal drugs. The reality, though, is that our national life will revolve around drugs and the attendant concerns they cause. Not only is fighting drugs the main platform of Duterte, its application is virtual warfare not only against drugs but corruption and poverty as well. It would be wise for the more sober and forward-looking in society to always consider the Duterte commitment against drugs even though their respective priority concerns may be otherwise. Duterte is the Chief Executive and the Commander in Chief of the Philippines. Whoever anyone else is, whatever other concerns there may be, nothing is beyond the purview of the President. And because he is who and what he is, there will always be the Duterte effect.
Researching on the violence that characterizes any drug war, from street level to national and international sources, it does not surprise me that scores of killings are now reported. I say “reported” because I know killings have always been part of the illegal drugs world. It’s just that upper society that has had the louder voice did not notice what was happening in the trenches. Duterte, though, is pushing the horror to our faces. Believe me, too, that without the killings, even with hundreds and thousands of surrenderees, the horror of drugs will be somewhat blurred in the understanding of upper society. Estimates already point out that maybe a third of our national family population would have a member that is either addicted to drugs, or pushing them. But the social and economic status of surrenderees clearly shows they are mostly from the poor.
I believe killings are never justified except in self-defense. Natural laws and the laws of our land affirm. Like cancer, however, whose main treatment unavoidably experiences the killing of good cells in an effort to kill the bad ones, the justification for the radical treatment is only that a better way has not been found. Cursing the treatment does not cure the illness or soften the treatment. Most of all, contentious debate does not bring us closer to any viable solution. We are in need of do-able options, any of which must consider that the cancer has spread to law enforcers, politicians and bureaucrats – and now a national industry. There are no easy answers, but our leaders fighting one another make matter worse, not better.
Meanwhile, Duterte rules. Meanwhile, a vast majority believes, supports and cheers him on. Meanwhile, the Duterte effect is firmly in place.
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