‘Lawin’ and Duterte
I was well on my way to write about the President Duterte’s China trip and its most logical implications when Supertyphoon “Lawin” began to make landfall in Cagayan. Lawin with its powerful winds and rains worries me so much that even the sudden shift against the United States and towards China was not enough to make me focus on the possible impact of our emerging foreign policy. I suddenly realized that we are dealing with two supertyphoons, Lawin and Duterte, and both demand our attention at this time.
Nothing changes a landscape so dramatically as a supertyphoon. The sight of a large ship still parking in Tacloban City’s bay walk area remains an awesome image in my mind, depicting the power of a storm surge caused by a supertyphoon. How the whole city looked right after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” hit Leyte’s capital reminds me what sudden and radical change can look like.
I remember how Yolanda killed thousands in less than a day as though a bomb was dropped in Leyte. I remember the shock, the horror and the paralysis that gripped not just towns and cities but whole provinces in the Visayas. Even though my memory of the first days and weeks after Yolanda, I wish I could erase the images from my mind forever. The massive suffering of Filipinos, especially the poor who represented the greater number among victims, their being cold and shelter-less, their hunger, all these remain very clear to me.
I am listening to the radio now and getting reports from Cagayan, Isabela and Ilocos Norte. The power of the winds and rains are being confirmed with each report from these three provinces. The fear is palpable from those interviewed, just as the howl of the winds penetrated the audio of the live radio reports. I can only hope that all the affected areas had been properly warned and effectively prepared. I can only hope, but I also know there is little preparation that the poor can do for themselves except leave their homes for safety in evacuation centers.
In normal times, the poor suffer first and the most. During calamities, the poor suffer first and the most. That is the fate of the poor, our poor, the Filipino poor. Climate change and political change, the more sudden and the radical, hit the poor first and the most. Simply put, the poor have no margin for safety, no savings for the bad times, no decent and sturdy homes to keep warm, no food beyond a day or two. What a pitiful fate for tens of millions for Filipinos.
The other supertyphoon, President Rodrigo Duterte, has also landed on Philippine soil and making his way across the whole country. The winds and the rains that he brings are powerful and radical. Definitely, he will cause much change and disruption to the present landscape. And if we are to believe the accusations being thrown at him, he has already a shocking death trail in his path.
I cannot think of Duterte except as a supertyphoon. I am sure he will cause destruction as both radical or meaningful change cannot happen without this. I do not have to explain the impact he has made so far as traditional and social media, domestic and international, cannot seem but cover his most graphic expletives and shocking statements. But there is one strange thing about this supertyphoon—the vast majority of Filipinos, and most especially the poor, continue to approve of and trust him. Very strange because the poor are always the first and the most victims of supertyphoons but now say they like supertyphoon Duterte.
Accused of promoting extra judicial killings, accused of being discourteous to America, accused of kowtowing to China but gaining the trust and approval of a clear majority – this seeming contradiction deserves our deepest and most objective reflection. Duterte is going against the grain of tradition and established comfort zones, yet is reaping the trust and approval of most Filipinos.
I am very apprehensive about Duterte’s twin moves of moving away from the United States and moving towards China. I have very pronounced sentiments that are the opposite, very pro-American and very wary of China. There are four million Filipino-Americans, many of their sons and daughters are serving in the US military, and a vast number of them religiously send money to relatives in the Philippines, approximately $10 billion annually now. The ties are not only economic and historical, they are actual blood ties that continue to bind.
I carried little resentment against China all my life as I, together with most of us, have lived with Chinese-bloodied Filipinos all my life. The little resentment had been conditioned because of the conflict between the United States and China since I was born. Because I am aware of how political dynamics can cause prejudice against other people and nations, I don’t think it will be difficult for me to transcend my own prejudice against China. Except, and this is a big except, China’s arbitrary grabbing of territory we also are convinced belong to us. This really upsets me, even as I realize that geopolitics may have triggered what we call China’s bullying.
On his war on drugs, I have great sympathy for President Duterte. I don’t like the unexplained killings, especially since I believe rogue policemen are directly involved, but I also know that the world of drugs is naturally violent. I also know that Duterte only inherited 700,000 drug dependents and pushers plus a few million more that have not openly surfaced. I myself cannot think of any effective approach to the drug problem and the threat of a narco state. I simply have to trust the leadership in this field.
Whatever my own opinions and sentiments, I should first try to understand the very strange approval and trust being given by the majority of our people to a President who is the equivalent of a supertyphoon. That I must do first.
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