The main choices in the 2016 Philippine presidential election are clear cut. They are either more-of-the-same, entrenched political establishment types or they are the new, fresh starters on the presidential aspirant block who indignantly arch their brows at traditional politics and politicians, but naively or craftily promise the moon to disillusioned voters from an ivory tower.
Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte is one such contender for the top national office. As a provocateur and contrarian, he illustrates the collision between traditional politics and the populist, anti-establishment political narrative. However, Duterte’s opposing vision has offered little beyond the most cursory and reductionist assumptions and prescriptions for the country.
Throughout modern political history, individuals aiming for national office have spoken reverently of their collective themes and platforms. In his capacity as a candidate, Duterte has spoken reverently of his own views but in such a style and tone that it reflects his conviction that he is subject to no one outside of himself. Duterte has brought forth his understanding of the pressing issues that beset the Philippines with all the vanity and self-certitude he can muster.
Duterte’s braggadocio about what he would do as president has shown that he has taken little time to delve deeply into the major issues confronting the Philippines. For example, he has treated the democracy vs. discipline debate as an easily resolved dilemma. Having no better testimony than his uncompromising corpus of work as Davao mayor, Duterte has suggested that he would slow the democratic process down because of the chaos and disorder he believes it leads to. Indeed, he has stated that he is ready and willing to abolish the Philippine congress if his proposed reforms are not passed.
Duterte’s political mind is shared with authoritarians the world over: turmoil generally arises from giving people too much freedom so the authoritarian thinking goes. Over the centuries, every authoritarian worth his or her salt has intrinsically ascribed to this notion. As a subscriber to this view, Duterte has the perfect makings of a dictator in the wings. He will brook little dissent from any corner once in power.
Filipino voters seek a leader who can apprehend their fears, feelings, needs, and expectations as they have grown weary of a political establishment that pays lip service to their right to live and prosper as decent human beings. The 2016 election is going to mean everything to Filipinos as they look for a candidate from an alternate socio-political universe rather than from the old school what with its solid array of craven, duplicitous, and ineffectual leaders.
But Filipino voters should be careful of what they wish for they are as mentally and emotionally vulnerable as they have ever been in a presidential election season. Instead of deliberating with their minds, too many Filipinos are impulsively listening to their hearts as they search for the leader that has the tidiest prescriptions for the most complicated of the nation’s problems. Politicking on the tailwind of a populist wave, Rodrigo Duterte appeals to this susceptible mass audience as he leads it on a crusade to bring law and order to the nation.
As his campaign gathers speed, Duterte’s aptitude for making quixotic pledges becomes all too plain to see and hear. He tells Filipinos that he would utilize both the armed forces and the police to “wipe out” (i.e. kill) all criminals as if that could be accomplished without violating any human rights. Cleaning up crime and corruption is always commendable. But if there is any truth to the accusations of human rights violations during his stint as Davao mayor, it would portend a path towards authoritarian rule for Duterte if he were to become president.
Duterte has gone on to blithely promise that he will end traffic in the overcrowded Metro Manila area, eliminate corruption in just a few months time, and make vague statements about improving the economy. Far from being realistic, Duterte’s promises are more significant for their lack of concreteness than for their viability. Duterte comparisons have been made with another smug, narcissistic, and boastful nonconformist presidential candidate in the United States, Donald Trump. For both, the devil is truly in the details as they avoid revealing any in their promises.
Opportunistic politicians like Rodrigo Duterte and Jejomar Binay are commanding voters’ attention by clarifying, rationalizing, and reprising their themes and positions with strong doses of sophistry and misdirection. It is what these conniving politicians do best----blow smoke up their constituents’ asses and pull excrement out of their own.
Rodrigo Duterte, both as a public servant and as a presidential candidate, is more illusion than reality. No more is this obvious than in the misguided sentiment he has generated among his staunchest supporters. To them, Duterte is the hailed individual, the familiar male protagonist who has found the sweet spots in their socio-political consciousness and left a delusionary trail of gold for them to follow.
In voting for a new president, Filipinos should pursue their passion for change but temper it with common sense and the dictates of reason. What should count as a wise decision for president is an individual possessing the steady disposition, perspicacity, inner strength, compassion, and patience required of any democratic leader. Taking a frantic leap of faith with a candidate like Duterte does away with all those virtues and instead invites further enmity, inequality, marginalization, and oppression.