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Taken for a ride

Fr. Jerome R. Secillano, MPA
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Fr. Jerome SecillanoPresident Duterte should be admired for his ability to convince majority of Filipinos to believe his utterances. He isn’t only cheered but defended as well, especially when there are skeptics belying his words. Other politicians must be very envious of him since it is seldom that their kind enjoys the general acceptance of the citizenry.

Very obviously, the president says things without the so-called “diplomatic double-speak”. This manner of speaking is what our government functionaries have mastered along the way. It is a technique that “falsely” assures people of government response to issues or problems besetting them. But President Duterte clearly changed this long-practiced paradigm by creating his own. His profanity-laden speeches, vulgar jokes, and boorish behavior interspersed with his policy pronouncements make him more believable and endearing, especially to his cabinet secretaries, to businessmen—except perhaps those he branded as oligarchs—to some rich individuals and more so, to the masses.

They say he is not a pretentious politician who will promise the moon and the stars to no avail. He would admit to his wrong-doings and even make them public. His penchant for threatening criminals, including the corrupt and drug peddlers has earned him plaudits from his adoring supporters. What people want the government to do, President Duterte is clearly enunciating in many of his speeches.

He also talks tough, always projecting the ability to stand his ground against his critics. He only has harsh words for the United States of America (USA), the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), the Philippine Catholic Church, and Sen. Leila de Lima, calling them idiots and hypocrites for crossing him. He promised to protect those who would implement his plans be they legally right or morally wrong. He told the Philippine National Police (PNP) to wipe-out drug addicts and pushers from the face of the earth. He assured them of legal protection and even promised financial reward for every drug peddler they would kill.

But the President also knows how to backtrack on his careless pronouncements. His defenders would offer all sorts of contexts to camouflage and santize the real intent or meaning of his words. So, he didn’t really curse the Pope or Pres. Obama; he did not compare himself with Hitler; he is not angry with US and EU, just “exasperated”; he didn’t really say that he is cutting ties with America but just wanting to be treated as equals by the world’s superpower, and he also did not claim that the war exercises between Filipino and American soldiers would forever be the last.

At least, in the war against drugs, he forthrightly admitted the occurrence of extra judicial killings (EJK) but opined it is not sponsored by the state even after practically egging the police and the citizenry to shoot drug offenders. One wonders when he will backtrack again, especially on the heels of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) pronouncement that he can be liable for crimes against humanity by simply encouraging the unabated killings of thousands suspected to be involved in the drug trade.

The president is clearly riding on the momentum of his popularity and he knows what issues to push and to address to further bolster his reputation as a no non-sense guy when it comes to protecting the plight of hapless Filipinos. It is usually the issues of drugs, human rights, EJK, America, China, and Sen. De Lima that people talk about. The media’s fixation on his controversial statements with regard to such issues inadvertently takes away the focus from the broader economic concerns the country is facing.

So, no one is seriously asking the President about the sudden peso downfall; no one is taking the President to task about boosting foreign economic investments; no one is addressing the reported exodus of some foreign investors; no one is clarifying how to improve agricultural productivity; no one is asking how he’s addressing inequality; no one’s pointing out that job creation is far more important than drug executions; and no one is even insisting that the government push for the implementation of the Hague ruling on West Philippine Sea.

Political issues, as the president’s stronger points, are clearly overshadowing the economic concerns of the country. There is perhaps a growing sense now that the war on drugs, the killing of drug offenders, the tough stance against US, UN, and EU, the apparent cozying up with China and Russia and the marginalization of human rights groups offer a panacea to all the ills affecting our country. While they may be beneficial to some extent, it is simply foolish to think that they are absolute remedies to all our country’s problems.

In much the same way, the police and the military should think twice about the president’s offer of protection for killing criminals and drug offenders. They should remember that the President wouldn’t be there for life. The plight of Sen. De Lima should serve as a grim reminder of what may happen once a new administration comes in.

No doubt, we have a smart President. He can make Filipinos believe him even if he repeatedly changes his pronouncements on cue. Apologizing for his mistakes even if frequently done doesn’t diminish his value. In fact, it even became his virtue. So, we will have him for the next six years. I just hope that we, Filipinos, would also be smart enough not simply to be taken for a ride.

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