Sat, January 22, 2022

perspective

President Duterte needs help


If they haven’t already done so, Rodrigo Duterte’s friends and allies need to organise an intervention. The Philippine president has been shooting himself in the foot even more than usual the past few days; his closest friends should recognise this self-destructive behaviour for what it is: compelling proof that the messenger is running away from the message – and also crying out for help.

Duterte’s many variations on the theme of giving up are not the chief source of concern. All presidents have spoken of the terminal loneliness of the job; every president since Marcos has said something about how forbidding or fundamentally unfriendly Malacañang is. Duterte’s repeated expressions of regret about running for office and winning the presidency – summed up when he blurted “If you only knew, if I could just take it all back” – are perhaps more poignant than those of other presidents, but they follow a pattern. They are, in a word, familiar.
It is rather the statements in which he speaks against his own interest that should concern his friends and allies. This conduct is not normal.
On Tuesday last week, he startled an audience of businessmen with an unprompted admission that when he was mayor of Davao, he personally took part in the summary killing of criminals: “I used to do it personally, just to show to the [policemen] that if I can do it, why can’t you? … I would just patrol the streets and [go] looking for trouble. I was really looking for an encounter to kill.”
I realise that Duterte has made similar admissions before. When he visited the Inquirer in August 2015, he spoke about how he took matters into his own hands. When asked directly whether that meant he had done some of the killing himself, he gave a smooth reply: He was a prosecutor for many years, he said, and so knew his law well enough not to say anything that might get him in legal trouble.
But his remarks at last week’s Wallace Business Forum struck a now-characteristic Duterte refrain: an exercise in modesty (“I’m not trying to lift my own chair”), followed by a show of bravado – “I used to do it personally”. The melody, though, was out of whack: He was bragging about killing.
The following day, he told the BBC: “I killed about three of them … I don’t know how many bullets from my gun went inside their bodies. It happened and I cannot lie about it.” This braggadocio  should strike his friends and allies as even more unnecessary. Was he daring his political critics to try impeaching him? Impeachment in a Congress ruled by a supermajority looks impossible, but even president Joseph Estrada’s equally popular mandate looked impregnable a few months before his ouster in the Edsa II uprising of 2001.
Then on Saturday, he made another astounding declaration: “In the play of politics now, I will set aside the arbitral ruling,” referring to the landmark international verdict against China’s claims to most of the South China Sea. Even with his qualifying statement, this seems to amount to an impeachable offence. “Setting aside” the ruling means abandoning Philippine territory.
His supporters should see these remarks as self-destruct symptoms, not strategy.

Published : December 20, 2016

By : John Nery  The Philippine Daily Inquirer  Asia News Network