(First of two parts) May you live in interesting times, the English say, referencing a supposed Chinese curse. The Chinese don’t really have such a curse, although they do have a saying that it is better to be a dog in times of peace than to be a human in a chaotic period.
I don’t know of anyone who would trade places with a dog, in whatever time. But there seem to be more and more people lately who think we’ve had a surfeit of tumult in the past three months and who may be desperately seeking the relative (and dog-like) peace of old.
Tomorrow, President Rodrigo Duterte completes his first hundred days in office. As House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez quipped recently, it feels like a year has passed already.
And it has been, by universal agreement, a tumultuous, action-packed three months for the Philippines and Duterte, the man from Davao who practically no one outside his city really knew and who took over after six years of the somnambulist Aquino regime. As Duterte completes the first of many imaginary milestones he must pass in his six-year term, it’s now time to ask:
Has change really come, as noisily as you please? Or is the racket merely the sound of Duterte’s voice, cursing and threatening to kill once again?
Any serious observer of the Duterte administration must acknowledge that the new government is certainly a lot more than the President’s daily invective-laced speeches or the ever-growing body count (approaching 3,000, by most estimates) of drug pushers and users killed either by the police or by drug syndicates in the ongoing “war.” They should figure in the equation, but they are by no means the only measure of Duterte’s performance as president.
Most media outlets would prefer to dwell on Duterte’s potty mouth and his war on drugs, but that would be like judging Noynoy Aquino by his smoking and his sloganeering. The result would be an incomplete and inaccurate picture.
But let’s jump right into those “problem areas” right away, okay? First, let’s talk about Duterte’s foul mouth and what needs to be done about it.
Duterte’s mouth has gotten him into all sorts of trouble, that much is true. It has gotten so bad that even his allies have been pleading with him to stop using the foul language that he seems all too comfortable with or to stop making speeches altogether.
But I don’t think Duterte must stop talking. He only needs to cut out the gratuitous swearing and the unnecessary profanity.
I believe that Duterte only needs to realize that his mouth is actually keeping him from getting things done. And because he is a man who is obsessed with getting results, whether it concerns his war on drugs or stamping out corruption, I think all the criticism about his gutter language will make him realize how unproductive all of the cursing has been.
As De La Salle political scientist Antonio Contreras explained, Duterte has already made himself perfectly and foul-mouthedly clear. And by repeatedly engaging in “incendiary rhetoric,” he runs the risk of alienating even the people who support him.
“The president has already made his point [and] the world has taken notice. If he keeps repeating his tirades [he will not only] mess up our international alliances, [there is also] the possibility that his local support will take a hit when people get tired of his antics,” Contreras wrote. “This is not just about Duterte. This is also about us, and there are many like me who would like him to succeed. And honestly, his ‘go to hell’ and ‘putang ina’ are no longer cute.”
I agree. And Duterte, if he knows what’s good for the entire country, must agree, eventually, as well.
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As for Duterte’s war on drugs, I think it should continue and even gain momentum simply because no recent government has gone after this social menace with the intensity and focus that the new president has. For the first time, I think the drug syndicates are feeling the pushback from the authorities, something that I’ve have to go back to martial law years for if I wanted to find a comparison.
Some may not agree with Duterte’s methods in fighting the illegal rings. But I think most Filipinos will accept that there will be drug users and pushers who must die, if only to save our children and grandchildren from their clutches.
For far too long, previous governments have only paid lip service to stamping out the problem of illegal drugs. Duterte’s focus on the national drug problem - as well as on the problems of criminality and corruption - is just him delivering on a campaign promise, a promise that got him elected, after all.
My first objection to those who have a problem with Duterte’s anti-drug drive is that they cannot offer up proof that the government is actually killing its own people. The second has to do with the fact that only the drug syndicates and Duterte’s political enemies, together with their allies in some media, are the ones protesting the war on drugs; to the ordinary Filipino under constant threat by the drug menace, the campaign, while often bloody, is actually a welcome development.
And so the cursing and swearing must end, but the war on drugs must continue and even intensify. We’ll consider what other things Duterte has done - and hasn’t done - in the past 100 days in tomorrow’s piece.
(Concluded in next issue)