Before Election Day, I wrote an article entitled Beware May 9. I was not referring to the day itself but, rather, what May 9 symbolized. It was a most emotional moment, rife with anger and self-righteousness from many political factions and their partisans. The noise has subsided, but not the emotions.
Defeat, like death, is acutely painful. So many lives, and so much from each life, had been invested in a political contest. Like death, defeat is too powerfully real to deny or resist accepting no matter how bitter – at least for the moment. Because, unlike death, defeat can be temporary. Many who were defeated are already planning how to win in the next contest.
With the announcement of the first Cabinet choices, incomplete are they are as of now, radical changes are not to be expected. I will repeat myself and say that the only radical change so far is Rodrigo Duterte. Even at 71 years of age, he is either disturbing or entertaining his audience. His ideas or the way he sees things are not radical; even his manner of saying things, upsetting they may be to some, are also not radical. By the mere fact that people, rich or poor, understand what he is saying means his thoughts and his words are not radical. In fact, they tend to be very simple.
In the world of protocol, however, simple is radical. In a world of hypocrisy, frankness is radical. In a world that has been totally dominated by the elite, the 1% rich and the 10% who serve them, the best and brightest in the academe, and even the religious leaders who cannot be differentiated from their political counterparts beyond the titles they use or are bestowed to them, speaking your thoughts directly and graphically upsets the established order. So Digong upsets the rarified air – and entertains the rest of the people.
Rodrigo Duterte is not in awe of political correctness. He is not even queasy about using a native dialect even if such is not the dialect of choice of the national language. He wants to use Davao as his base, not Malacañang, not Imperial Manila. Now, that’s radical to accepted protocol, as radical as openly calling some bishops hypocrites.
I think that the president-elect is not at all in awe of Congress either. Because he was elected despite all the objections against him, his ideas, his brutal frankness, and his manner of expression, I do not think Rodrigo Duterte is in awe of anything. I think he will use the mandate of a plurality to quickly challenge the equation and build a quick majority, not in Congress, but in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people. I believe he knows he does not have long before a wall of opposition will rise before him and what he wants to do, and he must strike quickly.
His choice of Cabinet members clearly show they are his choices, not his party’s, but his alone. I do not mean the authority to appoint because only a president can appoint. I mean the individuals are his choices and his alone according to his personal priorities. But because Duterte does not follow protocol, he will not do so with his Cabinet either. They have to live up to his expectations or they will be dismissed. Maybe with more gentleness than usual but dismissed nonetheless.
I am quite unsure about how he will deal with Congress. It is not easy for the ordinary citizen to respect, much less admire, the politicians who comprise Congress. I do not see how a man like Duterte can, much less a President Duterte. The turncoatism that defines Congress describes why politics can never be the environment of dramatic and necessary change. Turncoatism is compromise brought to the nth degree, and compromise is the weakest foundation of a country and people struggling to be a nation.
Federalism for Filipinos will not help either because our imagined federalism is not about country and national interest; it is about self-interest, even if that self is provincial or regional. Until the common good, until the highest national interest be come the driving force of federalism, it will simply devolve to further factionalism and intensify the fragmentation of a people still so far from being united.
Duterte said he will confront criminality, especially the drug scourge. Duterte said he will fight corruption and will be a harsh disciplinarian for those in government service. Duterte also said he will reach work for peace and reach out a hand in friendship to the Left and the Muslim rebels. By promising to do all these, and I believe he is serious, Duterte threatens to be the most radical president ever. And while there is no articulated pathway yet, Duterte will have to dismantle poverty in order to make substantial headway against problems that have defied solutions.
Will Rodrigo Duterte have the time and the elbow room to become a dragon slayer? It is natural that one who disrupts the established order will provoke a counter force that will defend the status quo. I do not mean only the internal and traditional powers-that-be, I also refer to the major players of geo-politics. If the Presidents of America and China can notice a president-elect, they are signaling that the Philippines is of great interest to them. Duterte can be a wily and determined politician, but he will soon realize that he has to walk a global tightrope as well.
But when all is said and done, it is not the radical personality of Rodrigo Duterte that can carry the day for Filipinos. He has claimed that he loves the Filipino people most of all and credits them for his ambition to be the president that they need. That is the paradox – that the people who longed for a strong leader will have to be a strong people before the leader can succeed.