Filipinos’ gripes are really quite simple and straightforward. There is no justice. There are no consequences for law breakers. Due process is too slow. Nothing changes. There is no political will to change. The genius in the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is hinged upon a simple habit. His government listens to and empathises with ordinary Filipinos.
The lower 95 percent of Filipinos can relate. Without the political connections and resources enjoyed by the upper 5 percent, everyone is subject to the opague, snail-paced, and aribitrary nature of practically every system and process in the Philippines. To the average Filipino, concepts of due process and rule-of-law are so abstract to begin with. As such, getting the average man-on-the-bangketa to take the leap of faith and place their trust in these abstract systems is a hard sell. To be fair, Filipinos, for some time, have embraced them and regarded the democracy and its institutions “restored” in 1986 as the key to a future national prosperity.
Unfortunately, Filipinos have been let down. 30 years of “democracy” has failed to deliver on the promise of fair and swift justice and modern services that serve all at a consistent level of quality regardless of social status and financial means. The story can be likened to the way Lucy would, in so many words, persuade Charlie Brown to kick the football only to yank it away as he came running in for the punt.
The Duterte Way appeals to Filipinos because it seeks to extricate them from the recurring pattern of promise-and-then-disappointment that follows the six-year election cycle. Election in and election out, promises issued by candidates are founded upon the “civil” and “decent” dogma of liberal democractic ideals enshrined in what is now known as the “Yellow Narrative” — the emotionalist no-substance philosophy that dominated political discourse in the Philippines over the last 30 years.
The backlash following mass disillusionment with the Yellow Narrtative and a wholesale embrace of the Duterte Way is what we are seeing today.
Well underway is Duterte’s allegedly bloody “war on drugs” that has so far put the Philippines within the radars of various human rights “watchdogs” and liberal media outlets in the West. And then there is the threat he issued the other day to pull the Philippines out of the United Nations and start “its own thing” with China in response to mounting criticism for this. Recently, it is a reported directive to sack politically-appointed government officials in agencies still perceived to be corrupt.
The psychology behind all this is quite simple. Filipinos want to see visually-arresting representations of government action on key national issues and tangible equally visually-arresting results. Duterte is delivering both by the bucketloads, but his key challenge is in how adeptly he swings the double-edged sword he wields. One edge is evident — he has captured the imagination and trust of the Filipino people by being both decisive and resolute, to the point of pissing off powerful interest groups. The other edge will manifest itself once he follows through with his backswing — delivering results in a sustained manner.
In short, Duterte must not squander the political capital he has amassed both from the winning rhetoric he consistently fielded during the campaign and the perfectly-aligned follow-through on this rhetoric as president in the last couple of months.
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