NOW in the twilight of his political power, President Rodrigo Duterte continues to amaze me.
PublicusAsia a week ago reported that statistically, he shares the No. 1 slot in voters’ candidate preference for senator — Escudero got 56.7 percent, Duterte, 55.6 percent. His ratings would most definitely increase when the Marcos-Sara machine throws its support behind him.
If he had run, he would likely make history as the senator voted by the most number of people — 90 percent of votes would not be impossible. Duterte would have won as senator even if he does nothing and spends nothing for the electoral campaign.
Yet a few days later, like an ordinary politician, he goes to the Comelec office with just his executive secretary by his side — his de facto personal counsel — and withdraws his senatorial candidacy. No speech, no melodrama.
I find that amazing. Political power — and in is this case the most powerful political power any Filipino could hold — feeds the ego like no other. And even its lesser forms — being senator for example — attracts as much as that legendary The One Ring in Tolkien’s novel.
One losing presidential candidate dived like a man possessed into expanding his business empire to escape the pain of power slipping by when it had seemed already in his hands. Another, at least for a few weeks, went around town talking to his people trying to convince that a coup against the winner could be successfully undertaken. I admire Mar Roxas for being a good loser, deciding it seems to lead a life of tranquility with his twins. Another, who ran three decades ago and had clearly been cheated, would show signs of clinical insanity.
It’s not easy when one day people line up to meet you, and in the next, nobody takes your call.
Yet Duterte gives up power, even the lesser form of being a senator, as if he just gave up a worn-out shirt.
This of course is a lesson not just in politics but in life. I’ve been a student of mysticism, the real religion really. From Vedanta to Zen, from Sri Ramana to Krishnamurti to even the extremely controversial Osho to Eckhart Tolle, spiritual liberation consists of dropping the ego.
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I wrote the following piece four years ago, in July 2017. It’s been a great feeling for me that its main point, why Duterte has been popular, was confirmed in a recent survey by PublicusAsia. Four years has also proven I was accurate in my assessment of Duterte. The only things I failed to mention are, first, that he has all but decimated the Communist Party in the past few years, and second, that he expertly dealt successfully with the pandemic, which his arch critics, the US and Europe, have failed to do.
July 2017 column
I would bet that if there is a survey on what quality Filipinos most admire of Duterte, what would overwhelmingly emerge isn’t “incorruptibility”, “wisdom in governance,” or even “sympathy for the masses.” It would be “matapang”: brave. His sigil, the fighting fist, is so appropriate to Duterte’s image among the masses.
While the hoity-toity elites and the Yellow Cult as well were aghast at his curses at the Catholic Church, the oligarchs, the illegal drug gangs, and the US, the masses interpreted this more as challenging these entities to a fight — as curses usually are when uttered in the streets.
Indeed, there never has been a president to lock horns with the Catholic Church, one of the pillars of oligarchic rule in the country, even exposing to the masses what only the elites have known: its nearly systemic sexual depredations against the youth under its care, its wealth.
There has never been a president to challenge the mighty “we-set-the-nation’s-agenda” oligarchic-tools, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the ABS-CBN television network for their elite bias and for their having been the propaganda vehicle for the Yellow Cult since 1986.
There has never been a president to expose the power of oligarchs that has been very bad for the country.
There has never been a president to go against the US, exposing its continuing hold on our foreign policy since our independence, and to even, in defiance, move the country closer to its rival superpower, China.
And of course, there has never been a president to wage an all-our war on the illegal drug industry, which his predecessors had ignored that our country was on the brink of being transformed into a narco-state. Duterte had such a tenacity in this war that he defied the Western media and NGOs’ screams of human rights violations. The West was shocked over such Duterte threats as feeding the fish in Manila Bay with the corpses of drug lords. Filipinos saw it as the bravest of words coming from a president.
Any other president would have buckled under the campaign of the New York Times and brown Americans in the US to paint the country as one where the blood of innocents run through the streets every night.
The Marawi crisis, because it has lasted for more than a month now and has created so much destruction, would have drawn so much criticism under any other president, that he would have lost his political base. In Duterte’s case, his PulseAsia approval ratings even rose from 78 percent in March to 82 percent, while in the SWS satisfaction ratings, it rose from 75 percent to 78 percent.
Why? A major reason: Two weeks after the terrorists occupied Marawi, Duterte announced that he planned to go there to be “one with his troops.” Although he would get to Marawi only a month later — purportedly because the military found it too risky for the commander in chief it would have required redeploying troops away from the front lines — it did send the message: This is a president unafraid to be with his troops in battle. Duterte’s announcement reminded Filipinos that his predecessor, Aquino 3rd was gallivanting in Cotabato City pretending nothing was happening, while 44 of our elite SAF troops were being massacred one by one in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, just a 30-minute helicopter ride away.
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