Epal, trapo, kurakot, mandarambong. Those words are now engraved in the political consciousness and everyday lingo of Filipinos. They signify what has become, regrettably, ‘normal’ in Philippine politics and of the supposed representatives of the people. For far too long, we allowed this aberration to swallow us into apathy, such that it is now part of our culture and we didn’t even know it.
And then there is the anti-politician. The antithesis to all that is traditional in politics. Is there such an animal in this mostly impoverished land where patronage politics reigns? Where family dynasties rule as a matter of entitlement, where buying votes is not a matter of scruples but a matter of course, and spending billions in people’s money to prop up candidacies is never a matter of decency and morality?
No. That strange creature called anti-politician doesn’t exist because this country has been governed by a long line of leaders belonging to the ruling class, as it were. People who are either spawns of established political clans with interchangeable surnames or protégées of kingmakers – oligarchs, if you will, who decide which candidate will ensure the perpetuation of their wealth and the prolongation of their status as THE elite.
Comes along this probinsiyano from Mindanao, and everyone got caught dead in their tracks. His opponents, that is. Modestly attired like the typical promdi and without the typical politico’s swagger, no one paid attention to him early in the campaign, dismissing him as the joker in a deck of cards. He has no money, no machinery, no name recall – and mainstream media just outright ignored him.
But then, he went around the country spreading a clear message and the message reverberated across audiences from one end of the spectrum to another. Before long, people were coming in droves to his rallies. On their own initiative, not the usual trucked-in “followers” garbed in uniform-colored T-shirts with packed lunch and a few hundred bucks to pay for their transportation home, accordingly.
They lined up the streets where his motorcade would pass – blocking the whole length and breadth with their warm bodies, occupying every single available space, chanting his name and raising their clenched fists up in the air for the world to see. In anger and protest, perhaps, but with a smile and a hopeful look on their faces, sometimes with a hint of tears, like being cradled in a blissful stupor.
Until his opponents found out – too late in the game, albeit – that the landslide had become an avalanche. His ratings zoomed past everyone when nobody was looking – from obscure fourth to frontrunner with double digit leads. Rodrigo Roa Duterte had already seized the bull by its horns, so to speak, and the matador is dancing his way to the Palace by the River.
So why am I voting for the anti-politician?
Everything about Mayor Duterte is unconventional – from the simple house and rundown car, the worn out shirts and broken shoe, the uncouth mouth that would elicit laughter, ridicule, hatred or scorn; the tawdry anecdotes that got him into trouble a few times with the moralists, the doing away with the niceties and going straight for the jugular. He also offers himself as trade-in for children and women taken as hostages by terrorists, forces even foreigners caught violating Davao City’s smoking ban to chew their cigarette butts, removes the finger nails of men caught molesting women, and pretends to be a taxi driver prowling the streets at night to catch hold-up thugs or make sure that young women stranded on the streets get home safely.
He speaks to his audience not in rhetoric or bombast but in plain language – like talking to another person one-on-one, not to a crowd wary of politicians’ flowery discourse. Parang nagkukuwento lang, complete with mindless curses and muddy jokes present in ordinary conversations. In a tone that sounds like a grandfather admonishing an errant grandson or an uncle advising his niece to follow the wishes of her parents.
But the thing is – he gets things done, and he does not advertise his accomplishments the way most epal-iticos do.
His ‘poverty’ is mere fakery? In the first place, did he say that he was poor? He only said he has no money to run an expensive campaign. And why would he fake it? Even lowly bureaucrats in many parts of the country flaunt their new-found prosperity by building houses and driving cars not commensurate to their salaries in Government. How so? Talk to the hand.
He has millions in the bank? And scores of properties under his name? Exactly the point. If he wants to hide his wealth, why would he use his name in bank accounts and real estate properties most of which are actually his children’s, who are professionals themselves? Isn’t it that the rich and famous stash their booty in offshore accounts under names similar to William Saunders and Jane Ryan?
He is friendly with insurgent and rebel groups? What’s wrong with that? The NPA, MILF, MNLF, NDF, even the BIFF and ASG, are Filipinos, too. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, communists, even those that take up arms against the government – we are all Filipinos. If being friendly with them means there will be fewer people killed in the name of ideology or plain banditry, then better that than be at constant war against fellow Filipinos.
He is a Communist? There goes the Red Scare. I thought it had gone down together with the disintegration of the Soviet Republics? Even China, the only remaining huge Communist state, has gone (greedy) capitalist and is now enjoying superpower status. Why would Mayor Duterte resurrect an ideology gone passé? He said he is a Socialist. Left of center. Huge difference there. Look it up in the Encyclopedia, under social equality.
He will resort to extrajudicial killings? He has repeatedly said he won’t, but unbelievers will never listen. He said he will use a special group in the military and police to hunt down crime and drug syndicates, and will not tolerate abuses from those enforcing the law. Would you like him to spell out his strategy and let the criminals know?
Criminality? If you have not had a face-to-face encounter with crime, you will not empathize. Good for you if didn’t have a brother gunned down in the dead of night by hooded men riding in tandem, whose family could not find redemption because the justice system is such that criminals have more rights than the victims. Due process is accorded to the killer and the dead are often just interred with their bones.
Revolutionary government? Dictatorship? Martial Law? Bogeymen created by an insecure outgoing administration in fear of its own shadow. The mayor said he will resort to a revolutionary government, IF threats of coup d’états persist and people in government will not cooperate with him in instituting reforms. Would he shut down Congress if partisan members act belligerently? Our country has enough laws, many of which are unenforced – I won’t mind not having to address a few conmen as “Honorable” for the time being.
Is he a threat to democracy? Make that, is he a threat to the elite? The World Bank and Forbes Asia say only 40 families control 75% of the country’s wealth. Is the elite afraid a Duterte presidency will drive them to penury?
And don’t give me the religion and immorality card. God hates hypocrites like you and me, including men of the cloth and women of charity. Maybe we should just look at ourselves more closely at the mirror and quit pontificating.
This is an emotional time for Filipinos. We can’t afford to be fence sitters complacent with the intangibles – believing that either change is coming or the status quo remains – while sitting smug in front of our laptops and spewing remarks that are invariably hateful, untruthful, unchristian, insufferable.
While others are promoting hatred and division, here is one man who says “I am here for the ordinary Filipinos. In spite of my (dirty) mouth, I will give you a clean government and a peaceful society. (And) If you believe in God, you will not harm your fellowmen.” Empty words? Perhaps. But I am willing to gamble on him because ‘status quo’ is not an option.
And for whatever it is worth, he is also the only presidential wannabe who carries the Philippine flag everywhere he goes, who bows to the audience before and after he delivers his rambling speeches, and invokes his fate to the will of God and the electorate – saying do not vote for me if you do not like me. I have not seen in recent memory how Filipinos from all walks of life have turned to the flag as a symbol of hope. I guess patriotism is back in vogue.
So, yes, the master tactician beat his opponents at their own game of deceit and sleight of hand. The Filipino people must have finally found the type of leader that sparks a revolution – a revolution that comes from within and spreads throughout a nation hungry for change. A leader that is both loved and feared by the people, and hated by a few. The one who does not say ‘I am going to be’ because he is the one ‘meant to be.’
That is my truth, and you don’t have to believe it.