Image and statesmanship

 

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So, has the stock market crashed yet? Has the United States severed relations with the Philippines and withdrawn from the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) thus far? Have we already been treated as pariah in the community of nations? Because of the President’s vulgar, uncouth, dirty, foul, coarse language? Because the Philippines does not have a “statesman” as President?

Read the dailies these days and much of what you will see are some politicians’ and media persons’ concern over the “image” that the country is projecting to the outside world. Like, have we become one huge killing field where thousands are murdered every day on orders of the Commander-in-Chief? Or a genocide is happening and we are blissfully unaware of it?

In the first place, why do we care so much what other nationalities think of us? Do we live and breathe for the Americans who largely refer to us as their “little brown brothers”, or the Europeans many of whom do not even know we exist, or the rest of the civilized biosphere who only recognize us for the throng of skilled and domestic workers that we export to their shores?

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So what if our President is not a “statesman”? Neither is he the embodiment of phony. How many phony characters have we elected as mayors, governors, congressmen, senators, presidents since elections in the Philippines became the norm by which we choose our leaders? And most of them have passed the standard of “statesman” in public comportment even as, all the while, their hands have been digging deep into the country’s coffers; but this President is an aberration because he says things that hit close to home?

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte won the election overwhelmingly on the strength of his genuineness and authenticity in contrast to the other candidates’ phoniness, to put it plainly. All they offered were images of themselves as so-called champions of the poor and vanquishers of the corrupt. On the other hand, Candidate Duterte spoke to the people eye-to-eye, in ordinary man’s terms, offering his life to flag and country – and Filipinos, in huge numbers, believed him. He only had to be himself – including the “abominable” cursing and cussing – not an image of himself, nor an image of the usual. The usual being that of the traditional politician who has been populating the Philippine political landscape for generations. Pray tell, what have those long succession of office-bearers and their respective dynasties done for the betterment of a Philippines led by “statesmen”?

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Before Duterte came along, the whole archipelago – for all of the Filipinos’ fondness for things Western and, yep, colonial – had no working national emergency number like the US’ famous 911, let alone a citizens’ hotline where they can report on and complain about things that bedevil them. Barely a month in office and 911 and 8888 were instituted – which, according to those who have tried each, are functioning and effective.

More importantly, hardly a few days into the new administration and the drug scourge was exposed for what it has been since God knows when – a huge conspiracy among rouge policemen, insatiable police generals, greedy local government officials, corrupt trial court judges and other men and women in power (“statesmen”, indeed) – all of them protecting drug lords and criminals, in the process fostering the drug trade that has been eating at the country’s youth since methamphetamine hydrochloride was invented. Shabu could be the new plague but everyone preferred to look the other way – out of fear, maybe? Or just plain indifference, which is worse.

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In the course of fulfilling his campaign promise, President Duterte ordered a “relentless and sustained” war on drugs – a bloody one at that, as he declared it would be at the outset. Before long, loud cries of “human rights” and “extrajudicial killings” rang out in unison like the sound of an orchestra being steered by an unseen conductor, painting the grim picture of a country wilting under the control of a madman, with cherry-picked information being fed to foreign media and human rights organizations making out the country as a new Darfur, Aleppo or Kabul.

Did President Duterte ever threaten, much less issue an order, to kill law abiding citizens? Right from his inaugural speech, he said: “As a lawyer and a former prosecutor, I know the limits of the power and authority of the president. I know what is legal and what is not. My adherence to due process and the rule of law is uncompromising. You mind your work and I will mind mine.”

If that was not clear enough, in his visits at police and military camps all over the country, he kept repeating the same message: “Go after the drug addicts, pushers and dealers, the rapists, kidnappers, murderers and other criminals. Hunt them down and arrest them. But if they offer violent resistance, if you feel that your life is in danger, then shoot them.”

So, what to do with this leader whose “ugly mouth” and “boorish behavior” rankles the remnants of “civil society” who cannot seem to accept the fact that he is not one of their own, who cannot be “controlled” into bowing to them like he bows to the masses, and whose popularity baffles the mind in spite of his flaws and mistakes?

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A leader who is not afraid to own up to his shortcomings and ask for forgiveness (“I take full responsibility”, “Wala akong pride chicken,” “Fair is fair”), whose loyalty is to the flag, not to a political party (“I am willing to give up my life, my honor and the presidency”), and who does not care what “image” is attributed to his person every time he opens his mouth (“I have many mistakes and faults in life. I am not perfect. But I will not change my character”).

This is also the same leader who has the political will to include the Left in national governance for the first time in the communist rebellion’s 47-year existence, impose an indefinite unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA and release political prisoners who are ranking members of the NDF to enable them to participate in the ongoing peace talks. Not to mention the similar peace talks with both MNLF and MILF. Which “statesman” has done that in recent memory?

If the media in general worries that much about the country’s image abroad, aren’t there enough accomplishments of the Duterte Administration to spread the word around, even as it has still to mark its 100th day? To improve the country’s “image”? Then again, good news does not sell. “Man bites dog” is more soundbites-worthy, while “Dog bites man” stories are panakip-butas lang. There goes the rub.

So. If push comes to shove, I’ll take the ramblings of a trash-talking septuagenarian – anytime, all the time – whose message is clear to me in spite of and/or due to constant repetitions, than the posturing of a so-called statesman who stares down at typhoon victims and tells them to their face: “Buhay ka pa naman, ‘di ba?”

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