MANILA. Those who want to get on President Duterte’s good side give him a high performance grade after one year. Like Sen. Koko Pimentel, who gave him a nine out of 10.Realistic? Only if you’re a Duterte fan or flatterer.
Actually, one year is not enough time to grade anyone who has a six-year term. For example, the President has a wow-inducing plan to build infrastructure around the country. But it’s all a grand plan for now and any performance rating will have to be given if and when all that’s promised is achieved. On paper it’s impressive and Mr. Duterte’s economic managers double as his cheerleaders when they chant their mantra of “Build, Build, Build.”
Mr. Duterte is a good salesman. During the 2010 campaign he impressed 16 million Filipinos with his swashbuckling style enough to give him a plurality over his presidential rivals. But what has happened to all the bluster and exaggerations that conned the gullible among the voters?
For example, whatever happened to the jetski? Duterte boasted during a campaign debate that he would ride a jetski over to Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea and plant the Philippine flag there in defiance of China, which claims practically all the waters in that region?
Today all that he says is that there’s a time to confront China over the territorial dispute over parts of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). What’s there to confront China with, we’ve already won an arbitral ruling on the sea conflict and all the Philippines has to do is insist on the ruling’s implementation?
Duterte made a big production number about ending the drug menace in the Philippines in three to six months, and that he would resign if he fails. He has failed, and thousands of drug suspects have been killed in the process.
He boasted that he could eliminate the bandit group Abu Sayyaf in southern Philippines in one week. The same thing with the Maute Group. Today Marawi City lies in ruins at the hands of the Mautes. What happened to getting rid of that terrorist group in one week?
He says he would eat terrorists’ livers, just give him salt and vinegar. That’s street-toughie bluster. But has he done it?
Mr. Duterte’s rhetoric is cringe-inducing. He keeps mouthing “I will kill you” against drug dealers and pushers, and people he doesn’t like. He gave police carte blanche that has resulted in thousands of killings of drug suspects. Those are people suspected of drug use killed without due process.
Human rights advocates, the international community, and now the US Congress are aghast at the impunity displayed by the police in killing suspects. When the President says no police will go to jail on his watch, that emboldens the police to be reckless against citizens.
Mr. Duterte likes to say he doesn’t care about human rights and ridicules rights activists for their work. He says he doesn’t care about the Constitution, he doesn’t care about the Supreme Court. If that is not an autocrat speaking, one wonders how else to describe it.
Duterte interprets his 38 percent share of the vote in 2010 as absolute power over all of the country and over all of the people. Which makes lonely voices in the wilderness like former senator Rene Saguisag remind Mr. Duterte that the people voted for a president, not a king.
And yet, there’s a deafening silence among the people over this kind of overbearing leadership. The rich and the business sector like this kind of political environment because dissent is muzzled and they could do what they want, with the rest of the populace reduced to mere bystanders.
The poor are silent because they are powerless. They know their place and it doesn’t include dissent and complaining.
The poor are reduced to waiting for whatever is given them.In between is the middle class but protestations from that sector are muted so far. Where are the professionals, especially the lawyers and doctors who are supposed to serve the people as their counsel and defenders, and as their healers and guardians of their well-being? When government rules through fear and rendering people mute, aren’t the key professionals obligated to speak out?
Do these people, the professionals and the rich, know that by their silence they are complicit in what this government is doing in summarily killing crime suspects, in bullying people to submission, and in ruling through fear and intimidation?