Two presidents — a study in contrasts

Two presidents — a study in contrasts Featured

First of a series

THESE columns will depart from the usual critiques on the underlying symptoms of cultural and historical infirmities of public policies that have been bringing about the iniquities of politics that hugely impact negatively on governance. These are the oligarchy and political dynasties (olipolydyn) and political patronage (polpat) that jeopardize justice, democracy and the rule of law in the Philippines. These discussions offered "autocratic pragmatism" as an alternative system for the Philippines, a tall order or even wishful thinking at best, but worth considering for public dialogue and debate.

The first part of this current series is a cursory dissection of personalities consonant with the election season, both local and foreign: the US presidential elections in November 2024 and our midterm elections in May 2025. These two events feature two former presidents, a fascinating study in contrasts.


The temptation to compare the former presidents Duterte and Trump from the time both took office is compelling. These two dynamic personalities have taken their respective countries by storm — never seen before in the annals of both countries' history. Both were initially considered non-serious presidential wannabees; one a buffoon, the other a probinsyano from a hick town. Trump came from the shady part of the real estate business, touting himself as a billionaire; Duterte was a politician running a local government (LGU) far from the center of power.

As presidents, what was common to both was their cavalier attitude toward the rule of law, which may now have caught up with them. The Donald faces 91 felony counts in four indictments and is now undergoing a criminal "porn-star-hush-money" trial in New York, while the Deegong is awaiting arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Both are known for their brash and outspoken personalities, using divisive rhetoric, prone to using colorful language offensive to polite society but appealing to and relished by their base; for Trump, his "basket of deplorables"; for Duterte, his fiercely loyal marginalized masa. They speak their minds unafraid to express controversial statements contrived for their shock effect: as in Trump accusing migrants from Mexico — of "bringing drugs, bringing crime, they're rapists"; and Duterte cursing Pope Francis, calling him "p*****ina" ("son of a whore") for causing traffic jams on his visit to Manila. Both have a reputation for being unapologetic, refusing to back down or admit fault when faced with criticism or backlash and, as is wont with bullies, would instead double down. Both have been accused of authoritarian tendencies in varying degrees and criticized for their disregard for democratic norms and institutions.

In their personal lives, their sexual appetites are enormously undisciplined, engaging in open extramarital affairs, salaciously enjoying multiple mistresses, and outright sexist and misogynistic — yet almost able to get away with them. Except the Donald, the lesser sophisticate who revels in grabbing women's p***ies, now faces criminal cases, and the Deegong brags about his "extraordinarily large member" (fictitious, at best), his shenanigans just fading away.


Duterte's authoritarian proclivities were a product of being a local city mayor where, in earlier years, he gained popularity (or notoriety) by eradicating a thriving communist insurgency, effectively castrating their "sparrow units," the feared urban assassination squads that had been terrorizing the populace, murdering local police. To counter these threats, he created his own Davao Death Squad (DDS).

His success in the political periphery, far from the glare of the center of power, cloaked him with an aura of invincibility. Catapulted to the presidency, he launched a similarly brutal crackdown on drug users and dealers, resulting in thousands of deaths, both the innocent and the guilty. What worked in a city using the same formula caused havoc applied to the whole country.

The main difference between Trump and Duterte is that the former's actions, although oftentimes unhinged, pass through the sieve of the country's tested democratic structures, America's inherently strong democratic foundations. While Duterte's approach to governance was overtly authoritarian unfettered by similar structural fine-tuning. The latter's acts, within the law or extrajudicial, produced countless corpses.

America's more stable and mature institutions prevented Trump from initiating such a similar endeavor, relying instead on his tough talk and cult-like methods; his personal style, bombastic and flamboyant, seduced the "Proud Boys," fringes white supremacist and militia groups and neo-fascist militant organizations, which practically became his personal army that featured in the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The Deegong's rise as a local government executive inured him to the frailty of Philippine patronage politics, where institutions of democracy handed down by the American colonizers were weak and alien to Filipino culture and where the rule of law exempts the powerful and the moneyed elite. He was a good lawyer and former prosecutor and made himself an expert on the bureaucracy.

The Donald's world was that of make-believe reality TV shaping his leadership style. His business acumen, although questionable, propelled him to attain the pinnacle of business, relying mostly on the "art of the deal" by gaming the system, non-payment of taxes and liberal bankruptcy laws, among others. A book illiterate, he doesn't read.

Duterte's years as a local government executive allowed him to create a network of rising people in the armed services, the bureaucracy and fledgling politicians from different political dynasties, people who came into their own in the national government holding important positions. The Deegong's Cabinet was stable through his six years in office.

Trump's Cabinet, in contrast, that was marked by chaos and hysteria. What was egregious was the Donald was clueless as to the limits of his presidency and ignorant of the workings of government. He claimed to be a stable genius, that "he alone can fix it." His incumbency was beset with high Cabinet turnover. Many of his key people were involved in crimes and imprisoned, and some were later pardoned by Trump himself. Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, stayed only for 22 days. He was forced to resign and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with the Russia investigation. He was pardoned.

Paul Manafort, Trump's presidential campaign chairman, a lawyer, a former lobbyist and political consultant, was convicted on multiple charges, including tax and bank fraud. He was imprisoned and promptly pardoned by Trump. He is now back in Trump's 2024 presidential campaign.

Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer for 12 years, served as vice president of the Trump Organization. He pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison and was disbarred from practicing law in New York. He paid the pornography star Stormy Daniels $130,000 upon Trump's instructions to keep their relationship from going public during Trump's 2016 presidential run. Trump's criminal trial is ongoing.

Overall, the Donald is perceived lately to have some cognitive impairment, unable to grasp complex problems, much less nuances of governance — yet he leads the presidential poll against the senile President Biden. Trump has been pronounced by some American forensic psychiatrists as probably insane. He could be the next American president!

The Deegong, on the other hand, is now plagued by ailments and is retired. He still has a clear and incisive mind — and a dirty mouth!

To be continued000
Read 159 times Last modified on Thursday, 09 May 2024 06:05
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