The unraveling of the Duterte legacy — political miscalculations Daily Tribune

The unraveling of the Duterte legacy — political miscalculations Featured

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FOR lack of a much gentler phrase, I substitute "political miscalculations" for blunder, debacle or catastrophe, contributory to the eventual demise of the President's legacy. My column last week detailed how the 18 hearings of the Sen. Dick Gordon's blue ribbon committee (BRC) left no doubt in our people's mind the extent of plunder precipitated by the "saga of Lao-Lo-Liong-Go" (named after the four stooges of Pharmally, in the first part of this series, February 9), the corruption scandal that obliterated Duterte's image as the nemesis of the corrupt and champion of good governance as he reduced himself to a blubbering despot attacking the BRC investigations while defending the indefensible — this Chinese criminal network headed by his erstwhile "economic adviser," Michael Yang, the Dragon, a suspected drug lord.

Political promises — a travesty

As Davao city mayor for more than two decades, candidate Duterte in 2015 entered national politics already conversant with the inherently defective Philippine system of governance, that the rot in our democracy is systemic. Thus, pragmatic and colorful candidate Duterte ran under a slogan "Pagbabago" — promising political reforms on popular issues reduced to sound bites.

These three pillars of his platform underpinned his legacy. Tokhang (Tok-tok hangyo!), a massive house-to-house campaign principally conducted in the slum areas and poverty-stricken communities purportedly to root out the drug pushers and users arresting the country's slide from becoming a narco-state. Instead, this drastic method experimented locally in Davao with mixed results turned into a human rights fiasco when applied at the national level.

The Duterte doctrine of whiff of corruption, a mockery of an anti-corruption drive in the bureaucracy that replaced the corrupt with sycophants to juicy government sinecures was instituted. Federalism and local autonomy — the linchpin of a structural reform that could have changed positively the dynamics of power between centralized and local governments units granting the masses a modicum of decision-making competences to run their own lives, was introduced. The latter required revisions to the 1986 Constitution. These imperatives for political reforms define the nature of the centralized authority of the presidency itself and how political and economic power are dispersed and dispensed with using the majesty of his office.

But the one factor that now threatens to unhinge this legacy is the Deegong's inability to incorporate these into a vision for the country translated into structures and institutions that must be put in place.

Indubitably he had successes in the economic front, foremost of which is his vaunted Build, Build, Build programs and many great pro-poor initiatives. But many of these liberal populist raids on the public's coffers are stopgap measures to alleviate poverty, a band-aid solution to the ills of society, which by their very nature were merely palliatives with dire consequences long after he leaves office.

Power an evanescent concept

But this slide to the depths needs to be recounted for future presidents to learn from; the concept of political power and the primary responsibility for those elected to seats of power must understand its purpose. That it must be used solely for the betterment of the people. That the task of leadership is to inspire and uplift the Filipino from their current condition to a point beyond where they need not be uplifted. Any deviation from its legitimate use is an abomination, be it in the abuse and misuse of power or even in its non-use. The powerful must understand too that such gifts by the people are ephemeral and may be taken away by the gift-givers themselves. When people's trust is violated, they have recourse to exact retributive justice. In this case such transgressions against the people demand collective vengeance. Corporal punishments are expected but no less painful and traumatic as the judgment of history.

Witness that of the Marcos père punished by history for similar lapses despite his reputation as an intellectual giant, a genius and a political conjurer who survived and flourished for two decades in power. Serendipitously, he left behind a loyal and driven son and a shrewd older daughter who painfully suffered his vilification through the years; to repair whatever legacy the father left behind while attempting to erase the collective memories of a sad epoch by creating an alternative narrative directed toward the restoration of a tattered reputation. This historical revisionism, which involves not only a reinterpretation of events but a reversal of moral judgments of the martial law regime, may succeed if the Marcos fils wins this election. In contrast with the Deegong's plight, despite the many successes of his economic and pro-poor programs, waylaid only by the pandemic, and facing the judgment of history, could Sara, Paolo and Baste, have what it takes to reprise what the Marcos siblings are doing; repair their father's legacy?

Fatal political endgames

What could have helped Duterte perpetuate his legacy was to fulfil all his election promises of political reforms and structuring of government to address the ills of society, stark poverty, injustices, impunity and the erosion of the rule of law with his political party. Although Duterte presided over a byzantine political party system he had at his disposal an ideologically driven party successfully forged in the anvil of desperation and hopelessness of the martial law era.

The PDP-Laban provided the underpinnings for the government platform. This loyal band of original mass-base ideologues and political technocrats, later usurped by opportunists from other political parties, needed only a spark — a serious display of real political will to initiate changes. At the outset, the Deegong's dominance over his political party and influential power brokers was palpable. The sheer force of his personality cowed the political/economic elite, the tradpols, the oligarchy, the Church hierarchy, a substantial number of the populace and even many corrupt bureaucrats.

But he mistook his alpha male demeanor of threats, use of expletives, misogynist language, brute, frontal and iconoclastic attacks as manifestations of political will. It was not. It was merely a façade.

Death throes

Never in the history of Philippine presidential politics was an outgoing president with 80 percent approval rating failed to provide for lasting political contingencies. He allowed this once revered party to split, thus presiding over the demise by his own hand of an emerging institution and the continuity of his program beyond his time. The chairman and party head instead bet on the ascendancy of daughter Sara to assume and perpetuate his legacy — one which she herself negated. An institutional obligation was substituted for a family matter, not a concern that involves the Filipino — but strictly Duterte personal. There is no way now that the PDP-Laban will survive with two factions irreconcilably at odds; Manny Pacquiao, the standard-bearer of one faction, and the Duterte/Cusi faction left in the doldrums playing with irrelevancy as Duterte tied his own hands by attacking the leading candidate, BBM.

He could at this late date endorse BBM. The latter must accept graciously.

But if he does win, Marcos will not forget the insults heaped by the Deegong upon the Marcoses — calling them "mga kawatan."

Thus, the ultimate nail on the coffin of a legacy.

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