MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/15 December) – While his rivals (or their financial backers) are spending millions daily on TV and radio ads, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte keeps himself in the news by churning out sound bites that could make you either applause or puke, depending on which side you’re on. Whenever he brags about how he keeps the peace in his city, you either cheer or jeer him.
The man keeps the audience glued to him by presenting himself as a contradiction. He belongs to the system, and yet, his adoring devotees believe he is the antidote to the ills besetting it.
But regardless of whether you’re amused or peeved, the fact remains that he has managed to maintain media and public attention at no cost except for the amount of saliva that lands on the faces of his opponents and detractors.
Such tack has worked since the day Duterte’s strategists floated his name for the presidency. He feigned coy to the idea, declaring every now and then that he wasn’t keen on the post. His body language however said the opposite; he went around the country selling federalism as a better setup compared to a highly centralized political structure.
Alongside the sales pitch for federalism, Duterte’s publicists capitalized on Davao City’s image as a paragon of peace and order. Duterte himself reinforced the hype by boasting about his unorthodox, not to say ironhanded, ways of dealing with criminals. He punctuated this with the warning that Manila Bay will become a dumpsite for bodies of suspected criminals [if he becomes president].
In a perfect world, such statement would have sent shock waves across the land. But, no, the people – or at least, many of us – yelled in approval. His supporters, feeling the momentum, raved on social media, eagerly endorsing the bloodbath he vowed would happen on an epic scale so that law-abiding citizens like you and me may enjoy restful nights.
The few who opposed his avowed policy of employing summary methods against criminality found themselves at the receiving end of his supporters’ fury. Not a few echoed their idol’s expletive in bullying his critics into silence. PI became a household phrase overnight.
In short, it’s not his advocacy of federalism (remember it?) but the image of a savior running roughshod against the dregs of society that has made Duterte click. His supporters believe his methods are the cure, the prescription needed to restore decency in a system plagued by ineptness, graft and twisted sense of right and wrong.
They think that if he has no qualms about sending suspected criminals to the hereafter, he won’t hesitate to use the same harshness against thugs in government, the kind that indulge in large-scale larcenies. They equate his toughness in the streets with resolve to cleanse government. In fact, they don’t mind at all if he is toying with the possibility of imposing another authoritarian rule. (Survivors of Martial Law, are you listening?)
The message is this: It’s not that they trust Duterte but that they distrust his opponents. Theirs is not a vote for Duterte but a vote against his rivals.
It’s possible some of Duterte’s supporters are bothered by his vulgar declarations and unsavory ways of getting things done. But at the same time they are enamored with the supposed efficacy of his ways. Call it sinister, dirty, uncivilized, and they won’t mind.
Critics may ask how many suspects have been killed in Davao without the benefit of due process, and his supporters still won’t mind. He has produced results no matter the price. They’d rather have bodies of suspects sprawled on the streets – dead – than see them walk away scot-free owing to loopholes in the justice system and law enforcement.
Yet, this is where the real contradiction lies. For, Duterte’s methods, while being touted to have reaped results, have only made things worse, will only make things worse. Doing away with due process is not an indictment of the system as others would claim. On the contrary, resorting to shortcuts in the guise of maintaining order is a symptom of a system teetering toward breaking point.
This isn’t a cure, this isn’t euthanasia even. This is suicide. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at email@example.com.)