By F. Sionil Jose / The Philippine Star
I got a lot of flak over my recent statement that Duterte may yet be the best president we ever had next to Magsaysay. It is so obvious and sad that after all these years of public instruction in English, Filipinos still have a poor comprehension of it. This includes even those whom I consider intelligent because they are in media. I said, “may yet be,” which means that judgment should be held in abeyance until his term is over. I said, “next to President Magsaysay.” I did not say that Duterte was equal to him.
Why is there so much vehemence and blindness in political discourse today?
What has happened this last four years of his term, Duterte has polarized Filipinos with his foul language, abrasive style and continued flip flop in policy. It is very difficult for Filipinos to make an objective view of the man. You either like him or hate him. But I have never met Duterte, so I can make quite an objective appraisal of what has transpired in the last four years. First, I learned to ignore his rants, I looked at what he had done, and most importantly, I became aware of the attitude of the people towards him, his great popularity. His tremendous influence is proven in the last election when, through his endorsements, he was able to place nobodys like Bong Go and Gen. Bato to the Senate, defeating more popular national figures like re-electionist Bam Aquino.
It is so obvious now that whatever his critics say, or whatever hosannas his admirers heap on him, doesn’t matter because he has the people in the palm of his hand. What political and social analysts should do is to find out how he did this.
And now, to the comments that he holds me in his palm, too, and that I never criticized him – if anyone will bother to scroll through my Facebook posts or go back to The STAR file of my column, Hindsight, they will see that I criticized Digong from his first day in office for permitting Marcos to be buried in the National Cemetery.
I cannot see how a man who professes abhorrence for corruption can honor the most corrupt president this country ever had. I have also continuously criticized him for pandering to China and for being complicit to China’s expansion in Southeast Asia by claiming the South China Sea as its own. This I have done consistently.
I have also criticized him for debunking our treaties with the United States. This at a time when we need American assistance most in our defense of our territorial integrity. I have criticized his drug campaign, his extrajudicial killings of petty pushers and small fry operators when he should have concentrated on the drug lords and, most of all, in closing the main source of the drug supplier which is China. I suggested he follow Singapore’s and Malaysia’s solution: execute all those found with drugs.
As for corruption and poverty, this is almost a mantra in my writing, and in this regard, I hope that the Build, Build, Build program includes feeder roads to the far-flung villages of this country. They need these roads badly because they are also the poorest and the most vulnerable to the dulcet lure of Communism.
Duterte is unique in our history. His rise to power from mayor to president, his atrocious style and finally, I take my hat off to his courage. In the beginning of his term, he immediately challenged the Filipino oligarchy that has dirtied not only Philippine politics but also has retarded economic development by sending their money abroad and investing in non-productive and conspicuous enterprises.
Philippine media, which is also controlled by the oligarchy, has for years been corrupted and regarded itself as powerful and invincible. Duterte put the media in their place. Additionally, Duterte criticized the Catholic Church – a very rich institution which could do so much more than what it is doing now to help the poor. As I said before, especially in this pandemic, the Catholic Church should have provided soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless.
I also appreciated what he did in his first State of the Nation Address when he told all those politicians that he didn’t owe them anything.
In Duterte’s four years in office, he built so many roads and buildings like no President has ever done. And look – if only because he cleaned up Manila Bay, I am justified.
More than any president, he modernized the Armed Forces and the police, providing them with new arms and technology to further ensure not just the security of the state but also of the people. I hope that the protracted war with the Communists will be resolved during his term. But let the Communist Party continue.
As for freedom of the press, contrary to the noisy complaints of its champions, he has not closed any radio stations or newspapers, and no journalist has ever been jailed. Critics pointed out the closure of ABS-CBN, but as I already stated, the case against ABS-CBN was not about press freedom. It was money, politics, power, how it is abused and maintained.
It is Duterte’s misfortune, however, that this pandemic struck. Millions are jobless, and hunger stalks the land. I worry about our food supply and the longevity of this virus and its variants. Thank God, the family system is intact to absorb the burden that the government could not. But I haven’t lost hope. The infrastructure for recovery is in place and, contrary to gossip, Duterte is as healthy as a carabao.
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Meanwhile, let us look at our political institutions, and in the forthcoming election year, let us strengthen them, bearing in mind that institutions can only be as strong as the people who build them. Their major weakness was illustrated by Marcos when he declared Martial Law. Cory did not restore democracy, she weakened it. So, the Marcoses are back in power, and their foremost ally is the President himself. Let us look at ourselves and weep.