POSTSCRIPT / April 23, 2017 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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‘Time 100’ list a big letdown

THE TERM “influential” is double-edged – it cuts either positively or negatively — but many fans of President Rodrigo Duterte must have been carried away by their obsession to have him top the Time list of the world’s most influential persons to bother with the difference.

For a while, their relentless posts on social media and their campaign for Duterte nomination votes threatened to swamp the annual Time search for the world’s most influential personalities.

When Duterte got the biggest share of nominations (5 percent versus the 3 percent of second-placers Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Pope Francis, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg), his followers thought he would be hailed as the most influential figure on earth.

But it dawned on them this week that global awareness of the person’s presence was just one of the subjective criteria — and that the final judge was not the e-voting public but still Time itself.

Duterte ended up as just one of the 100 “influential” persons that included 25 Pioneers, 17 Artists, 14 Titans, 24 Leaders (one of them Duterte), and 20 Icons (one of whom was Senator Leila de Lima).

In its May 1-8 issue, Time relegates Duterte — tagged “Iron Fist of the Philippines” — to a bottom corner of Page 74 with only a small caricature (that does not even resemble him) instead of a glowing picture like those used for most of the others. The write-up is a very critical 185-word comment by former Colombian president (1990-1994) César Gaviria, an authority on narcotics.

By its low editorial regard for Duterte, Time does not seem to see him as a good influence or role model.

In contrast, on top pf Page 126 is an action shot of a waving-to-the-crowd De Lima, who is tagged “Speaking truth to power.” Time runs a sympathetic write-up on the detained senator, also in 185 words, by former US ambassador to the UN (2013-2017) Samantha Power.

Time editors pointed out that their listing was not a power ranking nor a measuring of wealth. The selection, they added, was a subjective and creative process that did not judge whether the nominee had been good or bad.

The multi-step process included online nomination from the world audience. We have noticed that the frenzy drew even non-readers (and trolls) who took to their computers, cellphones and such devices to “vote” for their local idol and pad his score.

Involving their bureaus and writers all over the world, and even List alumni, Time editors then sifted the 1,000-plus nominees, whittling them down to a precise number – 100 – divided into five categories. Duterte was mixed with the Leaders, and De Lima with the Icons.

• De Lima used as Duterte counterfoil

WE SENSE that De Lima, who also committed prosecutorial excesses in her heyday as justice secretary under the previous administration, was sneaked in to boost her political stock and somehow dull the presence of Duterte on the list.

Time may have inadvertently saved Duterte (and itself) from becoming the butt of jokes had he been adjudged, as his fans had wanted, the world’s most influential leader – putting him in the unlikely league of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jin-ping, Kim Jong-on and other power players.

For balance, Time included “active opponents” – such as Trump vs Kim Jong-un, and Duterte vs De Lima whose denunciation of his bloody attacks on suspected drug dealers and users has marked her for retaliation.

Gaviria’s write-up on Duterte: “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Rodrigo Duterte has said. His approach is as ill-considered as his grasp of history (more than half of Hitler’s 11 million victims were Jewish). Since Duterte’s inauguration last year, some 7,000 people have been killed. His iron-fisted strategy alarms governments, human-rights organizations and faith-based groups while winning high approval ratings at home.

When I was President of Colombia, I was also seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs. But after spending billions, I discovered that the war was unwinnable and the human costs were devastating. The cure was infinitely worse than the disease.

There are solutions that work. Duterte could start by treating drugs as a health, human rights and development issue. He could prosecute the most violent criminals and provide treatment for users rather than condemn them to prison, or worse. There will always be drugs in the Philippines, whether the President likes it or not. The tragedy is that many more people are likely going to die as he learns this lesson.

Power’s piece on the senator: Leila de Lima knew with whom she was dealing. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (dubbed “Duterte Harry”) has insulted Pope Francis, told US President Barack Obama to “go to hell” and expressed regret he did not go “first” in a gang rape. Since last June, when Duterte took office, some 7,000 people have been killed in his merciless anti­drug campaign. Most opposition politicians have kept their heads down, knowing Duterte is both terrifyingly brutal and massively popular.

But Senator de Lima has become Duterte’s most vocal critic — a role her friends call suicidal. Last August De Lima convened a hearing on Duterte’s drug-war killings, featuring devastating testimony from a former hit man. Duterte allies stripped De Lima of her Justice Committee chair. In February she was jailed.

It is a disturbing testament to the current solidarity among strongmen and the global surge in impunity that De Lima’s cause has not been more embraced. And yet, even from prison, she continues to speak out against her President: “It’s not OK with me that we have a murderous psychopath occupying the highest post in the land.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 23, 2017)

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