POSTSCRIPT / May 31, 2018 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Political will useless sans moral compass

WHEN watching President Rodrigo Duterte ramble through his trademark speeches, I often catch myself saying “Sayang si Duterte!” (Such wasted power!)

This tough-talking populist from Davao could be a great reformist president, a taskmaster who could whip stubborn Filipinos into line and — for their own good — lead them to peace and prosperity.

The iconoclastic character had an auspicious launch in 2016, stepping onto the stage at the right time, saying the right words in the do-dirty style the telenovela crowd loved. Suddenly there was a candidate to whom the masses could relate.

The man’s most valuable asset is his political will, never mind if he draws blood enforcing it. Taking over from a laidback administration, his perceived grit in challenging the status quo was a firm foundation to build on.

But political will is not enough. It can in fact be counterproductive – as in the selective persecution of political foes and critics, and the blatant disregard of lawful processes.

Political will rings hollow when reduced to a mere exercise of naked power targeting the weak and the poor.

Political will is wasted on a man without depth and direction, without a moral compass. This was our point when we said at the onset “Sayang si Duterte!”  He has it, but has been misusing it and in the process unnecessarily raising doubt and disenchantment.

Of course, this is merely my opinion. I may be just talking to the wind, but I’m amazed at the growing number of citizens who feel, and now express, the same disappointment with how such a valuable capital as political will is being misspent.

Their cultural memory harking back to tribal times, Filipinos by and large look up to their chieftain for practically everything even to the point of granting him the possessions and the powers that rightfully belong to them.

They may initially resist and resent restrictions on their speech and movement, but Filipinos could be convinced by a charismatic leader to sacrifice personal liberties during a brief transition if he could show that the sacrifice would redound to the common good.

We went through the same route when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Many of us helpless victims tried adjusting to it — and even started to like the disciplined flow of things – until the evils of unbridled power started manifesting themselves.

During the presidential campaign, Duterte was able to impress upon his listeners that he had what it takes to lead in redressing generations of grievances. His forceful body language and his tart tongue vouched for his promised pagbabago or reformation.

He had no track record to cite – Davao City being a minor dot in the national picture – but he looked and sounded like he was bursting with political will to raze and then recreate the landscape. He promised change.

And while he promised to correct historical wrongs and straighten the crooked system, most of his rivals projected as the proxies of the ruling elite widely blamed for the socio-economic stagnation choking the masses.

The tough-talking Digong captured the teeming crowds already primed by their sad experience with corrupt politicos to swallow his sweet promise of deliverance.

• Now comes the reality check

NEARLY two years later comes now the reality check. Are we nearer the promised pagbabago? Or even just a whiff of it? Do we find life better than when we cast the ballot in May 2016?

We cannot answer that question for each and every Filipino eking out a living on one of the islands that we can still count as our own “after Duterte.” Each one of us has a personal, or familial, answer.

We are just echoing here the pining for what could have been… what could have been if aside from political will, our President also had Depth, Direction and a Moral Compass.

DEPTH refers to the capacity to dive deeper not only to rock-bed values but also discernment and wisdom refined by education and experience. Has the Mayor-President risen from the Davao template upon which he seems to have copied his blueprint (if any) for the entire nation?

DIRECTION requires a carefully prepared road map, like Moses had an unerring direction when he led his people to the Promised Land. Our leader should be able to tell us clearly where he is taking us and how he proposes to take us there. On the contrary on a smaller scale, we shudder seeing the haphazard rehabilitation of Boracay and the rebuilding of Marawi.

MORAL COMPASS means character. We are not sure if one is born with it or picks it up along life’s ways and byways. Maybe it is both. We did not install a saint into office, but we demand that a president who boasts of youthful rowdiness should have a modicum of moral rectitude.

We elected a president, not a thug, to represent us in small gatherings and international forums. We expect our President, being the father of the nation, to be a role model, including in the way he talks, dresses and comports himself.

It has been said that being president is just acting out a role. Maybe so, but even then, we want our President to dress his part and deliver his lines well. Cursing may lend color to his speeches, but does not add to his arguments. He should spend time and money (it’s not from his pocket anyway) for some kind of finishing.

Above all, we ask the President to have due regard for his fellow human beings, for the least of his brethren, and have deep abiding respect for their rights.

[We beg the indulgence of the reader. Kindly fill in the need for citations and references.]

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 31, 2018)

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