8/11/2016
Two masters

Perhaps one of the most important takeaways from Rodrigo Duterte's first State of the Nation Address - at least when it comes to defining what we can expect from his six years as president - is his vow not to blame the past administrations for the problems he has, well, inherited.

Arguably, it's a good thing. Sure, he still has the propensity to say outrageous things - and, more scarily, nobody knows whether he means what he says or not - but at least they're different and fresh every time, or something. Noynoy Aquino spent his six years lamenting that he has to clean up the grand mess Gloria Arroyo left behind, and he did it so often you can set your clock to it. This is when he paints himself as a messiah. Done and done.

But, at the very least, it shows that Duterte would rather get down to work than get stuck on sentimental vagaries that, admittedly, have indeed bogged the country down. Then again, that's his rationale for allowing the body of Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani - and that is not going well with a lot of people, for obvious reasons.

That said, I do not envy Duterte. I don't think I'd want to be in his position.

I said it a couple of weeks back: he knows he can't afford to piss people off. Running for president on a platform of "everything has gone shit - lemme fix that" is bound to make a lot of people anxious. Is he going to break all the "good" things Aquino has done? He somewhat addressed this at the SONA: touching on the economy, he vowed to continue with the previous administration's macroeconomic policies, which arguably kept the country afloat at a turbulent time in the global economy, and then later sold (not clearly, I still believe) federalism as the way to bring progress to parts of the country that's not Manila. At least, you can argue, he's aware that he's building on what came before, the way all these plans to solve traffic, once and for all, in the capital have always been in the government's long-term plans, albeit without the keen use of the word "crisis" to characterize it all.

But again, he won on the back of a sizable number of people (but, again, not the majority) disillusioned with how the past ten years worked out. It's understandable, the feeling that nothing really happened. Noynoy painted himself as, well, the messiah, and nothing really happened. Sure, he may have put some corrupt bastards in jail, but it's not like he wasn't corrupt himself, either. So, that guy had his shot, and he screwed up, and now, here's another messiah - but hey, he's reluctant about it, so he'll be better, right?

And that sizable number can be quite smug in their confidence that Duterte will deliver this time. Some may play humble about it, quietly saying Noynoy's had his chance and should never show up on the news again, quietly agreeing to even the most controversial of the current president's pronouncements, if only to save this country from whatever it is it needs saving from. Some are obviously aggressive, hurling harsh insults at anyone who expresses even a slightly reserved opinion, and acting as if those people - "kultong dilaw", "kultong tuwad", even if those people aren't exactly Noynoy supporters either - are enemies that need to be vanquished.

"Tanong lang po," someone asked - on a YouTube video of a news report on UNTV - "pupuwede po bang kasuhan ng taong bayan ng impeachment si Sereno?"

"Tama," another one replied. "Walang kuwenta si Sereno!"

Of course, the idea being, Maria Lourdes Sereno, head of the Supreme Court, will get in the way of Duterte's so-called war on drugs solely because she's an Aquino appointee. Of course, she did it by writing that letter to Duterte looking to clear up things about the judges he claims are involved in drugs.

Sure, Duterte's response was a vague threat of martial law, but this all fizzled out with everybody feeling good about themselves. You can say Sereno stood up for justice, or you can say Duterte shut that bitch down. Alas, this is where we are these days. The 2016 elections was extremely polarizing in a way we have not seen before. At least, when Noynoy was elected, it's clear what we all wanted to do - clean up Gloria's mess, stamp out corruption, make our lives better - and we only disagreed with who should lead the charge. This time, the whole continuity-versus-change narrative has led to a split that will never heal, not as long as everybody believes only they are right and the rest is wrong.

No, I do not envy Duterte. Even he seems to be confused about who to listen to, much more what to say, considering his lapses back towards gruff, unpresidential mode. It looks like he's figured out a way around all this, however: go his own way. Leave some items to his cabinet - whether they're competent remains to be seen - while he pursues his pet projects. Like, say, killing alleged drug pushers while insisting we can't really purge drugs completely because they mostly come from abroad. Or pushing for federalism without the necessary discussion, because we need to teach corrupt, greedy Imperial Manila a lesson on sharing. Or, as obvious lawyer Salvador Panelo began hinting at yesterday, insisting that the Philippines is in grave danger and martial law is needed to solve everything.

I mean, why not? After all, Panelo, without any concrete justification, said Filipinos will support Duterte if he declares martial law.

And your responses...

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