1/21/2020
Legacy! Legacy!

The radio silence from Rodrigo Duterte in the hours immediately after the (first) eruption of the Taal volcano understandably led to some criticism. Sure, you can argue that many government agencies (and local government units) were on the case, as much as they were also caught by surprise. Sure, you can argue that in these times you don't really need to hear from the president; whatever he'll say is just noise compared to information that one may need to survive.

But, still, as Sunday night turned to Monday morning, we heard nothing from him. I'm sure the first we heard of him was on Monday afternoon, and by then that was through glorified-assistant-with-an-elected-position-for-some-reason Bong Go. The president, he said, was spending the weekend in Davao - something he often did, and insisted on doing the moment he was sworn in as president. The president wanted to fly back earlier, but the airport was closed due to ash fall. But we should take heart: at least, or so Go said, the president's private plane was the first to land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, just as it began to resume operations.

Even then he didn't involve himself much in the government's response to Taal's eruption. Again, understandable. He really wouldn't add anything. We heard more from Renato Solidum, head of PHIVOLCS, and from other experts. We heard from the folks at DTI as they attempted to clamp down on retailers hiking up the price of N95 masks. We heard from local government officials as they tried to make sense of what's going on - and even here Francis Tolentino, a man whose one ambition then was to become senator, and who seemed to stick out like a sore thumb at one of those televised press briefings, had a stake, as former mayor of Tagaytay City.

True enough, Duterte's first direct remarks on the unfolding situation in Batangas was, well, noise. "Kainin ko pa yang ash fall na yan, puta," he said, when asked about whether he is fit enough to tour the affected areas. "Pati ‘yang Taal, ihian ko pa yan, putang buwisit na yan. Doon ako sa crater."

I'm not sure if he ever did, but then, if you ask me, he really wouldn't add anything. I imagine he'd go around with a crush of reporters (and perhaps, let's admit it, bloggers and vloggers more sympathetic to the administration line) following his every move. He'd only be there to bark orders to those who are better equipped to respond, and even then, those orders would be along the lines of "make sure I don't look bad". I don't know. It just doesn't seem to be his style. To me, it seems like he'd rather bark orders at a command post, preferably air conditioned. He'd have more capable (and better-positioned) people on the ground to do the work. It's his love of the militaristic framework, after all: generals present their plans to him, he demands they be implemented to the letter, and so on.

The president did visit the Marine Corps a day after the first eruption, a previously scheduled appointment that somehow pushed through despite government suspending work in non-essential offices. There, he wooed his soldiers by gifting them (or at least some of them) PHP 50,000 in cash, lending a striking contrast to new criticism mounting against him, as people recalled the government slashing funds for calamity response, and heard of affected farmers being offered loans, and of local government units begging the private sector for donations.

While Taal has not acted up since then, the uncertainty continues, what with PHIVOLCS raising the possibility that a bigger eruption may yet come. Within that week, the president - or at least his propaganda team - kicked off an information campaign showing off what they call "the Duterte legacy", two and a half years before his time as president ends. But then, it's a continuation of a theme the president himself started, when he talked at length about the legacy he will leave behind during the last State of the Nation Address, just a little over halfway past his six-year term.

It strikes me as unusual, how Duterte is already keen to showcase all that he's done, never mind that in most cases it's not yet mission accomplished. Sure, you can argue - and even I would - that he's pulled the trigger on a lot of things, and that should count for something. (Presidential spokesperson Sal Panelo has indeed made a variation of this argument, saying the president is just keen to emulate the political will that only one of his predecessors, Ferdinand Marcos, has shown, supposedly.) But then, talking of a legacy with three years left? It's like he's setting someone up to succeed him. Maybe his glorified assistant in the Senate? Or maybe it's someone whose time in the Senate has long passed, someone who insists he really won as vice president, and not that bitch who does nothing otherwise.

But then I remembered the uncertainty surrounding the president's health. There has been a lot of speculation about Duterte's health, considering his age and his wildly varied pronouncements on the matter across the years. I mean, he did say he's been diagnosed with this and that, but with all the noise he's put out during his time as president, paired with a generally evasive (unless it makes him look good) press team, you're minded to disregard anything he says, sincere or otherwise. Still, he keeps on hinting about it, so there must be some health issues, considering how even his handlers don't try to hide it completely, but rather sugarcoat it - he had a headache so he had to fly home from Japan early, and no, it's not because they didn't give him the welcome he deserves, or something.

I think I've cracked it. I think Rodrigo Duterte is keen to showcase his legacy now because he knows he's not for long in this world.

I mean, for all the criticism I have of him and his policies, I think he's a simple man with simple joys. Sure, that's partly the personality cult around him, and that's partly because he can afford to do so because his family has dominated Davao politics for decades. Still, I genuinely think he's a simple man with simple joys. He just wants to be appreciated. He's gotten that in Davao, and now that he's the leader of the whole country, he wants to be appreciated by a wider audience. Sure, it's a harder crowd to crack - damn those bastards from Imperial Manila - but he must be genuine about it, right? Even if he has to (allegedly) pay his way to get the love he thinks he deserves?

Also, his recent actions suggests he just wants to relax and have fun in the twilight years of his life. Why bother with those who are affected by the eruption of Taal when he can ride a fancy motorcycle, at night, in the grounds of his presidential palace? Ah, this is the life, he must've thought, or whatever that translates to in Visayan. As one of those bastards from Imperial Manila, supposedly, unfortunately, I don't speak the language.

And your responses...

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