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“We need radical change!”

“If killing criminals would mean violating human rights, then so be it so long as we can walk safely along the streets!”

“Duterte will instill discipline in our society.”

“Inexperience? Duterte has been an authority in Davao for 30 years! He knows what he is doing!”

The above are just some of reasons people use to justify Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign for presidency. Sadly, most of them are emotional, knee-jerk responses fueled by the great discontent over the Philippines’ social and political issues rather than a logical criteria set for presidential candidates which look into the core of the problems besetting the country.

A good friend of mine shared on Facebook a brilliant post which briefly summarized why Duterte’s approach to resolving the issues in this country—which includes using extrajudicial killings—and the above-mentioned reasons do not hold water. To quote:

“Unfortunately, Duterte’s brand of leadership, if you can even call it one, is hardly an answer to the problems plaguing Philippine society. “Killing bad people” (side note: some of which may have been unjustly accused) solves nothing because it doesn’t treat the root cause of the problem. It’s like a student who took Calculus for the nth time and failed for the nth time, and who, disheartened by the result, decides the succeeding semester to take up Chemistry instead. Obviously, he won’t fail Calculus but he won’t pass it either.”

Radical Change
What Duterte brings is not radical change. Instead what Duterte offers is an overly simplistic approach which aims to remove, cover, scrape off a problem. I would be far more impressed with a leader who is capable of working within the system while respecting the rule of law to make reforms. Corruption, poverty, crime: these are complex issues which require more than Duterte’s own knee-jerk response. We need a leader who can ask the question “why is this happening” or “what is the root cause” and then act, rather than someone who simply says “kill him because he’s a drug lord.”

Duterte’s philosophy is a dangerous precedent of a culture tolerant of disregarding individual freedom for superficial progress, human rights for the illusion of security, reason for emotion, rule of law for the rule of the beast. Reading some of the defenses above, we already see the recklessness of supporters who are willing to support any measure, no matter how radical and intrinsically flawed, just to be “safe”. What limits Duterte from relying on “urges” when the filing of his COC was preceded by an indecisiveness meant to toy with the law? What will keep Duterte from not abusing his power when has done so already?

Human Rights
People tend to disregard that the extrajudicial killings in Davao have only created an illusion of peace and order running on an undercurrent of violence often involving gangs, many of which involve minors being hired to gun down criminals. Those who think this as morally right system of correction have allowed their good sense to be clouded by their personal disenchantments, forgetting that by supporting the killings they too are complicit to the violence destroying communities. As they say, fire does not put out fire. The ends never justifies the means.

Unfortunately, the mayor of Davao City seems inclined to believe that taking matters into his own hands is a most effective remedy to what my friend (channelling Rizal) calls “cancers of society”. Yes, crime has its accompanying punishment (I personally believing in bringing back the death penalty for grave crimes including rape and murder) but one which should be achieved through due process. By toying and disregarding due process and the rule of law, Duterte makes himself no different from corrupt public officials and powerful drug lords escaping punishment thanks to a culture of impunity supported and nourished when the justice system is influenced, “commercialized”, or in the mayor’s case, completely thrown out the window. We need a president who can strengthen and not weaken an already fragile rule of law.

Disciplining The Public
What is the root cause of the drug problem in our society? Why is the crime rate so high? What are the flaws in the justice system preventing criminals to be jailed and leaving cases to rot in courts? Duterte sure knows how to resolve chaos, they say. After all, how else can a leader instill discipline without using fear?

I would find more impressive a presidential candidate willing to implement grassroots reform; someone fearless enough to tackle the issue head on. Start from the bottom up. We need someone who can overhaul the educational system. Include courses instilling on the youth the value of following the law: why it is important to use footbridges instead of jaywalking, why cutting queues is wrong, why littering is wrong, why stealing is wrong, why beating the red light is wrong. What are the bad effects of drug use? Why is catcalling a woman disrespectful? What were the intentions of our constitutional authors and what sort of vision did they have for our society?

Our current educational system puts a premium on memorizing or accumulating knowledge rather than critical thinking and so we ended up with a society that is philosophically impoverished, and easily swayed by someone appealing to emotion. A leader who can implement radical change in the educational system is more likely to achieve the results we aspire to have: respectful, disciplined, functional and dignified members of the society

We need someone who can get the children out of the streets and inside classrooms – give them opportunities to become productive members of the society, not wait for them to become petty thieves, drug pushers and users to be shot one day. It may appear as if such efforts will do nothing on a bigger scale but these small things are precisely what serve as the foundation of a healthy, disciplined, and strong society. Education will always be better than fear.

Duterte supporters bank on the mayor’s experience running Davao City. But like Binay, the Duterte camp falls into the trap of believing they can replicate what they have achieved locally on a national level. This, once again, fails to recognize how Philippine society and culture is fragmented and multi-textured. What may work for a city or region may not necessarily work on a national scale. Binay’s stint as the Vice President hardly saw any of his promises fulfilled, right?

Oh wait, Duterte is different. He is just like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore! Well maybe, but at least the Singaporean did not support extrajudicial killings.

Experience in a local level does not guarantee success in the national level, especially when the highest leader of the land also interacts and discourses with other leaders of the world. Oh, but that is what his cabinet is for, to advise him. Yes! But then we know how dependence on the cabinet can lead you to nowhere. Just ask NoyNoy Aquino.

We need an experienced leader alright. But we also need a president who not only sees local issues but global ones as well. Can you imagine Duterte in APEC when he cannot even discipline himself from chewing gum while being interviewed on national television? Lee Kuan Yew must have tossed and turned inside his grave!


The kind of leader I look for is far braver than the kind Duterte is. The kind of leader I want, in order to achieve the reforms that are necessary, would have to think outside the box while working within it, even if along the process he loses his “friends” and ego for the sake of progress that is dignified, sustainable, inclusive, and far-reaching. Duterte treats the box like an obstacle for his ego which cannot seem to fit inside it, failing to the see that inside is where the greatest battles for change are fought.

I don’t want a palliative remedy. I want a long-term solution. Duterte’s platform has none of it. What he offers is a quick fix, no different from the government’s recent efforts to scurry away street dwellers along Roxas Boulevard away from the prying eyes of APEC delegates. To the world, Manila must have seemed progressive: rosy, traffic-free, perfect! But behind the false façade, the sinister and sad truth lies, the saddest of which along with Duterte none of the other five presidential candidates seem capable of leading this country.

Demagoguery is a discourse that promises stability, certainty, and escape from the responsibilities of rhetoric through framing public policy in terms of the degree to which and means by which (not whether) the outgroup should be punished for the current problems of the ingroup. Public debate largely concerns three stases: group identity (who is in the ingroup, what signifies outgroup membership, and how loyal rhetors are to the ingroup); need (usually framed in terms of how evil the outgroup is); what level of punishment to enact against the outgroup (restriction of rights to extermination).