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The Promise that is President Duterte

President Duterte has now been in office for more than a year and a half. His election is one of the most exciting things to happen in a lifetime – a true Mindanoan who lives & works in Mindanao. Not one of those carpetbaggers who claim to be from Mindanao, but live & work in Manila… hardly able to speak the dialect. As an outsider, President Digong has shaken things up. He is brash, defies convention and unafraid to do things his way. Wala’y maka badlong. He revels in the fact that his position pretty much gives him the license to talk in any way he wants…the more controversial, the better. He enjoys his untouchability, and how nobody – especially not the traditional Manila elite – can do anything about this uncontrollable probinsiyano. Sometimes, though, one wishes that President Duterte show his office the respect it deserves. Perhaps he simply does not want to act like the others who held the office before him. But hopefully, he realizes that being presidential does not necessarily mean that he is giving in to the way things were done before; and it certainly would not be a betrayal of his Mindanaonness. Perhaps then, he will conduct himself in a manner that would make his Nanay Soling proud. Gawas pa, ang tunay nga tigas wala man ka-ayoy salita.

He certainly does not let precedents dictate his courses of action, nor does he shy away from seemingly unpopular decisions. I say seemingly because the press always portrays his actions to be against the tide of public opinion. The self-appointed political pundits here and abroad cannot wait for him to make a mistake. Yet his support among the common tao remains steadfast. Manila does not know what to do with this President.

There are no sacred cows, as he will swear – and curse – at ambassadors, foreign government leaders and officials of international organizations. Neither is he afraid to wield the power of his office to go after his enemies. It is quite possible that there is no act by either the executive or legislative, and maybe even judicial, agencies of the government that does not have his blessing. His control is absolute.

Like others before him, he has placed close friends and allies in positions of privilege and authority to ensure of this. In doing so, he understandably places a higher premium on the trust and confidence he has in them over the caliber and qualifications of his appointees. Inevitably, their competence comes into question. Even worse, their credibility suffers. They are his Waterloo, and could very much lead to the undoing of the President. So it should not be too much to ask of these so-called supporters and advisers to put the interests of President Duterte before theirs. Nevertheless, it is so heartening to see so many coming from outside of Manila occupy positions of power in government. About time, and the Filipino is no worse of.

Ever since I can remember, the Philippine government has always been ruled by personal interests…where knowing the right people is the ticket to a better life. To protect what they have, and find ways to make even more money, wealthy families go into politics. Dynasties are created – where husbands and wives and parents and children and siblings get on a merry-go-round of elective positions to keep power in the family’s hands. This is the society Filipinos are born into today, and have been for many generations past. The rich get richer, the crooked get rich, and the poor mainly stay poor. Some – thru sheer hard work & will power – succeed in lifting themselves out of poverty. But most are stuck where they are – going from bad to worse.

President Duterte can change this. If he is able to bring economic development to the far-flung areas of the country, it would improve the lives of many. Perhaps giving more power to local government units can be an engine towards this. Who better than the local people would know the needs of their villages? If they will be able to address whatever issues they face without having to ask permission from the national government, they would be able to act quickly and decisively. At its very core, this should be the goal of federalism. The centralized form of government where Manila exercises total control has only been good for Manila. This has to change. If a constitutional amendment is necessary, then so be it.

Perhaps then, President Duterte can also work for other changes in the charter, such as requiring all national elective positions to be based on regional representation. In its current form, for example, the members of the Senate are practically all based in Manila. This is because in national elections, people vote for those they know. And those based in Manila have the advantage because it is the center of power. Throughout our country’s history, there have only been stray members from the Visayas or Mindano. It is time to make sure that power is shared by all Filipinos – wherever they may be from.

Another charter change that should be considered is to require all government officials to disclose if they have ever acquired the citizenship of another country – or became a permanent resident of one. Loyalty to country should be indispensable, and beyond question. That is why I have always been skeptical of Filipinos who have become naturalized US citizens getting involved in the politics of the Philippines. These people swore an oath to bear arms against all enemies of the U.S. The oath does not provide for any exception – certainly not the Philippines. Thus, when they renounced their Philippine citizenship and became Americans, they forfeited any right to plan acts, write opinions or give speeches against President Duterte– even if they re-acquire it. They should just enjoy the comfortable lives they’ve made for themselves in the U.S. … visit their former country once in a while, give money to charities, or raise funds for typhoon victims so they can feel like they’re making up for turning their back on the Philippines. But they gave up any right to do more. If I remember correctly, one of the reasons President Duterte ran for office was the candidacy of a Filipino who had naturalized as a US citizen. He could not bear to see someone who had turned her back on her country of birth become President – even though she re-acquired Philippine citizenship. Really, how much of a citizen can one be if he or she changes it like one changes clothes. And let’s not forget the former cabinet secretary who lied about his U.S. citizenship. That was a betrayal of trust. Filipino citizenship is not a matter of convenience or expediency – being Filipino is in the heart, and true Filipino pride would never let someone give it up.

President Duterte has certainly made it clear that he is proud to be Filipino… re-defining the role of the Philippines in the world stage. In the pursuit of his foreign relations, he forges a path of fierce independence – unafraid to assert the sovereignty of the Philippines, yet willing to fashion new and historic ties with other nations. There is even a re-evaluation of the Philippines’ relationship with the U.S.  Often, the Filipino goes to Washington, DC hat in hand. Not under this President. He has made it clear that he prefers a much more level playing field with America. With a shared history, it is hard to understand how Filipinos have been treated by the U.S. As shown by this same history, the U.S has not been fair to the Philippines. Once a U.S. territory, Filipinos then were American nationals. Nevertheless, Filipinos were treated as aliens under U.S. immigration laws. But precisely because they were American nationals, Filipinos had the duty to fight in World War II under the U.S. Armed Forces. Yet, Filipino soldiers of the American military were denied recognition as U.S. veterans at the end of the second world war. Even today, Filipino WW II veterans – what’s left of them, anyway – are still denied U.S. veterans’ benefits! Many more aspects invite scrutiny – the Balangiga bells of Samar as war trophies, for instance; or how, when special immigration benefits were granted to children left behind by U.S. servicemen serving in Southeast Asia, only those in South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Thailand were included – but children left in the Philippines were not! All these should be reason enough for the Philippines to make sure that in every agreement we have with the U.S., the Philippines is given fair and equal treatment. There is no reason, for instance, why the Philippines should waive jurisdiction over certain criminal acts under the Visiting Forces Agreement. The Philippines must be on equal footing to the United States, especially now with American military forces being present all over the country. Both parties have something to bring to the table. Such an agreement should grant the parties equal rights and responsibilities. Anything less would be fundamentally unfair.

If all these are achieved during his administration, then the promise that is President Duterte would have been well-kept.


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