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The Reality of President Duterte

There was much celebration at the election of President Duterte 4 years ago. History was made, as for the first time ever a true Mindanoan was going to be the head of the Philippine government. This meant that someone from outside the usual tracks to the traditional revolving door of power in Manila was going to get a chance to lead the country. Many looked forward to all the positive changes this could bring.

Manila’s corridors of power had to learn to adapt to a Mindanaon at the top. In fact, technocrats from Mindanao were immediately given government positions. Often, a Davao connection was enough. Neither were classmates from law school forgotten.  Most notable of all, ensuring their loyalty to the Commander-in-Chief, former members of the military or police were appointed to head various agencies and government-controlled corporations. It’s never really clear what credentials or competencies they bring to their offices – if any. In a couple of cases, the President even got them elected to the Senate.  And at least one of them does not seem to understand that as a senator, he is a member of a co-equal branch of government – choosing instead to continue to be unabashedly subservient to the chief executive.

Alas, Filipinos seemed to have ended up with just more of the same. Some personalities may be different, but the greed and desire for personal advancement are just as much. Worse, some personalities are simply allowed to stay on board. Worst of all, history is even being revised. The people will never forget the truth, though.

Back to President Duterte. More than anything, he relishes his role as a maverick. He flaunts his disregard for conventions and traditions with dirty language – sparing no one with his swearing and cursing. He threatens the rich – whether newly minted or old money. He lets those who do him harm know that their comeuppance would be coming. And because he is the President, he is able to make good on his threats.

But his threats are no good to drug traffickers – supposedly a favorite target of his. He promised to rid the country of this scourge in 6 months, even encouraging his police to use whatever means at their disposal against this criminals.

Did. Not. Work.

For all the extra-judicial killings (of mostly lowly abusers), the drug problem continues – the drug lords able to import and distribute with impunity. Who is protecting them?

Then he promised to clean various government agencies like Customs, BIR, Immigration – & lately Philhealth – of all graft & corruption. Let’s just take the case of this last one as it is emblematic of how this worked out. It is absolutely dumbfounding how the President can publicly say that he has complete trust in a person currently under investigation by his Secretary of Justice. The person is practically exonerated even before the Justice secretary completes his investigation!

Obviously, he does not hesitate to undermine other government officials – even members of his cabinet. He will – in a cavalier manner – preempt the exercise of the duties of their offices. He suddenly pardons a convicted killer and American soldier even as the court & Bureau of Corrections are still sorting out time served that could be credited towards early release.

His spokespersons have a heck of a time trying to guess at what his intentions are, often being forced to explain inconsistencies – if not actually reverse pronouncements.

Against COVID-19, he wages a military campaign to address a public health issue. Yet he says that he is inutile against the disease. How can this inspire confidence in his government’s ability to contain the virus?

He is also clearly inutile against China over the Spratly islands. He says that the finding of an international tribunal that China has no legal claim over it is useless as it cannot be enforced… that the Philippines is powerless against so big an enemy. Perhaps he does not have any faith in international agreements that guarantee mutual defense and  protection.

Just as his foreign policy seems to be just to give in to all major powers, he suspends the Visiting Forces Agreement because a loyal henchman was denied a US visa! It seems now that his foreign policy is actually that he has none.

With less than 2 years left in his term, we are now faced with the reality that is President Duterte. Like a good mayor, he is loyal to a fault…acts on a whim…stays on top of things. All of these traits endear him to many Filipinos, even if they are jobless or hungry. But because he tries to do everything himself, he does not give himself the chance to grow into the office of the President.

4 years ago, we dared to hope that this outsider would at least begin the redemption of the Filipino from the traditional politicians of movie stars, entertainers, athletes & dynasties. That we would start to see a more professional and competent government at the national level. Not just celebrities or those with power and money – but people with skills, experience, training or education. That finally, the best interests of the Filipino are made paramount.


The reality of President Duterte is that he has the opportunity to make the Philippines, and the lives of Filipinos, better. Unfortunately, he is not taking advantage of it.

What. A. Waste.


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