By Leandro DD Coronel
Now we’ve heard it directly from the horse’s mouth. President Duterte is a dictator.
Even before Mr. Duterte had formally assumed the presidency, he was already acting like a dictator. Very early on he was already flexing his autocratic muscle, explicitly making everybody know he was boss.
The command, or at least encouragement, to police to be ruthless against drug suspects was among the earliest directions to come out of the new President’s mouth. He was going to fatten the fish in Manila Bay with the bodies of dead drug “personalities.”
Very early on, Mr. Duterte tried to project a commanding presence by being aggressive and unbending. He admits today that he got used to that style of governance when he was mayor of Davao City. There, his word was the law, nobody dared to challenge or resist his orders.
And so he brought that governing paradigm to Malacanang. If he could do it in Davao, he could do it throughout the whole country.
Mr. Duterte’s “war” on drugs got under way. Every move of the government was animated by his instructions. People he didn’t like were shunted aside or fired without any hearing. Sen. Leila de Lima was sent to jail fast. Due process simply disappeared. Human rights activists were threatened and cursed. Independent-minded high officials were bullied into submission or at least threatened with firing or impeachment.
Government from top to bottom moved only with the behest or blessing of Mr. Duterte. If there were any Filipinos who didn’t think Duterte was behaving like a dictator, those Filipinos were either playing blind or they didn’t know the definition of “dictator.”
And so now the President himself has said he is indeed a dictator. Nothing will happen in this country if the president didn’t act like a dictator, according to him.
One wonders how the Filipinos will react to Duterte’s admission or claim of being a dictator. His propaganda people’s initial spin on the President’s statement was to tweak his remarks to soften their impact. They tried to make it sound like nothing will happen to the country if the leader, not necessarily Mr. Duterte, isn’t a dictator. They made it sound that Mr. Duterte didn’t want to be a dictator but that our country needs a dictator.
Mr. Duterte, in his brief stay in Malacanang so far, has had a history of turning back on his statements by saying later that he was only joking. He and his spokespeople have done that on numerous occasions, putting a different spin on what Mr. Duterte had said.
But it’s baffling that the President would say he’s a dictator at this particular juncture. The International Criminal Court (ICC) had just announced it has started a “preliminary examination” of the case filed there against Mr. Duterte for allegedly committing crimes against humanity through his “war” on drugs.
Noticeable has been the softening lately of Mr. Duterte and his administration’s (including the police) stance on extra-judicial killings (EJKs), waxing mildly repentant over the administration’s brutal and shortcut style of governance. Why, in light of these, Mr. Duterte has now said he is a dictator is baffling.
It’s worth closely watching how Mr. Duterte and his administration will behave in the coming weeks and months. They’re facing several potential crises ahead: The revived “Tokhang” campaign against drug “personalities,” the new TRAIN tax package over which consumers, especially the poor, are already complaining, charter change, the ICC case, and of course the President’s autocratic style of government.
So far Mr. Duterte’s brash and bold style of governance and personality have carried the day for him. Many people seem to like this kind of leadership style: shortcuts and using the stick instead of the carrot. But for how long?
Tantrum Ergo. If the Filipinos of today fail to stop history from repeating itself, what will the next generation of Filipinos say about us?