By Marcial Bonifacio
My friends and countrymen, ever since Rodrigo Duterte entered the presidential race in 2016, some of his most fervent supporters, including some of my esteemed colleagues, have held him with such high regard tantamount even to their high regard for Sen. Richard Gordon. In fact, many voted for both public servants believing they would be an ideal tandem, one for president and the other for senator. Many of our citizens who voted for Duterte in the 2016 presidential election are the same ones who voted for Gordon in his 2010 presidential race.
Perhaps such electoral behavior is due to the perception that they both are “no-nonsense,” maverick leaders, who “think outside the box.” Hence, it is indubitable that they would govern similarly, if not identically. However, such a conclusion has little basis in fact, considering their views, policies, and overall knowledge differ drastically. Please allow me to illustrate.
On the issue of the drug epidemic, Duterte seems content in executing his plans by literally executing people—drug lords and addicts—just as he did as mayor of Davao City. He has even encouraged civilians to follow his lead, whereby he would give them a medal or cash in return. “If you know of any addict,” stated Duterte, “go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” Duterte has reiterated to the PNP (Philippine National Police) that he would take the fall for any policeman prosecuted for “doing his duty,” even to the point of incarceration.
Gordon, on the other hand, has a comprehensive approach to the drug problem. For instance, since China has failed to effectively enforce its anti-drug smuggling laws, he suggests they be condemned. “We should shame China,” advises Gordon, “They’re not only taking our land. They’re also bringing in drugs to our country.” He urges the Foreign Affairs Department to “launch a strong protest” against the imperial power.
Additionally, Gordon proposes that schools provide highly trained guidance counselors and facilitate active Parents-Teachers Associations in order to detect and prevent potential drug addicts. He supports the establishment of village watch groups that would coordinate with the police and has been proven to be effective in Olongapo City under his mayorship. Gordon also proposes establishing police courts for handling drug-related crime and extrajudicial killing cases and body cameras for the police to promote transparency.
Upon the event of extrajudicial killings, he proposes the immediate suspension or dismissal of all policemen involved, just as he initiated as mayor. I might add that as an infrastructure project and extra border security, the Philippines can emulate American Pres. Donald Trump’s proposal of erecting a “wall” for which China will pay, but I digress. 🙂
American Foreign Policy
Although Duterte has given mixed signals about his position on America and so-called “independent foreign policy” with other countries, his numerous rants and actions indicate he is, indeed, anti-American. For example, Duterte prompted the Supreme Court to deliberate on the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), in spite of its benefit to RP. He said that 2016 would be the last year the Philippines would participate in joint military patrols and exercises with the U.S., although he recently requested China’s assistance in sea patrolling as a pre-emptive measure against piracy. Duterte has constantly condemned the U.S. for the atrocities of the Bud Dajo Massacre in 1906, prompting former Pres. Fidel Ramos to characterize such anti-colonial thinking as “20th-century thinking” from which we must detach ourselves.
Furthermore, Duterte has shifted RP’s arms supply source from the U.S. to Russia and China, in spite of what political scientist Richard Heydarian addresses as “problems with configuration” in which it could take “years for the Philippines’ army to reorient itself with new technology.”
He did all this in spite of the 70-year alliance in which the Americans fought alongside our countrymen against the Japanese imperialists during World War II, invested billions of dollars in private capital (much of it accounting for a booming BPO industry), defended RP’s right to use arbitration for maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea, and has provided foreign aid in the form of disaster relief goods and services and military equipment and training against Islamic terrorists.
I have yet to mention the billions of dollars of remittances from American OFWs (which comprise approximately 43% of total remittances). Does this sound like Duterte merely seeks an independent foreign policy, or does this manifest his entrenched animosity towards the U.S.?
Gordon, on the other hand, has consistently supported the U.S. as early as his Olongapo mayorship. He vehemently defended the U.S. Bases Treaty in 1991 as well as EDCA. In an interview during his 2013 senatorial run, when asked if he supported EDCA, he responded, “EDCA, yeah. Our air force is all air and no force.” More recently, Gordon pointed out that “Japan and South Korea have used the US military bases there as their defense umbrella, while they funneled resources to rebuild their ravaged economy to build up their society to first world status” and that RP “must do the same.”
On the issue of Panatag Shoal, a Pulse Asia survey (taken Dec. 6-11, 2016) shows that 84% of its participants want the government to uphold the ruling of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), favoring RP’s claim and invalidating China’s nine-dash line as contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Perhaps that is why many cheered at Duterte’s proclamation that he would jet ski all the way to the disputed territory on which he would plant the Philippine flag. However, since he has forged an alliance with imperial China, he has refrained from discussing the matter with them. Instead they discussed trade deals, financial aid, and arms supplies.
Though Philippine fishermen are now able to return due to China’s permission—not its acknowledgement of the PCA ruling, which Rep. Tomasito Villarin says will “subject us to international ridicule”—RP appears to be China’s lapdog. How ironic considering Duterte, in condemnation of America, clearly stated, “I am not a tuta (lapdog) of any country!” Even more perplexing is that about 55% of our countrymen have “little trust” in China, according to an SWS poll. Indeed, Duterte has not only contradicted himself and thwarted the will of the people, he has defied all conventional logic by shifting loyalty from an old, reliable ally—sharing similar ideals and aspects of civil liberties, human rights, democracy, and military culture— to a hegemonic, dubious foe—sharing no such ideals or cultural facets.
The U.S. has already hinted that it will make preparations to block China, if it continues militarizing Panatag Shoal. However, Duterte still refuses to collaborate in defending RP’s legal claim. Gordon called such neglect of the PCA’s ruling “dangerous because anytime you have a claim, you must assert it,” and “if China steps on Scarborough Shoals, that is a red line and we’ll have to fight.” He also agrees with Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that, “if Duterte concedes sovereignty, it is a culpable violation of the Constitution, a ground for impeachment.”
With such a serious charge pending, what could be the rationale for such illogical behavior? Is Duterte simply focused on the economic bounty RP will derive from China in exchange for Panatag Shoal? Perhaps I can appropriately adapt Mark 8:36 as “For what shall it profit a nation to gain the whole spectrum of prosperity (in banana exportation, increased tourism, financial aid for infrastructure, and foreign direct investments) but lose its own sovereignty?”
On the death penalty, Duterte seeks to reimpose it. Gordon opposes it on the grounds that it violates international conventions to which RP has agreed and the risk of mistaken identity. In fact, the Free Legal Assistance Group conducted a research study in 2004, which revealed that “71 percent of death sentences handed down by trial courts were wrongfully imposed.” The same study also showed that “70 percent of the 1,021 inmates on death row earned less than P10,000,” essentially indicating the death penalty to be anti-poor.
On the economy, Duterte styles himself a “socialist” and the “first left president of the Philippines.” As I pointed out in my commentary titled “My Concerns about a Duterte Presidency,” Duterte has been sympathetic to the communists and has offered them Cabinet positions in his administration. While it is uncertain whether or not he himself is a communist—especially since he recently rebranded the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as a “terrorist group” and declared an “all out war” against them after breaking a ceasefire—he has not replaced his appointees, three of whom are from the National Democratic Front (NDF) and one (Leonicio Evasco Jr) of whom is from the New People’s Army (NPA) and currently supervises 18 Cabinet agencies.
There are various theories from renowned commentators on the matter, and I am open to any and all of them without a firm conviction as of yet. For example, many people think that Duterte has appointed communists to his Cabinet in an effort to make peace after 50 years of enmity. Perhaps, but following that logic, should he not also include members of the Abu Sayyaf, ISIS, and Maute terrorist groups, since they are equal adversaries of the state?
Some think that since the founding chairman of the CPP, Jose Sison, was Duterte’s close friend and political science professor at the Lyceum of the Philippines, they are simpatico in their vision of a communist RP. Others, like political columnist Francisco Tatad, speculate a grand scheme is at play in which Evasco is behind the peace talks of the CPP, NPA, and NDF for the “eventual communization of the Philippine government.”
However, some even believe that the current war on the NPA establishes a predicate for Duterte to declare martial law, since the communist movement can be construed as a rebellion, especially since they recently broke the ceasefire by killing some AFP members. That may explain why he has visited various military camps throughout RP in order to garner support for such a drastic measure.
In spite of Duterte’s dubious intentions and association with communists, Gordon’s economic platform is pro-growth and pro-free trade. His legislation proposals include lowering taxes, increasing savings and investments, and enabling entrepreneurs to be more competitive with big corporations for government contracts. Gordon has frequently condemned government handouts as merely a Band-Aid solution to a deeper problem, which he says will only perpetuate “the attitude of mendicancy among our people” as has been the case “over the last four centuries or so.”
In speech, Duterte is impulsively forthright, vulgar, and excessively foul-mouthed. Indeed, such ostensibly undiplomatic verbiage has had national and international repercussions that have been adverse and the subject of universal media scrutiny. Although a few of his spokesmen have publicly dismissed Duterte’s crude remarks as mere hyperbole or public misperception, “perception can be more damaging than reality” as Gordon pointed out.
On Duterte’s offensive remarks, Gordon insists “we have to protect the country from bad statements, and the President has the duty to be a statesman.” As for his most frequently used expletive, Gordon suggests Duterte “not be heard saying all bad words” lest RP’s new tourism slogan be “Welcome to the PI” or “Wow PI.” Even Donald Trump has displayed more oratorical discipline, since his election as president to the astonishment of many, including myself.
In contrast to Duterte’s unrefined oratory, Gordon’s is forthright but professional, eloquent, and with scholarship—in a word, most presidential. View the following speech in which he presents his perspective on reopening the senatorial probe into the alleged Davao Death Squad with new testimony from Senior Police Officer 3 Arthur Lascañas. Observe his diplomacy in articulating his disagreement with some of his senatorial colleagues. Was he effective in conveying his points without using expletives?
Although Duterte’s public service and patriotic achievements (as prosecutor and 22-year mayor) cannot be denied due credit, they were largely confined to Davao City and its residents. However, as president, I must at least credit him for persuading more than 700,000 drug-related criminals to surrender themselves to the proper authorities. However, it can be disputed that the drug epidemic is simply the symptom or consequence of the more profound problems of psychological instability, poverty, and corruption, and should thus not be considered such an impactful achievement for the country as a whole.
After all, a liberal measure of the number of drug users is calculated to be a mere 4.74%, which is below the global average of 5.2%. Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank rates the poverty level at a whopping 25%. Should not the “war on poverty” be prioritized over the “war on drugs”? Would it not be more laudable, if Duterte contributed more to job creation, expanding the tax base, and creating prosperity—which could decrease drug abuse—not to mention would have preserved the lives of the 7,000 killed suspects in the drug war?
Gordon’s public service is far more diverse and has profoundly impacted the entire country. For example, he was a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, authored the Automated Elections Law as a senator, and has helped save the countless lives of natural disaster victims as a Red Cross volunteer for nearly 50 years. Hence, while Duterte may have contributed to the safety and prosperity of Davao City, Gordon was instrumental in framing the supreme law of our country, modernizing and automating the electoral process in order to curb voter fraud, and helping create prosperity for the whole Philippines in the tourism industry.
By now, it should be ostensible that Duterte and Gordon would govern very differently because they are very different public servants with different views on different issues, some of which are in direct contradiction. If the name, “Digong,” were partially covered in such a way that only the first two letters, “Di,” could be seen, it may be innocently misconstrued as “Dick.” However, such an error could easily be prevented by simply viewing all the alphabetical letters as a whole, just as we should examine all our public servants in their totality before electing them into office.
In conclusion, friends and countrymen, I submit that Rodrigo Duterte may be the first Mindanaon president of the Philippines, a former prosecutor and 22-year Davao City mayor, whose voice mesmerizes his admirers and strikes fear into the hearts of drug lords. He may even be a maverick with drastic policy proposals and changes, which contradict conventional norms and even tradition. Perhaps Duterte has a genuinely pure heart, good intentions, and is very passionate about our country as well as our countrymen. Indeed, Digong may be a hero to many people, but he is certainly no Dick . . . Dick Gordon, that is.