There is an unfortunate perception developing in the world’s view of the Philippines. Any conversation that even mentions the Philippines is either met with a chuckle about the tactless and crass President who frequents international headlines, or an instant recoil followed by questions about how unsafe it is there now.
The Philippines is quickly becoming the punch line in a bad joke, and this cannot be good for the country if this perception continues long term.
This perception is only in part linked to the policies of the President. Of greater influence is how he presents himself on key issues. There is a lot of talk about media manipulating the public perception of Duterte in an effort to bring him down. Although no manipulation is required when you say Putang ina mo to a reporter asking you a question.
His inability to have an open minded discussion about anything that could question his decisions is a driving force of ridicule and resentment from Filipinos. It is also feeds the international headlines and directly influences the country’s reputation.
There are very reasonable questions to be asked about his war on drugs. As a democratic representative it is part of the job to help the public understand why you are making the decisions that you are making. This is a chance to get people on board with your vision.
By continually reverting to anti US rants when faced with a question he doesn’t like, all he does is make himself look like a child – but, but they did it too! I can understand that he may want to answer to a foreign leader who has a questionable human rights record. A reporter asking questions about his own domestic policy is a different story though. What on earth does US foreign policy have to do with a question asked of him by a reporter about domestic policy?
Do Solutions Exist?
Why not talk about the issue on its merits? Why the need for the tantrum? Is there substance behind the plan to systematically eliminate the drug problem in the Philippines? My guess is no. We can only guess because no one talks about it. Shoot all the drug dealers, ok then what? Wide spread drug abuse is a symptom of broader social and economic issues. As long as there is severe poverty in the Philippines there will be systemic drug abuse, and there will be people there to take advantage of this as a business opportunity.
There is a real possibility that the idea of fighting until the last drug pusher is in jail or in the ground may not actually work. What then? Will Duterte continue fighting a losing battle indefinitely because he cannot acknowledge that he made a mistake?
How many people have been arrested and charged at the big end of town? Very few. How many of the poorest of the poor have been arrested or shot? Thousands. Then there are the innocent people caught in the cross fire that no one seems to care about. Has any of this moved the country closer to a resolution? No.
I am not writing this to debate policy. I am writing it to encourage everyone to think through what is really going on here. The complete disdain for anyone asking questions is a clue that there may be no real plan to solve this problem. If there is no plan then all Duterte has done is set the country down a path of perpetual pain and suffering that will achieve no more good than that of his predecessors despite his good intentions.
Judgment Day Will Come
It is still early days in his presidency. We will not see the broader impacts of his work for years to come and it will only be fair to judge at the end of his six year team. From what I have seen so far I think that it will be nothing more than an anti-climax. Bold action will only get you so far. Without a systematic plan for improvement there will be a never ending merry-go-round of the same problems being repeated.
I have had the privilege of spending time both in the Philippines and abroad throughout Duterte’s presidency. I love talking about the Philippines with both Filipinos and Foreigners (in person, the internet is a cesspool for this kind of thing). There is no escaping the fact that Duterte has a reputation for being a lunatic, and there are many more domestic Filipinos who feel the same way. The 86% approval rating reported in the media I think has as much credibility as the polls that said Hilary Clinton would be President of the US.
I have been as positive and open minded as I could be in my views on Duterte since he came to office. I remain hopeful that he will do great things for the Philippines. I love many people there and I could only ever want the best for them. Duterte doesn’t care how he is perceived abroad, but there are millions of OFWs and Filipino tourists that have to deal with the unfair reputation that he is creating for them as a people. Many of them still jump to his defence, but for how long?
The hard line and grandiose start to his presidency has been an inspiration to many, but the novelty will wear off if this is not followed by some genuine substance on key issues. So far, all we see is a raving child who has a cry when he doesn’t get his way, and the influence on many of his people has been profoundly negative.