Forewarned but not forearmed

HEART & MIND By Paulynn P. Sicam

In fairness, he warned that he would be a train wreck as president.

Rodrigo Duterte reminded us last week that he never pretended to be anything else but a small town mayor who promised to rid the country of drugs and drug addicts in three to six months by fair means or foul. He said he had no interest in or knowledge of the economy, which he would leave to his economic managers, and the debates revealed how little he cared about education, science, culture, and other matters that make for an educated and well-rounded human being.

He was concerned about one thing only: DRUGS, saying drugs and drug users must be removed from the face of the earth, that there is no cure for drug addiction, and the brains of drug users are permanently damaged, so drug addicts must die. Whether he is addressing soldiers, policemen, businessmen, bureaucrats, stock traders, athletes or innocent seven-year-old boy scouts — never mind the occasion — his topic is drugs. 

He did not meet his own three-to-six month timeframe to get rid of the blight of drugs, but his policy has caused the killing of some 12,000 alleged drug users, most of them poor, in 12 months.

A year into his bloody anti-drug campaign, the PNP chief has admitted that the entry of drugs into the country has not abated. In fact, it has increased. And its center of gravity remains the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa where drug lords continue to make tons of money in captivity using their cellphones. The president was adamant that the Bilibid drug lords were nurtured by his nemesis, Senator Leila de Lima, when she was Secretary of Justice.  But with de Lima in detention for over four months now, how is it that under the new Justice Secretary, Bilibid is still awash with drugs?

Go figure. 

The President is clearly frustrated and angry. Last week, he told an audience of jail guards that if he sees an inmate using a cellphone, he will make him eat it, the same way he made a tourist who dared light up in smoke-free Davao City, eat a cigarette.

I had long stopped listening to the President. But he’s been out of circulation so much that I’ve again began listening when he makes an appearance. I scrutinize his expression, his skin tone, looking for clues on what could be ailing him, and I see no change. When he speaks, it is the same tired narrative, the same shaky logic, the same crass expletives and murderous language, the same wrong word use.

He is not likely to change his mind about anything, least of all his absolutist approach to drugs which he has made the centerpiece of his presidency. To admit that he could be wrong would be to eat crow before the persons and institutions he has disparaged, the likes of President Barack Obama, the United Nations, the European Union, the Catholic Church, the Commission on Human Rights, Agnes Callamard, and other experts who have warned him of the folly of getting rid of the drug problem by killing drug users.

During the campaign and early in his presidency, his every appearance was a bravura performance. His brash statements about death and mayhem, laced with sexist jokes and peppered with expletives, appealed to a public hungry for a leader who spoke their language and seemed to resonate with their issues.  But the mirth has since faded.  Instead, there are worried looks, nervous laughter, and uncomfortable silences. His punch lines fall flat. Even his non-descript Cabinet sits stoic and resigned, as he tries to warm the crowd with his folksy but deadly rhetoric. 

From his exalted position as leader of the Republic, the President has, among other perplexing actions, flouted human rights and defended EJKs; given the dictator Marcos a heroes’ burial; allowed China free rein over the West Philippine Sea China. From his own mouth came the admission that he was once corrupt, having indulged in stealing, “pero ubos na.” Recently, he upset his loyal allies in the Senate when he ordered the reinstatement to active duty of Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos and his cohorts who are charged with the killing in cold blood of the alleged drug lord, Mayor Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte. 

His spokesman says that the President likes to joke and exaggerate, and that we must use our “creative imagination” and sense of humor to understand him. But he is so graphic, he leaves nothing to the imagination, and there is nothing funny about what he says and does.

A meme on Facebook quotes Senator Ping Lacson who reportedly said during the campaign: “I hope and pray that if elected, he won’t do what he mostly says and promises to do during this campaign, because if he does, may God help us.”

Last week, there was another meme-worthy quote from Senator Lacson on the re-instatement by the President of Superintendent Marcos to active duty: “There is a phrase to describe the whole damn thing: P__ ina!”

We were forewarned in so many ways by the man himself that he would be a train wreck as president. To Senator Lacson and his other enablers in the Senate, I say, “Ayusin nyo yan.”

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