Manos de Sara

By in

I’d like to begin this “commentary” on Sara Duterte’s flurry of punches with this question: is it okay to punch somebody?

Let’s get some things out of the way first: Sara Duterte demonstrated a great grasp of authority beyond her years in her ability to make the rioting protesters drop their weapons and making the police officers stand down.  The demolition, from the looks of things, was bungled; in our long history with informal settlers, we seem to not have learned much from the many violent encounters in shantytowns.  Yet the focus of much argument – with many people surprisingly (or rather, not surprisingly) for it – is Mayor Inday punching the sheriff in the head.

Is it okay to punch somebody?  No.

To say that Sara Duterte was “exercising political will” and “flexing political muscle” by throwing a punch is to lower and debase our expectations of how public officials should behave, and to some extent to lower and debase our expectations of what is reasonable behavior.  The Mayor could have completely dressed down the informal settlers and police officers with the most acerbic words necessary to delay the demolition, or get the end result she deemed appropriate.  After all, that is all that is necessary to settle the problem.

Sara Duterte could have pulled aside the sheriff, negotiated terms (knowing that the sheriff was by no means answerable to, or subordinate to, the Mayor’s Office), and worked out a solution.  Yet the moment she beckoned to the officer of the court and threw a flurry of punches, the dialogue stopped.  The results were not fruitful.  In the end, the much-revered Mayor took a leave of absence without the problem – the informal settlers – resolved in a reasonable manner.

We cannot, and should not, use her compassion for her poorer constituents as a justification for her act of violence (no matter how momentary).  We cannot, and should not, interpret her willingness to face the consequences of her actions as one that carries more weight than evidence of assault.  We cannot, and should not, unfairly drag her surname into play and use it as an expectation of how she rules and governs.  We cannot, and should not, unfairly use her gender to invoke “Girl Power.”  We cannot, and should not, reduce things into context and reading too much in between the lines to create aporia, which when done too often, can be used as a justification that the punch did not exist.

The ability to dialogue, and for those talks to have fruitful results, is a very good demonstration of leadership.  (If it’s any indication, some of our best leaders are not pugilists.)  In a political setting where leaders are asked to do what is necessary, we require prudent judgments and actions from our leaders.  Punches from mayors to officers of the law may be applicable to the despotic and the tyrranical, but they have no room in a democratic society.  (Still, the praise from many of those in some strata of our society who support Sara Duterte’s actions is symptomatic of how confidence in leadership has decayed, but that’s another story.)

Beyond the intricacies of modernity, elites, and class there are simpler but no less important tenets that create civilization, and the leadership that sustains and fosters it: good manners, right conduct, respect, and temperance.  What we can all agree on was that there were many ways to fix the problem beyond the fit of rage that Sara Duterte committed.  It was a questionable demonstration of leadership on that particular moment.  It does not indict Sara Duterte as a lousy leader, but it lays into question how she leads under pressure, and the prudence she has as a leader.

Leadership is more about weighing options and making judgments with one’s hands, than to clench them into fists and punch people in a state of anger.

15 comments on “Manos de Sara”

    • J
    • July 3, 2011

    Agree completely. I expected her to resign, until I realized this is the Philippines.

    • Laurence
    • July 3, 2011

    If you are not a Davaweño we dont really care what you say.

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    2. Reply

      i suppose giving importance about the rule of law and ethical behavior has geographical boundaries, which we must not exceed in the case of davao, eh, laurence?

    • hari_ng_sablay
    • July 4, 2011

    A classic example of the “Heritage of Smallness.” Stop overemphasizing small things, look at it on the grander scale. How do you do a balancing act between judicial process & social problem? For someone whose mind is as thick as two short planks, you’ll have to drill it in their head just to get your message across & put some common sense in their brains. You call that violence? Don’t be clueless or a hypocrite to believe that we’re living in a non-violent & civilized society. Violence to one person becomes necessary when the lives of people are at stake, but that doesn’t mean you’ll become free from legal & moral obligations that you’re beholden to as a public official. Better that, than allow chaos to reign & claim lives in the process. On the concept with leadership, I agree with you. But when the situation calls for physical intervention when all talk fails, you act without fail. That’s what you call conviction. It cannot be found in all the legal books. The Mayor knew the risks involved, and took it like a man.

    At the end of the day, she’ll be held accountable and eventually castigated. At the end of the day, more lives are spared and further damage to property are avoided. All of these could have been avoided if that wiseguy is not too dedicated with his job, to the point that implementing a court order is a matter of “life-and-death.” Secretary Robredo nailed it right when he said that.

    Leadership is also about getting your hands dirty when necessary, and having that conviction to do so at a moment’s notice. Let history judge you afterwards if you’re right or wrong.

    By the way, “following orders” do not justify one’s act as the right cause of action. Read Principle IV of the Nuremberg Doctrine.

    1. Reply

      1. Were all alternatives exhausted before the resort to violence? No.

      2. Was the punch a necessary function of her duties? No.

      3. The balancing act between a judicial process and a social problem is achieved through dialogue. It is the ability to convince and enlighten more than the forceful acts of duress. That is what leaders are made of.

      4. Speaking of common sense, we’ve all been taught since preschool not to hit people.

        • hari_ng_sablay
        • July 4, 2011

        1. All were exhausted but went for naught because some wiseguy thinks he’s better off discharging his duties on his own, rather than wait for the Mayor to help him out. I am of the belief that this information has been all over the pages of local news organization, so you should know what you’re blogging. Else, you might be perceived as reading articles that you choose to read and believing what you choose to believe. But I can’t blame you. This is your own blog, after all. Besides, you can always delete this post of mine if you do not find it palatable.
        2. It is not a necessary function of her duties. But when he becomes the source of the social dilemma, one needs to knock some sense into his head. It may be uncalled for, but it had to be done. Morality should be the larger consideration than legal ethics, in this case. As Bishop Calang said in his statement, it’s “punching the in-humaneness of urban poor demolitions.”
        3. When the other side refuses to listen, insists on his “mandate” and people suffer in the process, the time for action comes in. It is no longer an issue of jurisprudence, but an issue of governance and of higher humanitarian purpose. Once violence broke out, it becomes a matter of security. In that case, the Mayor stepped in. Had the Mayor not intervened, what would happen next? When does dialogue becomes a nuisance, and when does action becomes necessary? Look no further than the cases fought by the NPA and the MILF, especially in Mindanao. If not for the Dutertes, the Agdao district will still remain as “Nicaragdao” and Davao City remain as the place for political killings by the NPA and the military. You may not agree with their methods. But when the net welfare of their constituents are effectively addressed by the same methods that you’re questioning, who are you to judge these very people who feel grateful for their brand of leadership? When you stick too much to theory and beliefs, your notions of reality suffer in the process.
        4. We’ve all been taught, but was it really applied? You know well as much as I do that violence is already part of our daily living in a civilized world. Tell that to the Dominguez group, who carnaps and kills the vehicle owners without letup. Tell that to the Metro Manila mayors, who seemed not to care an inch regarding the welfare of their squatters who happen to be human beings too.Tell that to the US military personnel at the Guantanamo Bay. Tell that to the Russians and their policy on Chechnya. Are these people not educated about not hitting people from their preschool? When do we learn to swallow the bitter pill?

        If I may suggest, do further research. In case you don’t know, this was not the first time the good Sheriff performed his duty in a so diligent manner.

        Then, read Randy David’s article.

        Once you’ve read all, try to reconnect the dots.

        The Mayor already said that she’s ready to face the consequences of punching the Sheriff, so there’s no further point of calling for her blood to be spilled. Her case is just a tip of the iceberg. In the grander scheme of things, poverty remains the issue as well as the present government system.

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          1. Of course that point is considered in this entry. Yet this entry is not lacking praise for Sara Duterte where it is due, and where it is necessary: that in itself is a fundamental precept of justice. Yet in a free and fair society – one that may not exist today but one that we certainly strive to achieve for on a daily basis – we praise what is right and castigate what is wrong. So we should not lack in criticism where it is due, and where it is necessary.

          2. You seem to be arguing from the point of view that “Those who have less in life should have more in the law.” Yet that doesn’t mean that those who have less in life should violate the law, or have the law bent or violated in their favor. The fact that it was uncalled for meant that it should not have been done in the first place. Again, in issues dealing with politics and governance and jurisprudence we only do what is necessary. Punching the inhumane acts of demolitions is one laudable thing, but our society is – and should – be governed by ideals and tenets higher than throwing punches to prove a point. Last I checked, it is inhumane to punch somebody in the face.

          3. RA 6713 prescribes the norms of conduct for public officials which, in more ways than one, define governance and the end of higher humanitarian purposes by means of governance. Assault is not stipulated there as a process of governance. Acts of violence do not constitute higher humanitarian purposes because the two contradict each other. Questioning the manner by which that peace is provided is part and parcel of the criticism that should strengthen governance, with the proper actions and the proper rectification. “The ends justify the means” is more expansive than the efficient way to reach a goal: it comes with the caveat that for the morality and necessity of an action to be determined at a later time, the means we take should be moral and necessary as well. We do not break laws to uphold them, two wrongs do not make a right. More than that, since my existence as a Filipino to live in a harmonious and peaceful society is intertwined and dependent on the desires of the people of Davao, and I am a part of their society as much as they are a part of mine, I can – and should – speak out. If your notions of the ideals suffer in the face of reality, you contribute to the cynicism that makes the problems of the world so taken-for-granted that we no longer make an effort to solve them.

          4. The core responsibility of leadership is to rise above the banal, the trivial, and the taken-for-granted flaws of everyday life. The errors of the past does not excuse anyone from committing mistakes or absolve them by default: again, no one said that “the sheriff should be let go because Sara Duterte did something tyrannical,” or that “Sara Duterte should be absolved because the sheriff was once found guilty of gross neglect of duty.” It was simply, “Sara was wrong to punch that guy in the face.” It was simply “There were many other ways to solve the problem.”

          Could the Mayor have called for calm? Yes. Could the Mayor have simply set the Sheriff to the side, berated him to to the top of her lungs and given him a lecture on compassion and the validity of the order in her hand? Yes. Could she have kept vigil and stand with the poor, knowing that if violence did erupt, no man will ever lay a hand on the Mayor and the people she was protecting? Definitely yes. Could she have used the resources afforded to her family and her office to construct barriers to keep the demolition from pushing through? Yes. Now all those remain now hypothetical situations, since she chose to act in a fit of rage.

          Yes, the poor should be provided with the capabilities and opportunities to make their lives better and open up their freedoms. Yes, we should treat the poor with compassion, with the necessary leniency afforded for by the law. No one says laws have to be broken for the benefit of the poor, or something as basic as good manners and right conduct have to be broken in favor of the poor. To whom that punch was for doesn’t justify or excuse the punch that was made. It’s a punch, it’s an assault, something we frown upon and castigate people for. That is a question asked in a society that considers assault and battery as a crime. Surely she should be lauded for being ready to face the consequences, of which this small space is part of. While the grander scheme of things should be considered, things like these are a cog in the wheel of the grander scheme. It speaks of how we treat our institutions, our confidence in institutions, and what we, as members of society, are committing to create a better society.

          If you’re willing to surrender your rights, I’m not willing to surrender mine. If you’re willing to entertain the possibility of being punched by your mayor, I am not entertaining that possibility no matter what the situation. If you’re willing to put fists above process, I am not. If you think that the excellence of a leader need not be measured in the way he or she acts under pressure, I expect more from our leaders.

          Yet the elementary question that has been asked in the premise of this entry is not something you’ve answered definitively. It’s a question that has been asked – and answered – in schoolrooms, in guidance offices, in homes, in barangay halls, in drinking sessions, in court rooms, and in prison: is it right to punch somebody in the face? We punish the bully, we send the brat to his room, we put the offending party in jail because we have the definitive answer to that.

          The short answer is NO.

    • hari_ng_sablay
    • July 4, 2011

    Carlos Conde had a much better view of this so-called context of the punch. Perhaps you should read it.

    1. Reply

      The Philippine prison system is filled with criminals who acted as if “they had no choice.” We cannot abuse context to the point of aporia that even an elementary concept of right and wrong has different applications for a mayor.

      Based on the remarks and notes from Carlos Conde’s blog, it is still clear: the alternatives and processes were not exhausted anyway.

  1. Reply

    I agree, but Randy David has an interesting sociological perspective on this issue. If I understood it correctly, you cannot expect modern, civilized behavior all the time if the society isn’t truly modern in the first place. To quote, “Where you have a highly unequal society, the rule of law cannot be impartial. Its blind implementation will always appear harsh.”

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      A counterpoint: as per Condorcet and his contemporaries, man – like the civilization he is in and the one he constantly creates – is infinitely improvable and perfectible (hence, development). We cannot expect modern, civilized behavior anywhere if the society or the situation does not strive to be modern. We will remain outside the modern if we do not use a modern process, if we lower ourselves to the savagery of the punch, if we implement things that appear – or that are – harsh. That includes unfair implementation of demolitions and mayors punching sheriffs, among other things.

      The point is, on a daily basis, to strive for equality in that society and use the rule of law – and good manners, at that – for the modern, the impartial, and the just. To be fair and genuinely nice is not too much to expect.

        • Jazz
        • July 10, 2011

        Yes, but it’s not a counterpoint. It’s a society that is not striving to become modern well enough. Again, “You cannot force modernity merely by adopting its institutional forms. The conditions that enable these institutions to work have to be there: universal education, economic sufficiency, access to all occupations, etc. These are evolutionary achievements that may be hastened but never conjured from nothing.” Hence the savage, pre-modern behavior we’re seeing.

  2. Reply

    When people say that I do not know the situation on why they did something, my usual answer will be ‘Is this legal?’.

    So when Sara Duterte’s constituents defends her by saying that we do not know how life is in Davao, I say “Is punching the Sheriff for any reason legal, yes or no?”.

    • Peter
    • July 6, 2011

    Is it alright to condemn a person for a mistake?

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