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.