Try to bear with me here: Philippine Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte is a lot like a professional wrestler.
Perhaps even for his most ardent supporters, Duterte is not exactly the most articulate or eloquent Chief Executive we ever had. But that espouses a certain kind of eloquence: one that assumes that everyone exists in polite society. At least for his supporters, his brutal frankness and spontaneity is a refreshing break from the rather straight-laced and prosaic traditions that come with politicians of yesteryear. You don’t expect Mayor to “arrogate” something, much less “abrogate” anything or “abjure” a lot of things. The Mayor is the kind of person who would not hesitate to pepper his fiery rhetoric with curses, long-winded anecdotes, and innuendo. He’s a veritable goldmine for impersonators, impressionists, and the occasional attempts at Dubsmash.
Just last year, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella traced the colorful language to “Cebuano subculture.” And in so many other threads on the Internet, the defense for the Mayor’s language somehow careens to the repudiation of traditional Philippine politics that has propelled Duterte to being the country’s Mayor. Waxing lyrically: when the Mayor curses, it’s all part of the continuing rejection of elite politics, and him embracing the people.
In yesterday’s paper, F. Sionil José began his essay with the word “revolution,” and proceeded to discuss what he called “the Duterte revolution” in ways that aren’t revolutionary. He describes the next few years in the same way a propagandist would describe his demagogue, or how a campaign manager would describe his client: the florid banalities of ”sacrifice” and “ethics,” the attacks on old enemies like “oligarchs” and “privilege.” And yes, the tired and hackneyed platitudes that are supposed to get a rise out of “the people:” in Mr. José’s words, a “revolution is rooted in ethics and patriotism.”
I guess that the reason why we use the word “revolution” a lot—mostly outside its intended meaning—is because of our desire to participate in one. We want to be part of those historical milestones that fundamentally change the way we live. So much so, that we’re willing to accommodate anything as a “revolution,” fundamental changes to our lives be damned. Such that “revolutionary” things become mundane: socio-political revolutions become as revolutionary as, say, home TV shopping products.
And this is not to take anything away from President Rodrigo Duterte’s victory (maybe other than the poetic language his most ardent supporters want to lend it): it is a triumph of our electoral process. That itself is probably “revolutionary” to a voting population so accustomed to cheating and painfully slow canvassing. It’s what happens when institutions work the way they’re supposed to. Still, it’s founded on things that are in dire need of “revolution:” political institutions that are still in disrepair, processes that aren’t intact, and the great burdens to the public.
As children, we were raised to believe that boogeymen existed. There were creatures that lived under our beds or inside our closets, ready to take us away in the night when we did something wrong. No matter how behaved, courteous, or quiet we were, the boogeyman was always there: the embodiment of fear in our young imaginations.
Yet as we grow older, a lot of monsters—real and imagined—still keep us wide awake at night. Some of us live in fear of the terrors that threaten our ways of life. There are criminals among us: there are kidnappers, thieves, rapists, and murderers lurking in the shadows. We lie awake at night fearful for our jobs, anxious for tomorrow’s expenses, terrified of the prospects of war.
On May 2016, if the surveys are to be believed, we are about to entrust our country’s future into the hands of a boogeyman.
The campaign rally was held in Tondo, Manila: rightly or wrongly, the district has always represented the poor and the downtrodden of the Philippines. It’s here that politicians often paint themselves in solidarity with common working Filipinos, and be “one with the people.”
It was in Tondo, though, that one of Rodrigo Duterte’s infamous rants took place. The news reports:
Kayong mga KMU, medyo pigilan muna ninyo ang labor union. Ako na ang nakikiusap sa inyo. Magkasama tayo sa ideolohiya. Huwag ninyong gawin iyan kasi sisirain mo ang administrasyon ko. Kapag ginawa ninyo iyan, patayin ko kayong lahat. Ang solusyon dito patayan na.
This was all in Tondo: a place that has been unfairly portrayed as a hub of violence brought about by poverty and desperation, whether in action films or in drama. Rodrigo Duterte, for all intents and purposes, probably could have chosen a better place to rant about killing.
But when your campaign thus far consists of the lock and stock that scrapes the bottom of the barrel, you really can’t expect much.