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4/3/2018 8:13:00 AM

Slavish, opportunistic and blind: Loyalty and Duterte 0


WHAT does it mean to be loyal to President Duterte?

I have been thinking a lot lately about trust and loyalty. Within one’s personal life, these are unequivocal virtues and deservedly praised. Friendship maybe strengthened by tests, made or broken by trials, but friendship is primarily about fidelity, trustworthiness and constancy. It means standing by someone despite disagreement. Yet loyalty, as the English philosopher A.C. Grayling has observed, must also be principled and represent an adherence to something “independently defensible as good.” As Grayling writes, “unquestioning allegiance to a cause, faith or an individual is bad because by its nature it is too easily made an instrument of wrongdoing—and indeed amplifies wrongdoing.” A loyal servant, after all, is nothing more than someone who merely fulfills another’s will.

From the outset, Duterte has attributed his political success to God and his presidency to divine will. “If I become President for just two months or two years,” he reflected, “that is part of my destiny, what God gave me.” Despite his irreverence toward the Catholic Church and its clerics, Duterte, who was baptized a Catholic, fosters the idea of his closeness to God. He once claimed to have heard God admonish him for his foul language. “So, I promise God,” he recalls, “not to express slang, cuss words, everything.” Yet, despite this solemn oath to the Almighty, sworn at the end of 2016, he went on to shower curses on the European Union, UN officials, the New York Times and many others.

Duterte clearly does not fear God’s wrath. In fact, one gets the sense that he thinks he has godlike powers. His words can mean life or death. Displeased by the rumors of drug trafficking that were swirling around his eldest son, Paolo, he ordered the police to kill his children should they be found to be involved in drugs. “So, I told Pulong: ‘My order is to kill you if you are caught’.”

Father Amado Picardal, the Redemptorist priest who has followed Duterte’s deadly exploits for years, calls it a “messiah complex.” “It’s that idea of total power and control. He is God. He is the law.”

Claiming at the very least to have God on his side, Duterte has gone on to command great loyalty, no doubt about it, and among surprisingly disparate groups.

First, there is his cabal of slavish adulators. Just a glance at the birthday greetings that poured in on March 28 for the president’s 73rd,shows the level of servitude and groveling to which some people will descend. “The gods appear to be smiling,” gushes the presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, who adds several more queer-sounding compliments. He congratulates the President on “vexing your detractors and perplexing your allies.” Or Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa who declares he will never get tired paddling the ship, so long as Duterte is the helmsman. There are many more—the justice secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd, Duterte’s fraternity brother and echo; the staff at the Presidential Communications Operations office—all are particularly adept at sniveling and genuflecting. But few can outdo Special Assistant to the President Christopher ‘Bong’ Go, who has vowed to serve Duterte until “kingdom come”—“hanggang kamatayan”—until death.

Second, the group composed of toadying politicians. Here we might mention, just in passing mind you, Senators Manny Pacquiao, the professional boxer who stoutly holds the belief that God sent Duterte to save the country; and Richard Gordon who pompously presides over the Senate blue ribbon committee, which Sen. Antonio Trillanes memorably and aptly called a “comite de absuelto.” Gordon cleared Duterte of all involvement in extrajudicial killings and helped send Sen. Leila de Lima, one of the President’s most outspoken critics, to jail. He also saw it fit to absolve the aforementioned Aguirre, of his alleged role in the tawdry Bureau of Immigration bribery scandal that came to light at the end of last year.

Pacquiao and Gordon are really small fry when compared to the motley gang of expert plunderers and their duplicitous children who now get to sit at high table with Duterte. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, current Pampanga representative and sly political operator, has been effusive in her pledges of loyalty to Duterte and fawning in her praise. She calls his leadership “trailblazing,” and thanks him for “the years of real friendship.”

The amount involved in Arroyo’s plunder case, filed in2012, was P365,997,915 at least. She was acquitted in July 2016, weeks after Duterte’s election. Then there is former President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada. He was jailed for plunder in 2001, soon after pardoned by Arroyo, his successor, and is now the mayor of Manila. His thievery was to tune of P4 billion. He, too, basks in a cozy friendsh



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