Time and circumstance, and how the office makes the man
Those who parried the arrows of the past six years aimed at President Aquino are now strapping up their bows. The tables have turned. The shoe is on the other foot. The pot and the kettle are clanging, ever at odds.
There are also two other groups:
- The Duterte appointees, who must run a government, and those who wish them well and will help in any way they can.
- The democrats, who place their trust in the institutions of democracy, even if they don’t like the players. They tend to look at issues rather than personalities.
I’m in this last group.
You are wherever you choose to be.
If we look at the recent political timeline, we can recognize that the combination of time and circumstance make a huge, huge difference in decisions and outcomes.
Rep. Leni Robredo, who polled 1% in the first polls just a few short months ago, ended up with over 14 million votes and the admiration of a growing share of the population. Senator Poe, who shot to the top early in a rush of popular adoration, sagged under the weight of coco levy funds, her American past and thin debate performances.
Then on May 9, we had a time, and a circumstance, and it was profound.
Disenfranchised and frustrated voters, egged on by political opponents of the Aquino Administration, joined voices at the ballot machines and shouted loud and clear: “Listen to THIS, you trapo elitists! We want ACTION!”
Now we can argue the reasonableness of this call . . . that I would say is clarion . . . until we are blue in the face, but it does not change the time and circumstance. Mayor Duterte is now President Elect Duterte, and the government is already moving to reflect his influence.
My first point. The past no longer exists. Are you aware of this? That’s why it is called the past. Read Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” if you have any doubts about this. Oh, there are lessons in the past, for sure, but I’d say the time and circumstance of May 9 has declared the past dead.
You can rue the result and the social media bots and trolls and the “irregular” way the Mayor sometimes speaks and behaves . . . but it is a whole new ball game. (Sancho Panza is my friend.) Promises, hyperbole, memes and dirty tricks have been tossed into the dustbins. They don’t mean anything. The election is history.
The only thing that matters now is results.
The ball game is new and the past is dead because Mayor Duterte will be President and the Office makes the man.
That’s my second point. Being President is its own reality.
As of May 9, Rody Duterte is no longer just Mayor Duterte. He is a different man. More powerful. Huge responsibilities. Different house to live in. Different domestic lifestyle. 100 million sets of eyes watching his every step. A rabid tabloid press waiting in the wings, drooling for fresh meat.
The Mayor will soon understand, if he does not already, that the forces of public watchfulness, driven by those who want a decent and productive Philippines . . . perhaps spiced by a little lingering political vitriol . . . are real forces. He is not master of the Philippines. He is President, and the laws of the land have not changed.
I think he “gets it”.
His first act was to announce an eight-point economic plan that emphasized that the macro-economic programs of the Aquino Administration would be continued. No disruption. “Investors, keep your confidence!”
Some in the Aquino/Roxas crowd bayed in resentful ridicule that this does not represent a promised “change”. But that is no longer the issue, is it? The issue is, is it good for the Philippines to assure economic stability? And it is. The particulars of the eight points warrant comment (I found them wanting in specifics), but that is a different blog.
The early announcement of the economic program is an example of how forces outside the government affect decisions made within government. Without a popular mandate, the Duterte Administration is dead in the water, like any democratic government. A weakening peso or weakening in GDP growth would weaken Duterte.
There will be pressures in other areas as well. Policing and crime trends. Poverty trends. NPA and extremist Muslim insurgencies. These matters were very visible during the campaign, and they have accordingly become key public benchmarks. Will the Duterte Administration perform?
Federalism. He will need to put some meat on the bones. It will be a great debate. He will need to convince the 61% of the voters who did not vote for him that he is not out to hijack the nation, ala Marcos. He does not have a blank check. He has a 39% mandate. He does not control the Legislature. Not yet, anyway.
The Legislature can seek to hold power and influence, or cede it to a dominant President.
Family values. Will he represent decency, as President? Or the brusk authoritarian manner of swearing and displaying his manhood to impress the rest of us? I’m betting we will see a more diplomatic Duterte. But I wouldn’t put any money on the bet.
China. President Duterte will not get on a jet-ski, I am quite confident.
Will he find the US presence in the Philippines oppressive? An affront to his personal power-mandate? Or will he find it a strong bargaining chip in his own stack of options for dealing with China and the Muslim insurgency (read into that ISIS)?
Next to economic stability and growth, I think President Duterte’s China policy and actions will be the most striking test of his government. It is nation-defining.
Many who support President-Elect Duterte find him loyal to THEM. To Davao. To Mindanao. To the disenfranchised. He speaks for them. He gives them power.
When he is President, will he speak for the sovereign Philippines? Will he speak for the rest of us? Will he give us power?
Will he speak for Manila, a place he does not even like to visit? Will he give commuters power, give them relief?
Will he speak for the fishermen of Luzon, now harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard at Scarborough Shoal? Will he give them the right to fish for food?
Let us project a scenario:
- The Philippines gets a substantial victory from the UN arbitration panel.
- China disregards the victory as not having the power of law.
- Duterte will propose multilateral talks. China will not agree to them.
- Duterte will accept direct, one-on-one talks with China, and China will take its normal position: agree to our sovereignty over all contested islands and rocks, including Scarborough Shoal, and we can talk.
Where along this timeline will President Duterte stand up for Philippine sovereignty and the nation’s rights to resources within 200 nautical miles of her lands? When does he connect these sea-based resources to the long-term need to overcome poverty and feed a nation? Where do Luzon fishermen fish when Chinese warships are cruising their old fishing grounds?
Where will Rody Duterte’s great personal pride come into play to draw a hard line?
Will he accept a Chinese military installation right off the coast of Luzon, effectively neutralizing Subic as a Philippine naval base?
I have the idea . . . just a hunch . . . that it is not a “given” that President Duterte will concede the West Philippine Sea to China in exchange for a railroad. I think he will find his national pride somewhere along the way, and start to represent the whole of the Philippines with the same kind of ardor that he grants to Davao.
Time and circumstance set the context, the office makes the man.