We live in a time that new insights are arising. People sense it, the old ways are reaching their limits, signs everywhere, environmental limits, inequalities, mass emigrations, to name a few. Many feel the populist DU30 wants to move in the right direction. But he is hindered by his mix of macho bravado and misplaced modesty, his foul language and above all his lack of respect for the 5th commandment (6th for non-Catholics).
The President is sensing well what many people feel, he has many good notions, good communication skills and crude energy. But his character traits are far out of balance and that makes me double sad, as if his being bad in doing the wrong things should be less painful.
1. The overstretched neoliberal policies.
Current policies are far out of balance. All is about economics and these economic policies are only guided by financial aspects at the cost of social and environmental concerns. Wealth and investments trump the other economic pillars, labor and resources (environment). Returns on large investments are much higher than the economic growth resulting in increasing inequalities (see Pickety). Non-economic aspects of life are neglected or transformed in economic terms (spirituality, relationships, recreation, ethics, art . . .)
In the western world the politics are currently defined by neoliberal technocrats. The political arena is reduced to the question of what to produce and what to consume. Growth is the Holy Grail. The main economic issues are decided outside politics, by central banks, rating agencies, international trade tribunals, boardrooms of major multinationals, and in places like Davos where CEO’s, top technocrats and politicians meet in closed encounters, far away from the public eye . . . and undemocratic.
Parties are reduced to individual leaders and elections fought on simple messages, “Make America great again”, “Change we can believe in”, “The audacity of hope”, “No child left behind” . . . People feel this thin air and its bias for the wealthy. They experience the impotence of politicians and it makes them vote for populists who dare to speak the unspoken and, after vilifying “the others”, propose simple solutions.
Brexit was manipulated by classical politicians. “Brussels is the enemy.” Trump is a neo-liberal technocrat in the extreme, all is as in selling shampoo, great deals, creating supply, cheap labor, all a function of “me”, “bigger” and “more” at whatever environmental, moral or social cost. “Immigrants and Muslims are the enemy.” DU30 the unwilling candidate, the iron fist of Davao, “Drugs and the American imperialists are the enemy.”
The current Philippine president is a little different in so far that he doesn’t care about consumption, a bigger car or a more expensive necktie, even as these are the essence of an economy based on growth. He addresses issues such as honor and sovereignty, drugs and crime, peace with rebels and extortionists, hunger and health. He uses a language people recognize as genuine. He calls every spade an ace of spades. He gave voters a real alternative to the traditional oligarchs and dynasties. Unfortunately, he mobilized mostly septuagenarians as his warriors instead of the youth and millennials. He narrowed his focus to killing shabu addicts and insulting Americans. He missed returning to the essence of politics, the long term interests of citizens, and new ways to organize society (isn’t federalism a Pimentel senior thing?)
2. The understanding that addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue.
Health care has also a mental aspect. People have physical illnesses and also psychological illnesses. Both need prevention, diagnosis, treatment and a heath care organization supporting them. Addicts are sick. All addicts, whatever the addiction, narcotics, stimulants or hallucinogens such as nicotine, alcohol, sugar, medicines (pain, sleep, performance enhancing, food supplements . . .), marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, heroin . . . and other addictive activities as gambling, sex, gaming, and the internet.
They can be categorized as more or less addictive, more or less harmful to the user (physical, psychological, relational), for societal impact (medical costs, lost productivity, white collar criminality, petty crimes, organized crime . . .), as recreational (age bound or not, individual or social usage) or problematic usage (hindering a normal life), on the likelihood of escalation (in quantity, in type), on cultural acceptance . . . All help needs to be differentiated/specialized.
Help should address the full chain of consumption (marketing and need creation, production, trade, usage, side effects), prevention, management or suppression by families, civil society, law and order (police, legal system, prisons), health care, and linkages to corruption, criminality . . .
All of the above is well studied, well documented. In broad strokes: wars on drugs don’t work, strictly controlled legalization works, influencing markets works, long term education and cultural changes work.
The current Philippine president sees it differently. Over emotional, zero rational. Did he see addiction from too close by? He mixes up troublesome addiction with rebellious recreational use. He overlooks the horrible effects of alcohol addiction on families, health and productivity, neglects the staggering cost of nicotine addiction, the alarming rise of sugar usage in fast food and sodas. All is narrowed down to “Let’s kill everybody who ever touched shabu and feed them to the fishes.”
3. The realization of the dangers of the perfusion of criminal (and terrorist) organizations in the real economy.
A Philippine cartoon from 1920 . . . but still accurate today, from OPINION: Did Grillo grill the President? by Manolo Quezon at ABS-CBN News.
Beside building the illegal markets, criminal organizations have infiltrated and thus corrupted all aspects of life, the real economy, national and local politics, the media and several NGO’s. The illegality moved gradually into legality, from 100% perfidious activities into technically legal but amoral activities and into 100% legal activities. They cover a lot of ground, drugs, human trafficking, smuggling, hacking, sub-standard production, gambling, rent related activities, establishing monopolies, tax avoidance, to name a few of their favorite activities. As major organizations, they are good in all aspects of the business, product design, marketing, production, logistics, finance, human resources, procurement, risk management, even quality management.
Mapping these organizations requires an international approach. Hindering the financial transactions seems to be the most successful strategy.
But this President sees it differently. He doesn’t see the marketing skill of pushers guided by professional criminal gangs. He is afraid of addressing head-on the entanglement of syndicates with politics and the real economy. Chinese triads seem of limit. He wastes much of his energy in an endless fight with one old foe.
Talking of missed opportunities. After 6 months, I have a dwindling hope and I fear that it will go all wrong. But I can still dream of a President being less destructive and less self-destructive. A president not just communicating in such negative terms as planting evidence, killing, canceling contracts or using demeaning terms such as insults and belittling women. I can imagine a president not shooting wildly from the hip in all directions but one surrounding himself with younger people who dare to tell him that the emperor is naked, and who can engage in a rational discussion. And most importantly, a President who respects life.