The epiphany of Duterte


“EPIPHANY — A moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.”

In other words, an awakening.

This definition of “epiphany” certainly applies to President Rodrigo Duterte’s change of attitude towards his certain promises and policies, including those concerning the Philippine National Police and the New People’s Army.

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Duterte boasted: “If elected president, give me about three to six months, I will get rid of corruption, drugs and criminality. If I fail in three months, better leave the country or I will step down and give the presidency to Bongbong,”

Duterte said this while campaigning in Batac, bailiwick of vice-presidential hopeful, Bongbong Marcos. This prompted me to comment that Duterte would have mentioned his own VP teammate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, had he been speaking in Taguig.

In December last year, six months into his presidency, Duterte began to sing a different tune. He admitted in an interview with CNN that “it was a miscalculation” on his part when he promised to end the drug scourge in three to six months. However, still full of bluster, he asked for “an extension of six months.”

Duterte also remained adamant in his support of the berdugos in his bloody anti-drug campaign, the Philippine National Police.

Reacting to official NBI findings that the death of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa inside a jail cell was a premeditated liquidation by officers of the PNP, Duterte declared: “I will not allow these guys to go to prison. Maski na sabihin ng NBI [na] murder. Eh tutal ano naman ang NBI, under ko rin yan eh, Department of Justice (Even if the NBI says it’s murder. Anyway, the NBI is under me through the Department of Justice.)”

That attitude would change in the wake of the murder-for-ransom of a Korean businessman by PNP mobsters right inside Camp Crame, and subsequent revelations of criminal activities by rogue policemen, apparently exploiting Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

In a recent speech in Malacañang, Duterte announced: “I have ordered the police to stop all anti-drug operations, No policeman in this country anywhere is allowed to enforce laws related to the drug campaign.”

Following that announcement, PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa told the media: “We have to focus our efforts towards internal cleansing. And by the time na ma-cleanse natin ang PNP, the President will determine that and he will instruct us to go back on the war on drugs. But right now, no more drug operations.”

Dela Rosa also issued the warning: “Wala itong ibang mission kundi habulin, run after scalawags in the PNP. Kaya kayong mga sindikatong pulis, tingnan niyo ito ngayon, lumaban kayo para kayo’y mamatay. Papatayin kayo nitong counter-intelligence task force (There is no other mission but to go after scalawags in the PNP. So, you police syndicates, watch out, you fight back and you’ll die. You will be killed by the counter-intelligence task force.)”

Duterte’s epiphany concerning the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) took much longer to happen. Throughout his incumbency as mayor of Davao City, Duterte tolerated and even rationalized the extortion racket of the NPA, using the euphemism, “revolutionary tax.”

When he assumed the presidency, one of his first high-profile acts was a rapprochement with the Left and a virtual romance with Communist Party Chairman Jose Ma. Sison. Negotiations in the Netherlands and a ceasefire between government forces and the NPA followed. But, expectedly, the romance would not last.

Following recent skirmishes and the death of several government troopers, Duterte has ended the ceasefire with the NPA and has given the armed forces the green light to go after the rebels with deadly force.

In a speech in North Cotabato, Duterte announced, “There will be no peace with the communists for this generation. I’m lifting the ceasefire tonight, there will be no more ceasefire.”

On another front, Duterte is still hoping to reach an accord with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari, although not with the Abu Sayyaf and any elements of the ISIS, said to be creeping into the Mindanao front.

“I will never talk to the terrorists but I am ready to concede federalism to Nur Misuari and to the MILF,” Duterte has announced.

Will he be in for another epiphany?

Those are just domestic issues that Duterte has to confront – issues that he may have already begun to realize cannot be resolved within the six years of his presidency. But there are other more pressing problems that he has to face on the international front.

The simmering conflict over the South China Sea that could bring the United States and China to the brink of war, will leave Duterte wondering about how to handle our country’s foreign policy and how to maintain his precarious balancing act.

In this regard, his epiphany will be the realization that foreign relations are much more complicated than running the mayor’s office in Davao. Unfortunately, his Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfect Yasay may not be of much help. Hopefully, Duterte’s awakening will come sooner, rather than later.

One other conflict that Duterte has to resolve is that with the Catholic Church. Someone should remind him that not even the Roman emperors and the lions in the Colosseum could vanquish it. In this regard, it may also serve a good purpose to remind our bishops that acting as juvenile as Duterte over one’s number of wives is not in line with the lessons of the beatitudes.

The fact, however, that Duterte has acknowledged his “miscalculations” and has shown a willingness to change course is a good sign. He just needs to display less arrogance, particularly when he takes the name of the Lord God in vain.

There is a Waray-Waray phrase that I’m sure Duterte understands. Gagabaan ka.

At any rate, Duterte’s epiphany is more than one can say about former President Benigno Aquino III. Aquino tended to rationalize, wash his hands and pass the buck on sticky issues, even when the facts indicated his accountability.

The Mamasapano massacre of Special Action Force troopers was only one among several examples of his character flaw – and the ghosts of the Fallen 44 may have begun to haunt him.

Meanwhile, although Duterte continues to rate favorably among the 16 million who voted him into office mainly because of the illusion of gains against crime and the speedier, more efficient services being rendered by some government agencies the gut issues of poverty, jobs, food, health and education, and corruption, as well as the promised economic inclusiveness, may soon begin to rankle. Dissatisfaction with the Duterte administration will follow, as surely as night follows day.

After many disappointments, particularly the ones that followed EDSA One and EDSA Two, it should already begin to dawn on the Filipino people that it takes more than the bluster of a populist President to solve our country’s problems and set the Philippines on the road to meaningful progress.

It takes a realization that every citizen’s active involvement is required to address the challenges of national development.

It takes patriotism, self-sacrifice, and discipline.

It takes an epiphany. (gregmacabenta@gmail.com)

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