The day the rule of law lost to Sara Duterte

Source: ANC Youtube channel July 1, 2011

The year before the filing of candidacies for the 2022 presidential elections is as critically vital as the voting day itself. That is because it is a long period of mind stimulation, when politicians lie the most – as, for example, when they say they are not running. It is actually a song-and-dance number, a canard deliberately curated and designed to keep them in the imagination of a vulnerable public given to fear, self-interests such as pecuniary considerations, and passing titillation.

In the last four years, an added trait to that public has been successfully manipulated, a public rendered susceptible to the weaponization of the people’s voice distorted by trolls oiled by well-funded political machineries. It is a dehumanization process using slanted value judgments by means of false trait characterizations (bobo, idiots), outcasting (terrorists, fake VP) and use of political labels (red tagging, Dilawan) that, in the process, actually undermine democracy; the next president can win by a contrived troll-generated popularity and not by outstanding public service and good governance records. In other words, it is the good that has been marginalized by the bad.

It is during this long prelude of lies that we have the opportunity to expose lies as a step to delegitimation of the culture advanced by those in the act of building their 2022 political base. Delegitimation involves a sociopsychological process that puts emphasis on truth telling and fact checking. How do we subject, for instance, Sara Duterte’s statement that she is not running, but which does not jibe with the proliferation of billboards that say Run Sara Run? We can unpeel it as a fundamental first step to challenge her if she is telling the truth.

Run Sara Run billboards have appeared in provincial cities, implying a national bandwagon of clamor for her to run. One such, documented in social media, was photographed by a netizen in Tacloban city. We contacted a political executive of a powerful Leyte political figure to look into its context. The information given:The house in the picture is the Romualdez ancestral house in Real Street, Tacloban city. That suggests a Marcos connection with the Sara camp.

But the tagline in the billboard leads to another political scenario. It says “SaMa tayo sa Pagbangon.” What does “Ma” signify? The political executive clarifies: Ma is Manny, apparently to float a Sara-Manny tandem to defuse a possible division of votes, Manny Pacquiao being a Duterte Diehard Supporter. The involvement of the Romualdezes may signify an attempt to dissuade Bongbong Marcos from running, thus eliminating another source of division in the Duterte support base. But anybody who dreams of Bongbong Marcos not running for president must be salivating. For what reasons, what context, and at what costs?

An insider in the camp of a former Davao provincial governor provided the answers. Take note that even before this, a Duterte family member has confirmed Sara is running. The former governor’s family is bankrolling the Run Sara Run campaign. The insider says more: It is not true that she is not running; in fact, Run Sara Run has her imprimatur and her core group is giving strategic initiatives. The huge costs are said to come, of course, with some returns on investment: a cabinet position for the former governor’s son, and continuation of the preferred treatment to the businesses of the Dutertes’ favored crony who happens to be the former governor’s nephew. With all his aggressive business acquisitions the past four years under the father Duterte, the crony has very high bank debt exposures threatening his balance sheets. In fact, the businessman himself has announced the possible sale of his petroleum company as a way to offset increasing interest expenses and declining profit margins. If this scenario is true, we will be back (as we already are under the father Duterte) to the Marcos era of cronyism.

What has Sara done as a public servant to merit the highest office of the land? Let us scrutinize the figure in the billboards, the person behind the façade. Can we start with drugs, the signature obsession of her father? Simply Google “drug bust Davao city” on search engines and it will turn out all the reports of government agencies (thus not biased against the Dutertes) of high value drug targets that have operated under her watch as city mayor. Even government functionaries have been apprehended selling drugs: a cop, a DENR employee, a teacher. These hyperlinks tell us the illegal drugs business is vibrant in Davao city. There is an unnerving disconnect somewhere between the Dutertes’ magnificent obsession with drugs and what does not appear to be a war against drugs. Aside from evidence, context is important. Somebody is keeping silent about evil that makes flag kissing and placing one’s right hand on the chest ersatz. Patriotic chorvah, as a netizen would street-talk.

But the singular issue that will hound both father and daughter Dutertes as two peas in a pod is the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, a Davao city government doctor publicly lamented city hall’s response that resulted in the city’s hospitals overwhelmed by rising cases. That rise continues until this day. Of the 19,908 cases in the Davao region as of February 19, 2021, Davao city has 13,097 cases, the worst in the entire Mindanao.

Essentially, Sara’s response was quintessential Duterte bromide: create a culture of fear of death. She placed coffins along city streets to instill fear as the primary trope of governing the city. It is typically a Duterte rule of engagement. The city has no sustained mass testing and mass tracing. Her Disaster Radio (are they even aware of the pun on the name?) has announced 400,000 Pesos collected from health protocol violations, yet ayuda to impoverished families remains wanting. Like her friend Bongbong Marcos, Sara hobbles and wobbles from maintaining her arguments within the realm of reality. How much more when she is president?

Sara’s campaign ballyhoo of contrived good governance on the way to the 2022 elections has begun. Unfortunately for her, the extravaganza rides on the coattails of the same piece of bad theater that amounts to a colossal bluff, a badly written fiction. She enters the campaign only on the springboard of the Duterte dynasty and not even as a woman breaking the glass ceiling. The stars may not align for her, as even a former diehard supporter of her father calls the Duterte reign a monumental failure.

That day in July 2011, when Sara cheapened herself into a wannabe gladiator by punching sheriff Abe Andres in typical Duterte high-handed braggadocio, was the day the rule of law got clobbered. Under RA 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officers and under the Revised Penal Code for direct assault, Sara committed a crime. It is about time we unequivocally repudiate another braggart of undisguised impunity to high office.

The last thing we need is the perpetuation of the Duterte DNA of blatantly abusing the criminal justice system – unless we don’t mind being doomed to another six inutile years of terror haunting and of lionizing sociopathic behavior.

The sources for this writing all requested anonymity. Intolerance for dissent is a Duterte trademark. Is that what we want for another six years?

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.