The playacting Dutertes and their script

It was the screaming headline of September 8, 2015: Duterte drops out of presidential race. The sub-headline made it more provocative: “The ‘Punisher’ says he is retiring from politics.” It was “final and categorical.” Even the “Punisher” moniker gave him an aura of endearment not exactly unpropagandistic. It was the reality of the time because of a script that dictated it all. Mainstream media was also allured.

Six years later to the day, the script is handily resurfaced. Once again it was a headline meant to scream: Sara Duterte says she’s not running for president. When one reads the fine print, however, one sees the half-truth of her statement. The article itself affirms the tentativeness when it said she “still has a month to reconsider since the filing of certificates of candidacy for elections is from October 1 to 7 yet.” Simply, it means it is the wrong time to say one is not running.

Notice the date of Sara’s declaration: September 9, 2021. Was the script rehashed even down to the detail of its calendar date?

The Duterte magic is built on fantasia. Sometime late July of 2015, I received an invitation to a university’s convocation of its college of law. That, however, was not its main entrée. The guest speaker for the August 1 event was the mayor of Davao city Rodrigo Duterte. It was bruited about that the mayor was on a “listening-speaking tour.” At that time, the audience was not habituated yet with the boredom of a Duterte rambling speech. He was as yet a novelty that can still be marketed. In fact, there were the obligatory selfies as he was leaving the venue after the speech.

Following the endless times he said he was not running in the run-up to the deadline of the filing of candidacies, it was clear those interactions were not just listening-speaking tours. They were designed to create a popular clamor. Even foreign media was taken in. Averred the BBC: Duterte had “success in reducing crime while mayor of Davao city.” That was the main fantasia. It was to be the principal driver to the clamor. Most did not bother to see the bare data (later fact-checked by Vera Files in 2017), which the Philippine National Police already had from 2010-2015, that Davao city was one of the country’s top crime-ridden cities.

The foundation of the Duterte edifice was actually built on heavily shifting sands. It is bound to collapse not because of ineptness (although it is), but precisely because of its complicity to crime (extrajudicial killings, non-transparent governance, corrupt practices red-flagged by the Commission on Audit, among others). In fact, the election law itself creates that kind of playacting environment that can breed skillful dramaturgists like the Dutertes who love to run circles around the law.

Let Koko Pimentel, one of those responsible for creating the national myth called Rodrigo Duterte, recall what he had said in September 2015 on the October deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy: It is not the real deadline. “The October 16 deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy was just an ‘initial’ deadline as the substitution of candidates until December is allowed under the rules of the Commission on Elections.”

And so, even the political party of Ninoy and Nene was used to deceive the voters as though it were a “budol-budol gang.” PDP-Laban admits that today. Let us check what “budol-budol” means: “a group of swindlers that lies to potential victims.” Ron Munsayac, the executive director of the party’s Pacquiao faction confesses on the 2015 Duterte phenomenon of not running, then running: “That was scripted.” Truth has found a way to come out of the woodworks.

Duterte played the script so adroitly that even when he was already an official candidate, he would still use the script playfully with the voters. After the expletive against Pope Francis, he said he would withdraw from running if Pope Francis will say he must withdraw from the presidential race. “Walang problema yan” (That is no problem), showing that he does not have the political ambition of the greedy politicians. It worked.

What is one effective way to read their script so that voters will not be conned? It is key to observe what their main players say. For example, Claude Bautista, the father of the bride in that recently infamous lavish wedding, of the ruling dynastic family in gerrymandered Davao Occidental said they are unfazed by Sara’s announcement. “Election time is still far. Anything can happen. I always believe in God’s will,” he said. And the “will of God” is written neither on the stars nor on the ballots but on the script that takes advantage of Filipino gullibility and the love for spectacles.

In Chapter 3 of Noli Me Tangere, the dinner at Kapitan Tiyago’s house, there was a sham exchange of hesitancies as to who will sit at the end of the table. The guest Ibarra was already given the principal seat. The two friars Padre Sibyla and Padre Damaso insisted on each another to take the seat opposite the guest of honor. Out of conceit, both had wanted so much to occupy that place of honor but each demonstrated instead that he had wanted the other. It was a play of strutting out who was more humble. The game of “jele, jele, bago quiere” is so effective at showing one is coy and disinterested for the gladiator sport called elections where only the avaricious play. Only the covetous for more power play that game.

After all the colossal cash spent on tarpaulins nationwide to simulate “popular” clamor instead of on the bare essentials of the pandemic, can Sara look at us straight in the eye and say she is humble? After saying honesty is not an issue among political candidates, can she prove beyond reasonable doubt she has humility instead of hubris? After punching the city sheriff in a public display of violence and histrionics, can she still say she has the self-effacement to follow the rule of law without violating her oath of office?

Play-actors run a theater, not a country. They should not even run a barangay.

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