The Duterte effect
There is something about President Rodrigo R. Duterte that sets him intensely apart from all other Philippine presidents we have had. He seems to have the ability to move people to support his causes and go out of their way to back him. Perhaps it is because people see that he came to his job prepared, with a clear understanding of the country’s major problems and a vision of how to get things done.
For one, his campaign promise that change will come is fast unfolding as a reality on many fronts. On his campaign promise that he will stop crime and fight illegal drugs, we have been seeing drug dealers getting killed and thousands of pushers and users of illegal drugs voluntarily surrendering to authorities all across the country. On Saturday, news reports showed thousands in Tagum City, Davao del Norte, surrendering and taking an oath that they would now abandon drugs. In Tacloban City, some 2,446 pushers and users have also surrendered from June 29 to July 7 alone. One of those who did even turned over to the police P400,000.00 worth of shabu. Also last week, in separate raids at clandestine laboratories in Las Piñas and Parañaque cities, anti-narcotics agents seized P1.5 billion worth of shabu and arrested Taiwanese nationals. In yesterday’s news, some 400 drug dealers and users in Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela turned themselves in while 2,856 surrendered in the southern part of the Metropolis. Never before have police authorities and the people cooperated with one another as they are cooperating now.
Of course, there are groups highly critical of the President mainly on grounds of human rights violations and potential abuse of power by authorities. Generally, however, people are awed by the courage and political will of the President. In a gathering I attended last Thursday, for instance, people who voted for presidential bets other than now-President Duterte said they can now see that it was for the country’s good that he was the one elected as President. Many shared my bewilderment why, during the entire six-year term of former President Benigno S. Aquino III, we did not get to know the depth and breadth of the illegal drugs problem in the country. Although we have heard about blood-curdling heinous crimes being committed by suspected drug-crazed offenders, there was no definitive pronouncement that those who committed them were indeed under the influence of illegal drugs. In fact, when I wrote an article a year ago about the surge of inhuman and hard-to-imagine crimes committed against women and young children by suspected drug users, sometimes by their very own fathers, a police officer sent me an e-mail saying that the hands of the police are tied. He said that even if they knew that the perpetrators were drug users, they were helpless in light of jurisprudence saying the police cannot force a suspect to subject himself to drug tests if he refuses.
Thus, he said, they have no statistics to show which crimes were committed by suspects under the influence of drugs.
It thus seems surreal now to see in the news the number of drug dealers either being killed or surrendering in droves. It also feels like watching a riveting action movie to see the President himself naming police generals allegedly linked to the triad and the illegal drugs trade.
On another front, the President’s expression of a desire to shift the Philippine system of government from the highly centralized unitary system to federalism has moved thousands of volunteers to join various forums to learn about federalism. At their own expense, people from various callings—lawyers, doctors, architects, a number of the country’s prominent businessmen, former high-ranking government officials, and other professionals—are getting together to propel the movement toward a federalized Philippines. A group calling itself PDu30’s Core Constitutional Reform toward federalism has been meeting every Saturday, inviting experts on the subject, to study the whys and hows of shifting to a federal system of government.
On Saturday, they attended the first general assembly of advocates for federalism organized by lawyer Raul Lambino. No less than the recognized father of federalism in the Philippines, Senator Nene Pimentel; the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, Dondi Teehankee; long-time advocate of federalism, Lito Lorenzana; and architect/urban planner, Jun Palafox, were among the speakers. The attendees on Saturday braved the heavy rains and did not mind the cramped and crowded venue. When I went to the rest room, I heard a group of middle-aged ladies saying, we have to keep praying for President Duterte to shield him from those who might want him destroyed.
The core advocates of federalism source support from donors to finance printing of materials and travel around the country to hold forums. More often, the participants pay their way just to listen, understand, and share their thoughts on federalism. People are coming together to be involved.
All these make one think that perhaps there is indeed such a phenomenon as the Duterte effect.
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