"We’ve bought into the obvious ones, and look where we are now."
A senator who may or may not run for president next year said the current vice president would win the elections if the sole measure were goodness of heart.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, however, said one also needed toughness and other qualities to lead the country.
We agree completely with the senator. Anybody who aspires for the top post in government, with our numerous domestic and international problems, has to be the epitome of toughness.
But what does the word exactly mean, in this context?
We suspect many of us still subscribe to obvious notions of toughness. For example, somebody like Lacson who brings with him decades of police and intelligence work would definitely qualify as tough. Remember how he dealt with menaces in his line of work. He wants to go after terrorists. As a legislator, he is not affiliated with any political patron. In this country of fast-changing political color and malleable positions on the issues of the day, Lacson has cultivated an independent image, unlike many of his colleagues. Certainly, someone who appears to be his own person is a tough person.
Perhaps a more obvious brand would be that variant from Davao. Remember how city mayor Sara Duterte slapped a sheriff at the height of a squatters’ demolition many years ago?
The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Sara’s father, the President, is famous—notorious, really—for his tough talk when he decides someone is his enemy. He has shown no reverence for his critics, journalists, an American president, the Pope—God, even. He has no qualms issuing threats to kill; his minions at the Palace are always quick to dismiss his words as figures of speech.
At other times, they say he is joking when he talks tough—like the time he said he would jet ski to the disputed Spratly Islands to plant the Philippine flag there.
And now this same President is hounded by the International Criminal Court. The ICC prosecutor has applied for authorization to open a probe into alleged crimes against humanity committed in the name of the war against illegal drugs, and into the killings in Davao City during his long reign as local chief executive there. Human rights groups estimate the number of drug-war deaths at 27,000 even as the police says the official count is 7,000.
The Justice Department has also sought to look into the records of these drug killings, but so far the results are far from encouraging.
A move of defiance—toughness, if you will—is Mr. Duterte’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute and consequently the ICC. This makes the probe, to be carried out through the cooperation of local authorities, much more difficult.
Certainly, the crimes he is accused of and the manner with which he has received these allegations are evidence of toughness.
The question is, is this the brand of tough we need for our nation to get out of the slump we are in, caused by the pandemic and by many other festering issues?
It is easy to be swayed by simplistic portrayals of leaders posing as heroes out to defeat their problems and enemies. The truth is that toughness is not always how it is perceived to be. It is firmness and consistency in making and implementing policy. It is engaging in civilized discourse with people who don’t fully agree with you, and finding ways you can still work together for the good of the people. It is picking people for the job not for their loyalty but for their competence. It is resisting the temptation to stick around after your time is up. It is empathizing with the downtrodden instead of blaming them for the systemic ills that consign them to their lot.
It is giving and receiving criticism based on evidence and the desire for improvement, not for taking down an adversary or saving face.
There are many ways to be tough. We have seen the superficial ones—look where they brought us. Next year, let’s go for the genuinely, admirably tough.