[OPINION | NEWSPOINT] Patronage presidency

 

When, upon his election, Rodrigo Duterte at once praised Hitler and Marcos and mocked God, the Pope, and the Catholic church, notice was served that the nation was in for an abnormal presidency, to say the least.

The only reason Duterte has not made himself dictator yet, officially, well past the midpoint of his 6-year term, is that the armed forces, absent whose muscle a dictatorship is nothing, wouldn’t go along; they want to see a clear constitutional justification for it. It’s a hang-up they have developed after they allowed themselves to be dragged by Ferdinand Marcos through 14 years of Martial Law (1972 to 1986) and become inevitably complicit in his regime of murder and plunder.

But Duterte has managed to establish something close to a dictatorship: a patronage presidency, dispensing protection and benefaction in exchange for fealty and tribute. In the still largely feudal Philippine culture, patronage may be normal practice, a way of life even, but, dispensed at the President’s bidding with the consent of Congress and the courts, the acquiescence of the military, and the keen participation of the police, patronage becomes an institutional conspiracy. 

And as in any conspiracy, it is the enforcers and other frontline functionaries that get prime protection – from accountability. That’s why Duterte’s assurances go out to the police repeatedly and in particular to the forces fighting his war on drugs, which is something of an obsession with him. With 30,000 kills in just over 3 years, they certainly can use presidential protection.

As for benefaction, it is bestowed, in the most significant instances, at the expense of government contractors. Currently targeted are two water-service concessionaires, a broadcast licensee, and an American oil company that holds a land lease. Their contracts, in perfect valid standing for years and years, are suddenly declared disadvantageous to the government, which dealt them out in the first place. The cronies waiting to take over the deals are mere subjects of speculation, but only for now; they will be forced to come out when they claim the spoils. 

But nothing combines protection and benefaction in a more egregious, ludicrous, and ominous fashion than in the case of Bato de la Rosa, the retired police general, now a senator. His visa to the United States has been invalidated. No reason is given, but presumably he is covered by the newly imposed ban on anyone to do with the persecution of Senator Leila de Lima, a cause the US has taken up officially. 

As chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, De Lima had hounded Duterte, then mayor of Davao City, for death squad executions. Shortly after his election as president and hers as senator, she found herself in jail on implausible charges of drug trafficking, and for nearly 3 years now has remained detained and denied bail. As happened, it was under De la Rosa’s watch as police chief that the war on drugs was launched and went on to score 20,000 kills in just over a year, and that De Lima was picked up at the Senate and taken to jail. 

Serving both Mayor Duterte and Mayor Sara, his daughter, as police chief of Davao City and carrying on as national police chief in the Duterte presidency, De la Rosa cannot but only be a special Duterte favorite.

And so, in something analogous to chasing a cockroach with a sledgehammer to protect a skittish ward, Duterte is taking on the entire American establishment; unless his beloved Bato gets a new visa he is chucking a defense pact that has stood for more than 20 years. 

The deal, of course, is not only absurdly disproportionate but downright delusional. But then, that is Rodrigo Duterte for you – a pathological case whose delusions make him insensible to any sense of proportion. What makes him an even more dangerous president than he is on his own is the sycophants, flatterers, and sundry indulgers who have his susceptible ear: Either they play him for their own profit or they are themselves not any healthier than he psychologically. – Rappler.com