Rodrigo Duterte

[Newspoint] With a President like Duterte, who needs disasters?

Vergel O. Santos
[Newspoint] With a President like Duterte, who needs disasters?

Janina Malinis

His reign has been, indeed, the most disastrous since Ferdinand Marcos’ – a veritable reign of murder, corruption, repression, and militarization, all of which he has managed without having to declare martial law, as Marcos did

Natural disasters are always a challenge to leadership, and the last typhoon, Odette, has been a particularly tough one, not only for the colossal costs it has exacted in lives, livelihoods, and property, but for its timing: she visited at Christmastime.

To Vice President Leni Robredo, empathetic leadership seems to come so naturally it is easily recognized: disaster strikes, and she’s there among the sufferers, inspiring philanthropy and volunteerism, which is just as well: being from the opposition, she has been shut out of Duterte’s gang-oriented presidency, deprived of that customary Cabinet portfolio and its corresponding budget.

But the way she is – competent, resourceful, credible, trustworthy – she has nothing to prove. Still, she can’t help being compared, especially with the President and her rivals for succession. It’s a function of politics and, in this season, of electoral politics.

In any case, the difference is just too notable between her and her rivals to be missed: they are not so quick as she in responding to the call to emergency leadership duty. I guess if you don’t breathe leadership you can’t live it. Where acting swiftly, by heart and conscience, is called for, mere pretenders need to look long and hard, need to weigh the political pros and cons, before plunging, if they decide to plunge at all.

As for Duterte, with his six-year term drawing to a close, he has had all the time to prove himself, although, if anyone bothered to look at what he had been before, it was not difficult to guess what we were in for.

With a President like him, who needs disasters?

His reign has been, indeed, the most disastrous since Ferdinand Marcos’ – a veritable reign of murder, corruption, repression, and militarization, all of which he has managed without having to declare martial law, as Marcos did. And not only has he held the nation in fear as did Marcos, he has buried the nation twice as deep in debt (nearly P12 trillion) as when he took over.

His predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, paid off far more of the debt he had inherited than he himself borrowed, and still left him a trillion pesos in the treasury. But, when the typhoon victims cried out for succor, he copped out. His excuse was the pandemic, as though that alone, in all of two years, had plunged his government into such a state of penury it could spare absolutely nothing even in a life-and-death emergency such as Odette has caused.

To be sure, the nation, nay, the world, has not seen a scourge so deadly, and so costly to deal with, as this pandemic – not in generations. But the question, brought into sharp relief by Duterte’s cop-out, is how his government has dealt with it, which happens to have been pathetic.

In fact, the Philippine pandemic response has been rated the poorest in the region in nearly all categories: loose or otherwise inadequate testing for infection; inconsistent, if not downright irrational, quarantine measures; ill-equipped public-health service; and inferior vaccines and a confused vaccination program.

Doubtless, the militarized, as such ill-suited, implementation and supervision of the response has not helped. But there’s no role more anomalous than the one China and other favored contractors have played in it.

China has captured the Philippine market for its own Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, despite their lower efficacy yet higher prices. Other supplies – test kits, health masks, face shields, medical gear – have been mostly sourced from China as well, and sold through well-connected middlemen at ridiculously padded prices.

Robredo, on the other hand, has had only good faith and good sense going for her, and, for that, she has been attracting donors who send aid on her reputation and inspiration. It is by the same arrangement that many of the typhoon victims have received help.

Obviously, Duterte is made insecure by it – made absurdly insecure enough to say “Don’t compete with me!” to someone whose potential capacity to compete with him he precisely took away at the first instance. If anything good seems coming out of all this, it’s Duterte being forced to promise to part with two billion pesos of his office’s contingency fund – he likes to call it, out of a narcissist’s proprietary compulsion, “my fund” – for those homeless, jobless, hungry, and sick citizens whom he already has turned away until, feeling challenged now by Robredo, he seems changing his mind.

But don’t hold your breath. –

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