Sara Duterte

[The Slingshot] Gold medal for incoherence: On Sara Duterte and toothbrushing

Antonio J. Montalvan II

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[The Slingshot] Gold medal for incoherence: On Sara Duterte and toothbrushing

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'If her father had good toothbrushing habits, how come it did not result in disciplining his filthy mouth and his irascible temper?'

Toothbrushing drills for school children have been practiced by Japan since the year 1922. In 1925, it expanded nationwide into the National School Toothbrushing Drills in about 20,000 elementary schools involving some 26 million school children.

The focus of the Japanese program was to promote proper toothbrushing habits, “as developing good habits from a young age was considered important for future health.” The objective was purely oral hygiene. When changes in Japanese eating habits were introduced after 1860, children were observed to have been the most affected. In 1910, 96% of school children had severe tooth decay.

Japan saw that the school was an important avenue for children to acquire knowledge about health. As the program proceeded through the years, progress was measured in terms of the DMFT index: decayed, missing, and filled permanent teeth.

Mass appeal was generated by way of children’s theaters, movie screenings, regular dental competitions where children with excellent teeth were awarded, art illustrations in children’s magazines, traveling zoos to entertain children, and the production of toothpaste with colors and flavors that appealed to children. It was never for militaristic aims. By 2014, only eight years ago, the average Japanese school child had only one case of tooth decay, a highly significant decline.

Sara Duterte has announced that a “National Culture of Peace” will be introduced to school children of the K to 12 ages, with a component “mandatory toothbrush drill.” She said it would help solve insurgency problems and the alleged recruitment of the New People’s Army in schools. Her aim is discipline, she says.

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Look closely at her words: “Doon tayo magsisimula sa pagtuturo sa ating mga kindergarten children kung ano iyong pagsunod sa drills and pagsunod sa utos by learning how to properly brush their teeth.” For foreign readers: “We will start in teaching our kindergarten children compliance of the drills and compliance of orders by learning how to properly brush their teeth.”

Understanding Sara’s context is important. She wants a culture of submission, much like how the Duterte dynasty has transformed Davao City into a place where citizens cower in fear of the vicious Dutertes. That is her idea of peace. Her words reveal her very fascistic character that wants blind obedience from her constituents. She wants to turn the country into an echo chamber like Davao City. That is how she is preparing this early into what she thinks is her sure win of the presidency in 2028.

Japan’s toothbrushing drills were never about blind submission to utos and orders. It envisioned good personal habits as part of personal discipline that can lead to a comfortable life. Discipline however, is inherent in the national culture of the Japanese. It is taught by example, never as utos: its bureaucrats and government officials resign at the slightest hint of graft and corruption. Sara, in effect, wants the opposite: let discipline come from the bottom even as government officials like them commit plunder and malversation of public funds and getting away from the law with it. Once school children are disciplined, will she surrender her gargantuan confidential funds which can be used for stealing public money and which we will never know about?

Japan made sure to pass the School Dentist Ordinance requiring each school to have a resident dentist teaching cavity prevention and dental maintenance. Do we have that? Japan made sure to have sinks in all public schools. Do we have that? Our average public school classroom is dilapidated, dimly lit, with very poor teaching aid facilities. Japan offers free lunch to all public schools nationwide. We do not have that. Many school children in poor barangays come from families who cannot even afford to have baon for their children. Lifestyle behavior is dictated by socio-economic status.

In the beginning of their nationwide drills, Japan had already seen one significant obstacle to developing health-promoting schools (HPSs), that poor oral health was correlated to socio-economic status. How Japan solved that by becoming a world economic tiger today is known worldwide. Is the Philippines doing that template? One of the reasons why we are rendered poorer is politicians privileging themselves with public money paid for by toiling taxpayers. The Philippines will never be delivered from poverty if we continue to have unpunished, self-entitled, and thieving politicians.

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Interviewed by her family friend and benefactor Apollo Quiboloy, Sara said the toothbrushing drills would be corollary to her ROTC program in the secondary schools. There is her military aim. She also said that “part of the dental drills proposed program is the distribution of dental kits with instructional materials for proper dental cleaning, accompanied by information campaigns on the matter.” Will there be public bidding for that? What is our guarantee it will not go the Pharmally scandal way, which just went by the usual Duterte route of impunity?

In a Department of Education memo we had accessed on its Oplan Kalusugan, a repeated phrase was: “subject to the usual accounting auditing rules and regulations.” The secretary of the DepEd is exempted from that in her confidential funds. How can we instill discipline when those in power are not subject to the same law applied to everyone else?

news release by the government’s Philippine News Agency quoted her saying, “The one person who is very particular to teeth, I don’t know if the world knows this, is President Duterte. Subconsciously I got it from him.” If her father had good toothbrushing habits, how come it did not result in disciplining his filthy mouth and his irascible temper? Discipline comes from the top.

It also said the distribution of toothbrushes with toothbrush guides was one of her classic programs during her leadership in Davao City as mayor. Can there be something more classic than having 11,000 ghost employees?

Sara Duterte gets the gold medal for incoherence. She gets a super gold medal for fascism. –

Antonio J. Montalván II is a social anthropologist who advocates that keeping quiet when things go wrong is the mentality of a slave, not a good citizen.


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  1. ET

    Indeed, as VP in 2022-2018: super gold medal for Fascism; and as President in 2018-2024: diamond medal for Fascism. So, all critics, beware!

    1. ET

      Edited: “Indeed, as VP in 2022-2028: super gold medal for Fascism; and as President in 2028-2034: diamond medal for Fascism. So, all critics beware!”

    2. ET

      Correction: VP in 2022-2028, President in 2028-2034. Sorry.

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