The Philippines is missing a President.
There is no leader. There is only Rodrigo Duterte thrashing around the swamplands of his Id, a gofer perpetually on the watch. Only Duterte raving at perceived enemies, or whining and flailing around like an aging bully, blaming anything and everyone for a miserable performance.
With 110 million lives on the line, he delivers a “report” that reels from one low point to another.
He talks of bladder woes. He describes the remains of a novel coronavirus victim as “a dirty carcass.” He rails — again — about drug addicts and lectures on the international arms trade.
Duterte yaks about everything, except what his government is doing to catch up with the backlog in containment measures, the protection of health workers and patients, and its obligations to hungry, stranded folk.
The President ignores the tumult of convoluted, opaque social amelioration programs, or the public’s need to know about the new dispensation on testing and isolating confirmed and potential COVID19 patients.
Sure, some of us can pore through dozens of pages of bureaucratic how-to’s. Duterte, his defenders say, isn’t talking to us, but to his base.
What he doesn’t tell them, what he withholds from them, shows how little he thinks of their capacity to respond to challenges.
He attempts a guilt trip and is three weeks too late.
Since day one, the private sector — — rich and poor — has been digging deep into pockets and bank accounts to respond to appeals from the health sector and the vulnerable poor.
Local government executives have been scrambling (though not always succeeding) to provide shelter, food, and health provisions for constituents.
Civil society sent a flood of suggestions and advice on the many interlocking branches needed to support a lockdown aimed at stemming the COVID19 contagion.
Leaders call on their people to help during a crisis. The best tap into their people’s reservoir of goodwill and humanity.
Duterte’s demeanor and words present the Filipino people like a heavy burden and himself a messiah seeking deliverance.
Citizens needed no prompting to fill the gaps in governance.
Churches and small businesses opened their doors to the homeless. The first two weeks saw a stream of protective gear, food, and transport services, and then offers of shelter for beleaguered health frontliners; officials wrung their hands and waited for donations.
The message has been, your aid is welcome, but spare us from bright ideas.
Duterte’s cabal huddled, mumbled, and stumbled, and then snarled and clawed at people reminding them to look beyond the mailed fist.
Their leader did worse.
He demanded obedience from everyone for the sake of public health even as he mocked the same guidelines, voice and body language intimating that rules are made for weaklings.
He hurled one edict after another, dismissing the question of HOW all these would be implemented.
He gave LGUs free rein one day, only to threaten them for doing exactly what he said.
The country is minus a leader.
You can see it in the infighting that takes up so much time, in the policies issued and recalled like so many rolls of the dice.
Leaders educate and inspire. They try to step into the shoes of citizens frazzled by the necessities of survival.
From the start of the lockdown to date, Duterte has focused on his whims. Everyone else can swim or sink, or die if their desired resolution doesn’t fit in with a worldview summed up in one word: obey.
He has even defiled the time-honored concept of “Bayanihan”. Its culture of partnership and compassion has morphed into a wasteland, with a million automatons marching in step to the cracks of the lash.
It is an attitude that seeps into the ranks.
Sometimes, it is because power has its perks, so you have a thousand Duterte clones trying to match his autocratic style. As the DENR undersecretary does when he “reminds’ government employees not “to bite the hand that feeds you’. As cops do when they tear down banners of a community kitchen.
Sometimes, because mustering principles places you in the crosshairs of Duterte’s ire. As we saw last night, with Duterte threatening police officials who tried to airbrush his recent kill order.
A hero to Duterte is someone who needs to be taken down for trying to do the right thing.
It is Duterte, more than anyone, who causes the confusion that blocks a people from coming together.
It is almost pathological.
Last week, he brayed about “my money’.
Tonight he doesn’t know where to get that money.
Last week, he was going to feed you — or kill you.
Tonight he says you’re on your own.
Then he puts the onus on God.
There is no leader.
There’s just a wannabe Tony Soprano treating the presidential platform as a psychoanalyst’s couch.