Continued from Part 1
5. Copying tactics
By now, Duterte critics should realize that they can’t match fire with fire when it comes to attacking Duterte. If the goal is simply to discredit Duterte, perhaps organizing a humongous socmed campaign can succeed in bringing Duterte down. Churning out anti-Duterte content online to influence search results and “recommended” content on Facebook and YouTube may do well in defeating Duterte’s dominance online. Rich businessmen and the so-called “oligarchs” collaborating to pay media personalities to start harshly attacking Duterte will likely do great damage. However, do these tactics coincide with the goal of helping Duterte succeed as the country’s leader or in helping the country move forward? The answer is obviously no.
That’s why instead of simply engaging Duterte fanatics on social media, it would be better to do something like organizing talks with BPO companies and stakeholders to come up with an appeal to help the President rethink his actions. Instead of cursing Duterte for his seeming abandonment of the country’s territorial claims, it would be better to work with academics, former/current government officials, NGOs, and people from the military to come up with a unified voice that will be strong enough to convince the President to reconsider his unilateral decisions. Instead of mocking those anti-US protesters who have been brutally dispersed by the police while assailing the police for adopting the culture of violence and impunity supposedly being encouraged by the President, it would be better to conduct sensible discussions, online and offline and with pro and anti Duterte personalities, regarding the risks posed by treating the US inimically.
- Honeymoon period, the bandwagon effect, and the Binay parallelism
Although not scientifically proven, there’s this so-called honeymoon period for all new presidents. For the first few months, newly installed leaders are given the benefit of the doubt and automatically granted pardon for the bumps they encounter and blunders they commit. Ex-President BS Aquino may claim that he was not given a honeymoon period but people know better. Filipinos have mostly been kind to all newly elected leaders.
On the other hand, how do you argue with numbers like 91% and 86% in favor of Duterte? Duterte has by far the highest trust and satisfaction ratings for a post-Marcos president in the first few months in office. As these numbers get reported in mainstream media and online, the bandwagon effect takes place. Almost all those whose candidates lost in the last elections have already decided to identify or lump with the winners. After all, why criticize Duterte when he’s supposedly implementing programs for the benefit of the people, including the deadly war on drugs. Most Filipinos welcome the curfew for minors, the banning of loud videoke at night, drinking ban in the streets, and soon, nationwide smoking ban in public places. Besides, who wants to risk the possibility of getting unjustifiably included in the dreaded narco-lists after openly attacking Duterte? Notice how even well-known addicts and pushers (some of whom have been arrested or killed) sport Duterte baller bands and have Duterte posters in their houses.
Moreover, the attacks President Duterte is currently experiencing can be compared to those thrown at ex-VP Binay before. Remember it took several months before the accusations of corruption and plunder pulled Binay’s ratings down. Without accusing Duterte of possessing Binay-like litigable odiousness, these two politicians share some things in common. Both of them have their respective successful cities to brag about. Both of them once used notorious propaganda methods (text blasts and name-bearing relief goods for one, aggressive online and socmed campaign for the other). Both have avid supporters always eager to fend off criticisms. Both have political dynasties and the support of businessmen. What worked for Binay may also work for Duterte at present.
- Negative effects yet to be felt and measured
Lastly, one of the most probable reasons why criticisms against Duterte still fail to hit hard is the fact that the expected negative consequences of Duterte’s actions haven’t materialized yet. When he continuously attacked the US, UN, and EU, nothing much happened. The stock market somewhat suffered but as most Filipinos say, they’re not affected. The peso may have lost value but this is not entirely because of Duterte and the BSP is not really worried about it.
It seems the responses to Duterte’s pronouncements and actions have been carefully calibrated. It’s just like how mature people respond to a misbehaving toddler. The US and EU, for instance, refuse to engage Duterte’s badmouthing and are very careful with their words. They know that unless there are official documents and signatures involved, the Philippines’ separation from the US is just one of Duterte’s ridiculous babbling. There’s a recent report about foreign aid not arriving for typhoon Lawin victims, seemingly suggesting that the adverse consequences of Duterte’s careless babbling have already started, but to be fair, the report is more of subtly directing details to disfavor Duterte. Lawin’s impact is nowhere near Yolanda’s and those of other more devastating (based on damage and casualties) calamities so it’s understandable if foreign donors are not yet that concerned.
Even China is cautiously handling Duterte. The Chinese understand that Duterte alone can’t call the shots for the Philippines, especially when it comes to pivoting away from the US. Analysts say that even the Chinese are baffled by Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric. If this is the case and China is still willing to open better trade and political relationships with the Philippines, then there’s nothing to worry about. Duterte also said that the Chinese may soon allow Filipino fishermen to access Scarborough Shoal and that he asserted Philippine sovereignty over this area. We’re just not sure if we can really believe his word on this matter.
Given all of these, it’s worth asking: should critics really make make a dent? In the context of recent developments, we think the answer is a big YES. An impactful opposition is sorely needed these days. President Duterte already appears to have a tight grab of the Lower House, is being favored by “supermajority” of the senate, and is about to appoint 11 justices in the Supreme Court during his term. The Philippines can’t afford to allow him to dictate an “independent” foreign policy that is actually China-leaning and West-averse. President Duterte needs to be properly advised with his dangerous pronouncements like leaving Scarborough fishing rights to the discretion of Chinese authorities, cutting military and economic ties with the US, and informally proposing a Russo-Sino-Pinoy alliance “against the world.”
Duterte critics need to shape up to do a better job helping the President with the right criticisms and approaches.
This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)