Crispin C. Maslog: Open letter to Philippines president-elect Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte ... "engaging character" but extrajudicial killings off the agenda. Image: ANU/AsiaPacifiic

OPINION: By Crispin C. Maslog in Manila

Let me start by saying I was not your best fan during the elections. I normally do not engage in election campaigning as a private citizen—except during the heady days of People Power I in 1986 that toppled martial law—but I was so alarmed by your persona and pronouncements as a candidate that I had to put in my two cents’ worth to campaign against you in social media.

I was scared by the image of a president sitting in Malacañang, mouthing profanities and with his mistress as first lady.

Crispin Maslog
Author and journalism educator professor Crispin Maslog … “I was scared by the image of a president sitting in Malacañang, mouthing profanities and with his mistress as first lady.” Image: PMC

But it seems you were able to connect with people, macho image, tough talk and all. And after your election, you showed your soft side and a hint of humility, weeping at your parents’ tomb and asking for national healing.

Now that the people have spoken, we have to accept the verdict. The voice of the people, as they say, is the voice of God. This is the beauty of a democracy.

Allow me now, as a senior citizen who has voted in nine presidential elections, to offer you my unsolicited opinion on some issues.

Your most controversial campaign promise was to eliminate crime in six months. You and I know, of course, that this will not happen, no matter how many thousands you execute extrajudicially in the first month.

So how will you deal with the people’s disappointment when after six months there will still be criminals in the streets?

Reasonable time
But as a reasonable man, I am willing to give you six years. I think most people will agree that that is a reasonable time to do something about crime. We will not expect miracles in six months, but we will expect a reduction in crime in six years, as you step down from office.

I saw your high school buddy, Jess Dureza, now your appointed adviser on the peace process, reassuring the TV-viewing public on May 25 that most of what you said during the campaign was just election hyperbole and not meant to be taken literally.

I’d like to believe him, not only because Jess has been my friend since he was a young journalist in Davao listening to my lectures on community journalism, but also because I really hope you were not serious about extrajudicial killings and that you will behave in a presidential manner once you assume office.

On the positive side, I like many of the things you said and intend to do during your presidency: Greatly minimise if not eliminate (because it is impossible) graft and corruption especially in the Bureaus of Customs, Internal Revenue, and Correction, and minimise if not eliminate red tape in government at the national and local levels. Push the pace of government, including infrastructure.

I love your plan to push the freedom of information bill through a recalcitrant Congress. And I was delirious when you said you’d tell the telcos to shape up or face competition.

We have to boost our internet speed, which is faster only than the internet speed of Afghanistan! Second slowest in Asia, imagine that!

Re your Cabinet, however, you are just like P-Noy. While he had his KKK—kamag-anak, kabarilan, kaibigan—you have your own kaklase, kaibigan, kainuman.

Trusted people
My point here is that you are entitled to have people you know and trust around you, in much the same way P-Noy did.

But I object to two of your choices: Mark Villar will be a magnet for criticism. His family is engaged in the real estate and construction business. No matter how you or he justifies it, there is conflict of interest because the Department of Public Works and Highways constructs the infrastructure which benefits housing and real estate.

Remember, this was the issue against Mark’s father that made him lose the 2010 presidential election. I hope you will reconsider and avoid controversies that will follow this appointment.

And there’s Salvador Panelo, who in 2014 was hired as defence lawyer of Andal Ampatuan Jr., the alleged mastermind of the infamous Maguindanao massacre. He has been quoted as saying that the Ampatuans were just “framed to seize political power”.

Panelo will be haunted by this case every time he faces members of the media, whose brothers and sisters in arms were victims of the Maguindanao massacre. Why don’t you appoint Dureza as your communication/press secretary and spokesperson instead?

But I admire your appointed Cabinet secretary, Leoncio “Jun” Evasco, who, incidentally, was a neighbor of ours in Maribojoc, Bohol, where I was born.

I also object vehemently to your decision to allow the late unlamented dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani—the burial ground for heroes, in case you haven’t noticed.

Marcos was not a hero. He was a hated dictator who ruled the Philippines with an iron hand for 14 years, caused the arrest and torture of thousands of our young Filipino patriots, suppressed our free press, destroyed our democratic institutions, and plundered the Philippine economy with the help of his cronies.

More thoughts
There are many more things I want to tell you, President-elect Rody, but space is limited. Here are a few more thoughts.

You don’t have to answer all the questions reporters ask you. They just want to bait you to say something nasty, so they can write a story with a big headline the next day.

Please control your temper. Don’t waste your time and energy insulting the Catholic Church and threatening those who criticise what you do, like Senator-elect Leila de Lima. You have enough enemies already. You will lose your focus on the immense task of governing the country if you are sensitive to criticism.

To quote the great US President, Abraham Lincoln:

“If I were to try… to answer all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

I wish you all the luck in the world.

Crispin C. Maslog is a former journalist with Agence France-Presse and communication professor at Silliman University and UP Los Baños. This article was first published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s online edition. Dr Maslog will be in New Zealand next month speaking at the Fourth World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) conference.

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