THE PEN| Maverick

CITY Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte is, by and large, a maverick. Although he has spent 22 years of his professional career as a politician, he has staunchly refused to conform to the norms and niceties that are expected of public servants of his stature. This is perhaps the reason why he is perceived by many as uncouth, undiplomatic and disrespectful of authority.

It therefore didn’t come as a surprise when Duterte, now the front-runner in the latest SWS surveys, caught the ire of netizens over his seemingly insensitive comments regarding Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill who was raped, and subsequently killed during the 1989 hostage crisis at the Davao Penal Colony.  In a video that was posted on YouTube over the weekend, the mayor told the crowd attending his campaign rally in Amoranto, Quezon City that he was displeased because he should have been the “first.”

Although the mayor is known for his penchant for using so-called gutter language, which oftentimes borders on the visceral and obscene, we believe that the joke was not meant to offend or desecrate the memory of the fallen missionary. It could have been an unrehearsed, spur-of-the-moment attempt to inject rumor or lighten up the crowd. However, there are those who strongly feel that there is no justification whatsoever to the chief executive’s utterances. Let us call a spade a spade, they say. 

From a moral standpoint, the mayor’s critics may have reason to call him out although he has already apologized for his verbal gaffe.  In fact, even some of the mayor’s supporters have taken to social media to express their displeasure over his supposedly insensitive remarks. For their part, various women’s groups and even officials of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippine’s have called on the Filipino people to carefully weigh in on the issue, and determine if the controversial mayor deserves to be the occupant of the highest office in the land.

The president’s rivals have also smelled blood, and have pounced on the opportunity to castigate Duterte for his perceived insensitivity, and more so, for taking the issue of rape lightly.  Poe, Binay and Roxas have taken turns in highlighting the mayor’s slip of the tongue, which to them is a clear indication that he is unfit to the lead the nation.  The other presidentiables’ spin doctors and keyboard armies have been hard at work for the past several days, as they try to milk the issue for all its worth.

The mayor however seems to be unfazed by the hullaballoo created by his statement. This is not to say that he has become insensitive to such scathing criticism. He has perhaps accepted the fact that since he categorically declared his intent in joining the presidential race, he and the members of his family would be the subject of intense public scrutiny, and therefore, steeled himself to be hit from all sides. This may be the reason why he has decided to unleash all the skeletons in his closet, and bare his soul to the Filipino people.

At his stage, no one can point an accusing finger at the mayor and tell him that he has been untruthful or withheld crucial information from the public. Duterte has time and again drawn flak for the manner in which he has made his indiscretions known.  His critics contend that he is too vulgar and has no concept of decency. But the mayor has remained true to form since he took his oath of office as mayor.  He will not sugar coat his words for the sake of producing ear-pleasing sound bites.  He will tell things from his blunt perspective – unfiltered, scathing , and even terrifying even to some.  

Political analysts have tried to “deconstruct” the Dutete phenomenon, and explain the reasons behind his growing popularity and meteoric rise in the surveys.  They say that one possible explanation for this is the mayor’s openness and candid demeanor, qualities which the other presidential candidates are quite short on. These traits have been on full display during Duterte’s campaign rallies wherein he would tell the crowd anecdotes, which you didn’t expect a  presidentiable to say. Listening to him talk is akin to a conversation you had with your favorite “probinsyano” uncle who, despite his stilted Tagalog and bathroom rumor, always spoke the practical truth.

Observers have also described Duterte as a populist, the reason he has garnered the support of the broadest spectrum of society – taxi drivers, business executives, government workers, students, rebels, overseas workers.  But is being a populist bad? We don’t believe so. The mayor doesn’t pander to people’s sentiments or emotions just for the sake of creating distrust of hatred for the Aquino Administration. What he gives his audience is a no holds barred, unflattering picture of the country’s current state, which is largely characterized by corruption, lawlessness, hunger and malnutrition, particularly in the countryside. The truth hurts but someone has to take the bullhorn and make the grim announcement so the people may know.

Each of the presidential candidates have their own distinct style of getting their ideas across. Duterte has chosen a style that may be crass and repulsive to some, but honest and refreshing to others. Those who regularly tune in to the Mayor’s TV program “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” will be first to tell you with a straight face how many times the chief executive swore or cursed. But the people of Davao have learned to take the mayor’s colorful language with a grain salt. What they look forward to is the mayor’s pronouncements that will have an immediate and long-lasting impact on the city’s economy, peace and order.

If the mayor becomes the next president of the Philippines, we can be sure that he will: One, eradicate graft and corruption in government.  Two,  pursue the peace process with the MILF, MNLF and CPP-NPA, and make the negotiations as transparent and inclusive as possible. Three, lead in establishing a more conducive business climate in the country where trade and investment can flourish. And four, decisively address the problem of illegal drugs  and criminality across the nation.

Should a leader like Duterte be judged by the language he uses?  Definitely and rightfully so. But this should not be the sole measure or main qualification to be the next occupant of Malacanang. The mayor’s track record as a public servant should, first and foremost, speak for itself.

Yes, Duterte may have a foul mouth. But he walks his talk and gets the job done.

Posted in Opinion