I USED to think that Rodrigo Duterte, whether in his best or in his worst, is an articulate communicator. I’ve seen that when he was mayor, and then as presidential candidate, how he holds his own in any venue from interviews, speeches, press conferences, how he holds your attention as he explains and expounds on issues of the day: corruption, the need for good governance, understanding peace talks and more.
For Duterte, he is one of the politicians who seem to know that politics is not just doing the right things but also saying the right things. And that message of his before connected with the people. The message of change.
But that was then. Now President Duterte is delivering a different message. His message is a repeat mode of war against drugs and drug lords, and also against the opposition, the church leaders, the big media and the international bodies who frown on his policy of war.
There is no question that drugs is a problem. But the question is, as veteran journalist Prof. Luis Teodoro points out, Duterte sees the country’s problem as drugs, drugs, drugs. And he drags everyone to it.
And everyone is being dragged further by his communications group who generates more noise than his noise. Noise such as the one stirred by the communications secretary who calls European Union representatives as sex-starved. Or the noise created by his assistant secretary who turns her Facebook page into a bully pulpit, calling out Rappler, Inquirer and ABS-CBN for giving the country “a bad image” and threatens to shut them down. Or the noise created by this pro-administration blogger who says one Malacañang reporter deserves to be thrown hollow blocks because she works for Rappler, or that presidential spokesperson has to get fired because he is siding with journalists.
They turn up the noise through their social media army called Duterte Die-Hard Supporters (DDS) day-by-day with name-calling, witch-hunts, circle-jerks against opposition, bloggers, journalists and netizens. Theirs is a mantra of defending the president at all cost, branding dissent as destabilization, reporters as threats, forgetting that dissent and press freedom are the core of a democracy. Their mantra is illogical and scary.
This government that’s angry and attacking disconnects from the people, as evidenced from the dip in the president’s trust ratings in these past few months. And I guess if the president and the comms think don’t listen to the people, they’ll lose more.
Lest we forget, people voted for change. Not noise. Duterte said before that his change would be about reforming agriculture and education. But farmers are threatened with food imports, land conversion into mining and plantations, and lack of agrarian reform. Students and teachers face woes in lack of facilities and textbooks, and teachers are burdened with loans. Duterte once said he wants peace in Mindanao as he is from Mindanao. Yet he placed the island under Martial Law and bombed a Moro city into rubbles displacing 600,000 Maranaws.
All that may be lost. And it’s a disappointment that a president who could have articulated and channeled that hope is drowned by his own mantra and by an equally noisy and headless communications team.
“Democracy is a deeply communicative brand of politics which demands …. exchange of information and views …. dialogue and a public sphere in which citizens can engage in the practices which define them as citizens and the society as democratic,” Darin Barney.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on November 11, 2017.
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