THE United States is now, officially, on the same boat as the Philippines. It now has a president that can be considered as corrosive to good conduct and democratic principles. Indeed, there is a reason why American billionaire Donald Trump has been likened to our President Rodrigo Duterte. Unfortunately that reason is not all good. Duterte is a Philippine president like no other. Trump is potentially the same to the US.
Trump was controversial in every step of last year’s US presidential campaign, sparking worries of what kind of president he would be. His inaugural address didn’t help to ease the worries; he wasn’t about to become what Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno described Duterte’s governance: Duterte as president is not Duterte the campaigner. Trump said he would be true to his campaign persona and promises.
But one difference between the ascendancy of Trump in the US and Duterte in the Philippines stands out.
While Duterte won convincingly over several opponents, Trump actually lost to rival Hillary Clinton in the popular vote even if he got the votes in the Electoral College. Nobody has questioned the legality of his win, but it could be partly attributed to the divisiveness now surfacing in that country.
This partly explains why, after the other presidential bets conceded to him, Duterte’s political stock rose.
Politicians shifted allegiance en masse and swiftly. Before he could even take his oath, the new president was already in full control of one other branch of government, the legislative. The political opposition got marginalized, and so too civil society, a chunk of which had supported Duterte.
In contrast, Trump’s inaugural generated protests attended by an estimated 1 million people in Washington and in other US cities and even in some other countries. A group of militants launched an anti-Trump protest in Manila.
Those protest actions served notice to the new US president that progressives are not about to be coerced or silenced. That also had politicians hesitating to throw their lot on the Trump presidency.
In this sense, US progressives are providing a model for their counterparts in the Philippines.
I like how the protesters, mainly initiated by women’s groups, articulated their intention. The Washington Post quoted one of them, Marcia Knight, who was with her daughter in the rally: “I feel the rights we take for granted could go backward, and we owe it to our daughters and the next generations to fix this somehow.”
The popular feminist Gloria Steinem, now already 82 years old, also spoke before the gathering. “This is an outpouring of democracy like I’ve never seen in my very long life,“ she said. And I agree with her when she exulted: “This is the upside of the downside.” The downside is Trump’s ascendancy; the upside is the people’s rise.
Indeed, one of the Filipino people’s finest moments was when tyranny reigned and they eventually acquired the daring to oust the tyrant. It was our upside to the country’s downside.