IN COLLEGE my classmates and I had the rather interesting experience of being under an English teacher who would thunder, “what is it mean?” when trying to elicit an insight from students about the lessons of the day.
This went on for a while, until one of my classmates timidly rose but with a brave voice said, “sir it is mean that…” I can no longer recall what happened afterwards. But I would like to think that our esteemed teacher got the hint minus the embarrassment that would have surely ensued had one of us actually corrected him directly.
My thoughts flashed back to that time because I and the Professor who corrects my grammar for free rode a jeep that sported a sticker that said, “never mess with the DDS”. I almost blurted out, “what is it mean?”
Judging by its look, the sticker was not new. It could not have referred to more contemporary meanings offered to explain the acronym DDS, like Dinhisa Davao Sadya, Davao Development Strategy, and Duterte’s Destiny is to Serve.
So I hazarded a guess that in all probability it referred to the Davao Death Squad, which in some settings is treated like Voldemort in the Harry Potter series—that which cannot be named. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report estimated the number of deaths ascribed to the DDS at more than a thousand, many of whom were said to be “street children, petty criminals, and petty drug dealers”, and have not been accorded justice.
Does the sticker mean then that at some point the DDS or its supporters actually conducted an information campaign? And what does it mean to “mess with” the group? If by “mess with” is meant “to intervene or meddle”, how does one meddle with the DDS?
Does “never mess with” mean to not be involved in matters that the DDS are supposed to stamp out? And what would these be? Could we take as reference the statement of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, to whose term of office the DDS has been previously allegedly linked?
In a February 2015 interview with the Philippines Graphic he said, “if you’re into drug pushing, extortion, kidnapping, whether you’re part of the police or military, I don’t care. These are serious crimes and you might want to think it over. But as for law-abiding citizens, you have nothing to fear”.
And if, assuming for the sake of discussion, that the DDS is supposed to respond to these crimes, what would be the role of the police and the military? In the Philippines Graphic interview, Mayor Duterte’s response focused on limiting the years of service of generals and a commentary on the salaries of military generals and policemen.
In that interview Mayor Duterte talked about what he would do if he got elected as President, although he claimed to have no ambition for it. After he had filed his candidacy for the highest political position, a
November 2015 document ascribed to his camp was released that highlighted fighting corruption, drugs and criminality, fixing government administration, urban and rural transport infrastructure, tax reforms, a shift to federal form of government, and building disaster-resilient communities as his thrusts and priority programs.
Nevertheless the Philippines Graphic interview is considered among those that provide a more comprehensive and coherent view of his platform of governance.
In the Philippines Graphic report Mayor Duterte spoke about declaring a “revolutionary government” if “after one year, no reform has taken place or if I cannot penetrate the political structures including what is right and what is wrong”. He also opined that, “Marcos, for the first seven years of his time was really very good. I will just copy the template of Marcos. I will follow what is right.” When pressed for assurances that the abuses of the Marcos regime would not happen, he replied with “I’ll shoot you, if you’re a criminal. This is how it works. The backbone of any society is peace. A leader can only accomplish things if on one level, he thinks and acts like a dictator.”
I wonder how Mayor Duterte’s take on a revolutionary government would sit with the analysis of Mindanao historian Dr. Macario Tiu of a malformed State and its culture in an essay he wrote as part of the publication Nation & Culture: The Proceedings. The book came out of the 150th Rizal Anniversary Conference on Nation and Culture conducted in December 2011.
Dr. Tiu had described the Philippine State/government as a “malformed Hispano-American state creature with a malformed state culture that is essentially anti-Filipino, anti-Filipino nationalist, and anti-people, and anti-poor”.
Dr. Tiu thus called for the establishment of a “Filipino state which is pro-Filipino, pro-nationalist, pro-people, and pro-poor”.
Surely, Mayor Duterte knows what of he speaks when he discourses on the changes that he envisions for the country given the many developments in and accomplishments of Davao City since he started his service in 1986 as local government official. Beyond the awards and commendations that the City reaped nationally and internationally, residents of and visitors to Davao have their own testimonies about what a difference living and being in Davao make, whether it is about the relative sense of order and stability, or the more inclusive approaches to service delivery and governance.
It is interesting though that when asked by Philippines Graphic whether he believes what he has accomplished in Davao can be done on a national scale, Mayor Duterte focused on being able to talk peace with the communists, of giving back jurisdiction over the police to mayors, and of having no compunction taking away power from erring local officials and putting in their stead a recreated Philippine Constabulary.
It could be argued that from the Mayor’s point of view those are the key measures needed to scale up the Davao situation to the national level. But is it also possible that by not answering with a direct yes or no, the Mayor responded more prudently and realistically? After all, Davao City did not become the way it is now in a matter of six years. As of 2016 the Mayor and members of his family have led the city for 30 years.
In his essay, Dr. Tiu expressed disagreement with an earlier analysis that the Philippine has the right “hardware” and that only the “software” was needed for the country to overcome its kulelat status and become more developed. Pushing the metaphor, he cautioned that computer hardware could only be upgraded to a particular extent before it becomes outmoded. I wonder whether the “revolutionary government” proposed by Mayor Duterte should he become president would constitute a change in hardware, or whether it would just be a case of another computer user banging more vigorously and roughly on the keyboard.
And what about the other presidential aspirants? How do their platforms stand when measured against the test of a pro-Filipino, pro-nationalist, pro-people, and pro-poor State?
As a voter seeking to make a contribution in order to change a malformed State, I ask, “what is it mean?”
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