Now that we’re at the dawn of a new year, looking back, it is apparent that the bad really did outweigh the good in 2018. In what seemed like the downfall and the slow execution of the Philippine Constitution, the nation was perpetually stuck under dark clouds. It was the year that highlighted the tenure of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency—the year when he became infamous for his ways of leadership.
The Philippines has arguably been a patriarchal society for most of its history, with most Filipino families leaving it up to fathers to govern the household. In a wider context, Duterte, affectionately called by his supporters as “Tatay Digong,” has served the same role. As head of state, he is entrusted with the duty of maintaining order over the country.
More than that, being head of state is tantamount to being the parental figure of the nation; he serves as a de facto role model to his constituents: the Filipino masses who have for him a great reverence. It is with this idea that makes it so unsettling how Tatay Digong portrayed himself and handled issues in the past year.
Last December 29, for example, while Duterte was delivering a speech in Cotabato, he recounted a confession he once made to a priest during his time in Ateneo de Davao University. By his account, he narrated his attempt to touch their sleeping maid’s genitals, going so far as claiming that he “tried to insert [his] finger.” After eliciting some laughs from the audience, he stressed that the story was all true. A few days later, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo clarified that it was fabricated to appeal to the audience.
This back and forth dynamic—the President sharing tall tales and Malacañang retracting it immediately after—is emblematic of the type of rhetoric Duterte has employed even before he took office. His speeches, riddled with insults and punctuated by profanities, have often been defended by his supporters as harmless jokes that appeal to the masses, essentially rendering such sexist and derogatory remarks as socially acceptable in modern society.
But this type of behavior, coming from the head of state himself, sets a dangerous precedent: If father thinks it is okay to do it, then who is stopping his children from copying him? It cannot be denied that the president casts a great influence over all his constituents.
Prior to delivering his third State of the Nation Address, Malacañang stated that Duterte will be delivering his heartfelt speech as the “father of the nation,” to which Senator Risa Hontiveros responded that the president, then, must be an “abusive father.”
To an extent, he has played that role rather well. His critics claim that no less than tens of thousands of lives have perished to the drug war since his presidency, some of which are reportedly children themselves. While he did not commit these acts with his own hands, his “strongman” statements have arguably inspired the nation’s forces to take it into their hands by executing their own brand of vigilante justice. In fact, last September 2018, Tatay Digong admits in a speech that his “only sin are extrajudicial killings,” downplaying the chilling effects of the drug war and authorizing his forces to continue doing the same.
Parents are not perfect; presidents are no different. They are human, and they, too, make mistakes, but while a parent is mostly responsible for the family he or she heads, a president is responsible for the entire country he leads, a country with over 100 million of his “children.”
Abusive and power-tripping leaders can push the country into chaos in the same way misguided children can become dysfunctional in the hands of abusive parents. His words and actions will have ripple effects in society, just as the fathers that donned the mantle before him have reshaped the country during their tenure. But Tatay Digong’s form of tough love has given his children new problems to deal with and new wounds that may take time to heal.
Yet all hope is not lost. Just as people with not-so-ideal childhoods are able to pick up their lives with proper help and extensive effort, the country may be able to rehabilitate itself over time. At this point, even if it is unlikely that we would be able to convince him to take responsibility for his immaturities or to convince him to change his ways, we must still push for what is right and call out the injustices that we see day-to-day.
If Tatay Digong doesn’t change his ways, then the heavy burden will rest on our hands. While we are not given the opportunity to choose our fathers, we have the power to choose our leaders. We must lessen the impact of his words by recognizing that he is the one accountable to us. We must not let him turn us into lawless citizens who do not value due process. We must remind ourselves that democracy gives us more power than the leaders we put in place.
In our younger days, we were taught to always respect our elders. With all due respect, then, Mr. President—Tatay, it’s due time we break free and move past your mistakes and play our part in bringing the change you promised.