Dumb Duterte has Dangerous Leader Syndrome
FOLKS are different and different points of view should be tolerated, even when they are profoundly annoying or embarrassingly silly or just plain wacky. So perhaps a degree of tolerance should be shown toward a man who appears, well, utterly bonkers, namely President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines; but then again, perhaps it should not.
For if there is one thing that is pretty indisputable in this world, it is that those who are bonkers, foulmouthed, dishonest, racist, corrupt and an insult to normal civilised behaviour ultimately get called out.
So it is probably fair to say, since Duterte has already committed all these sins and others, and as he appears unrepentant about doing so, his days as a political leader are likely to end sooner rather than later.
Indeed, if Duterte, 71, lasts as long as one of his quite recent, ill-fated predecessors, Joseph Estrada, it will surprise many observers of Philippine politics.
The two men are rather similar. Estrada, like Duterte, was a straighttalking populist and serial philanderer, who served as a town mayor for many years before winning the presidency in 1998 by a wide margin.
But due to his many foibles and misdemeanors, most especially plundering the treasury of some US$80 million, Estrada lasted less than half of his six-year term before being impeached and booted out.
Duterte has only been in office for six months and already many voices are saying that he could face a similar fate before very long.
For instance, Carlyle Thayer, a respected regional analyst at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said Duterte’s baffling move to pivot the Philippines away from the United States and into China’s orbit could come unravelled.
For sure, given Duterte’s volatility, the Chinese will be cautious and will know that any hiccup in their ties with Manila could result in Duterte pivoting round in another direction.
“China will have to calculate whether President Duterte will last his six years in office and whether the Philippines will remain stable,” said Thayer.
Both those matters are now open to serious doubt, given that right after Duterte’s visit to Beijing when he extolled his “separation” from the US, his special envoy to China, former president Fidel Ramos, deserted him.
In what was viewed as a major coup at the time, Duterte sent the esteemed Ramos to Hong Kong to seek an accord after a United Nations tribunal had upheld Manila’s claims in the South China Sea and rejected Beijng’s.
All appeared to go well at first, but then Ramos, a courteous and principled 88-year-old, became increasingly irked by his president’s gutter language and his policy of exterminating alleged drug users without due process.
So Ramos, a former chief of the armed forces, penned an open letter last month in which he lambasted Duterte’s attacks on the US and the UN, and said his first 100 days in office were a “huge disappointment and letdown”.
Later, on October 30, he wrote another condemnation in which he charged Duterte with “unwittingly shooting himself in the mouth” and taking “101.5 million Filipinos” along with him by gratuitously maligning the US.
Ramos, a former mentor of the president, was so infuriated that at one point he stooped to using the kind of barrack-room language that is Duterte’s forte.
He wrote that the president “may claim that to be more insulting than friendly to our long-established allies is part of his God-given destiny, but this is obviously wrong and full of S .... T!!!”.
Not nice from either side, but Ramos, whom I met in Washington some years ago and regard as among his nation’s top post-independence leaders, can perhaps be excused.
Certainly, he is not the only senior figure to be exasperated. Another acquaintance of mine, Francisco Tatad, a former Philippine senator and minister of information, was also sufficiently riled to write to the press.
Echoing a growing nationwide sense of embarrassment and disbelief at Duterte’s wild behaviour and unrestrained cruelty, Tatad referred to an article on Dangerous Leader Disorder by John D Mayer.
After examining the lives of Josef Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler, whose actions Duterte has said he’d like to copy, Mayer concluded that these leaders have three things in common.
They are indifferent to the suffering and degradation of other people, they are intolerant of criticism, and they have a hyper-elevated sense of their own importance to the nation.
Duterte has already demonstrated on many occasions and in many ways that he has all these characteristics. And what is worse, he vaunts them in an ugly, chest-thumping and most unpresidential manner.
Said Tatad, “He seems so deeply in love with his own vulgarity that he is unable to deliver a point without punctuating it with an expletive.”
As for his avowed aim of scrapping his country’s historic alliance with the US and replacing it with a security relationship with China and Russia, it makes no political, economic or strategic sense at all.
Said the angry and bewildered Ramos, “Are we throwing away decades of military partnership, tactical proficiency, compatible weaponry, predictable logistics and soldier-tosoldier camaraderie just like that?”
It is true that the Philippines was once an American colony, but the US left voluntarily in 1946, and later, at Manila’s behest, peacefully withdrew in 1990 from its bases at Clark and Subic Bay.
In contrast, Duterte’s new paramour, China, openly claims Philippine offshore islands and has made aggressive moves in recent years to gobble up this territory.
When the Americans, piqued by Duterte’s insults, said they may halt the sale of rifles to the Philippines, Duterte called them “monkeys” and “fools”, and said it didn’t matter, “we have plenty of homemade guns here.”
They also have a big homemade fool as their leader and one they would be well advised to boot out asap.
During a speech at the Beit Yaacov Synagogue south of Manila on October 4, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte appologises for comparing himself to Hitler.