28 Dec 2016

Duterte hero of a nation of staunch survivors

Hey there is typhoon, I better bring an umbrella!

As I am cowering in the relative safety of my cement house during typhoon Nina in Laguna, Philippines, watching the torrential rain and gale winds of a signal 3 typhoon on the other side of my window, there are many thoughts racing through my head.

Back home, we would probably be declaring a state of emergency. People would be crying foul over the lack of government intervention, the absence of emergency services in the stricken zones, the refusal of insurance companies to provide cover for those affected. There would be countless stories on the news about this or that person losing all their belonging, being made homeless, damaged cars … and a list of tragic stories to make our sensitive perception overwhelm with indignation and sorrow.

Yet here life continue as normal. Nothing stops a Filipino from doing everything they can to put food on the table of their over-sized extended family.

The shaky sari-sari store (the local version of a corner shop) is open. Mothers and fathers are there, buying food for breakfast, and their single-measure of shampoo and toothpaste so that they can get ready for work. Jeepneys and tricycles are still running, and as full as always of tired but loving workers who brave it all to make sure that those who depend on them will have at least some rice, and with a bit of luck something more, to eat. Some are even running on their mopeds, or on foot.

There is a typhoon, I'll wait for a jeep!
In the five years that I have spent here in the country-side (or as they call it here the province), it has been my honour and privilege to meet, mix, mingle and make friends with the masa (the masses, the average people). The people that live in kubo (bamboo huts), in wobbly houses made with planks of wood recycled from somewhere, or those who live in poorly constructed houses made with a mixture of cement and other materials, with tin roofs held together by stones and old tyres.

Filipinos are fierce, fearless, relentless, devoted to their families, committed to their responsibility of supporting their all-encompassing household which seldom exclude grandparents, uncles and aunties, and anyone else related.

Occasionally they might have a momentary lapse of a feeble complaint, but that doesn’t last long. They know that unity is strength against any adversity.

It’s not all rosy at home either. With such large clans, conflicts are frequent. But so are resolutions and acceptance.

And this is what makes Filipinos one of the most accepting people that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. They can be tactlessly direct, there is no political correctness here, nonetheless, they accept everyone for who they are, whatever they are.

And as I think about all this, I am beginning to understand why everybody likes Duterte. Not the privileged, not the corrupt, but the average person LOVE Duterte. They call him affectionately tatay, which means dad, and is often used for a granddad. Given Duterte age and the fact that the Philippines is a nation of young people, I expect most see him as a grandad.

This is how he (Duterte) behaves. Like a local granddad. Strict, foul mouthed, but loving and caring.

He is the one that supports the armed forces in their fights against local terrorist groups. No president before him has been seen on the ground, on the fighting line, as much as he has. He loves people, he personally goes and visit victims of typhoons, cancer patients, victims of terrorism, and anyone who has been hurt or violated.

He is clumsy, he doesn’t deal well with publicity, or the limelight, but on a personal level, people feel truly loved.

Duterte has made great improvement to the quality of life of the average Filipino in just a few months. From the new 911 service nationwide, to the war on corruption, the war on drugs, great investments opportunities from Japan and China, and potentially Russia that far outweigh the limited and conditional help received from America. New train lines and commuting options will be available soon (this is quite a big thing in a country with no National rails!); Traffic in Manila has improved and will continue to do so (this is again a huge issue in Manila where people spend more time travelling than they do working!); free education available from all state Universities from next year, and so much more that is too much to list here

And after countless generations where the interests of a few thousands elite has impoverished and abused a population of over 100 million people, who cares about the deaths of a few thousands drug personalities? For once, the interests of the millions outweighs the interest of the few.

Sure, the average person is afraid that they will be the next innocent victim, but all in all, it’s better to be an innocent victim but to have the hope of a better future than any other option.

And this is why Duterte is the national hero of a country of staunch survivors.

Talking to the person on the street, indeed there are a few very vocal dissenting voices, but overall everyone is in favour of the current of change that is sweeping the country. People don’t say much. The young will simply show a smile that brightens their full faces and say “Tatay? Yeah, he is great!”. The older will humbly smile and nod, and simply whisper “Duterte”.

It is difficult for us westerners to understand the appeal of Duterte. That is because we are far removed from the “real” lives of Filipinos. Our cultures are almost diametrically opposed. We come from countries where the nuclear family is the standard and where the Government is oppressively entrenched in even the smallest parts of our lives; how can we understand a country where the Government is almost completely absent and where large family group share the smallest living spaces? And even those of us who live here tend to be far removed from the realities of “normal” lives. Living in Makati, or in tourist areas, or in the relative protection of well-to-do areas, and mixing with the very small proportion of those who are in good jobs and can afford the better things in life, we get a skewed and unrealistic perspective of the reality of Filipino lives.

It took me a long time with my feet firmly on the ground to be able to understand, and I am still only scratching the surface, but I am humbled by the opportunity to have been able to do so, and I thank all Filipinos, and my friends in particular, for the important lessons that they have been able to teach this formerly spoilt westerner during my stay here.

Du30 is making a difference to the millions of Filipinos who have been neglected, and are disaffected and removed from the opportunities that a society should offer to all its citizens. I can only hope that he will be able to keep doing the outstanding job he has done so far to the end of his term in office.