On July 19, 2016, I wrote an column under “MAP Insights” entitled “General’s Impressions of the Commander-in-Chief.” Three years after his assumption into office, his popularity and trust ratings are still high. The results of the mid-year election further prove that he is a force to reckon with. Destabilization moves to emasculate or unseat him never materialized. In that article, I cited two significant qualities that he projects: charisma and political cunning. Both remain to be the foundations of his staying power. His charisma continues to inspire and has developed goal congruency with the majority of the Filipinos. With political cunning, he changed the parameters of the game. He built change and flexibility into the system. He addressed his agenda to the conditions of his time. He challenged the status quo.
According to Howard Schultz, “Any business today that embraces the status quo as an operating principle is going to be in a death march.” Past administrations rarely challenged the status quo. Advocates of the status quo want everything to stay the same. They argue that it creates stability, and say that change is disruptive and harmful. They benefit from keeping things as they are. They grow rich and powerful from the status quo.
Two institutions that are on the receiving end of Duterte’s ire are the oligarchy and the church. The oligarchy has great capacity to impose its will in society, often exceeding the boundaries of acceptable norms. Oligarchs scheme at every possible opportunity to feed their insatiable craving for wealth and power. Time and again, they blocked reforms that were meant to diffuse their power and influence. Duterte has been a recipient of their rejection and hatred. Even before he took over, these elites consolidated their power against good governance. Duterte entered the Presidency with little wherewithal to counter the political arsenal of the oligarchy, yet three years have since passed and only minor dents are visible on his mandate. Presidential charisma and sincerity were a match to the dubious and high-handed display of arrogance and hypocrisy. He retaliated many times, even with foul language. It never boomeranged because the masses love to hear tirades against oppressive people, especially if it affects their lives considerably. The privileged class got a dose of their own medicine.
Nations must have religious foundations. To make it relevant, it must be incorrupt and sincere. This has not been the case in history. Religion has, rather, exploited the weaknesses of mankind. Past presidents courted the Catholic hierarchy and other religious groups; meanwhile, the clergy has a penchant for privileges and material gifts, and the importance bestowed on their position gave them the mindset and impression that they are an indispensable class. They dictate the standards and norms of morality for the citizenry to follow, promised prosperity and perpetual happiness in the afterlife which are extraneous to reality. Initiatives to work hard are exchanged for prayers and hopes. The Church has always used the pulpit to denounce leaders, used it as a platform to criticize government. As a result, the congregation is brainwashed and exploited. The Church has installed three presidents by invoking Divine Providence as a reason to justify a change of leadership, even defying constitutional provisions.
When Duterte started neutralizing their excesses, that resulted in the gradual emasculation of their authority and influence, they used the pulpit to decry and even wish him death. The role of the Church must be confined to the religious requirements of society. Duterte put the religious sector in its rightful place.
When change threatens the status quo, interests groups will not give up their positions easily. Duterte has been branded by the oligarchy and the church as the enemy of order and stability. He has always been a ready target. Success in challenging the status quo, therefore, rests upon a foundation of critical mass — competence and experience are not sufficient to follow through. Building a powerful guiding coalition to neutralize challenges to the status quo can be bloody and messy. Challenging the status quo has given rise to coups and revolutions as well as the emergence of rebels and heroes.
Duterte took calculated risks. The first thing he did to solidify his position was to bring the military and uniformed sectors to his side. When the military was consolidated, the rest of the bureaucracy, legislative branch, judiciary, and the citizenry shifted to his side. It became a bandwagon for change.
The military has been a stabilizer in the power play of various interest groups. There is a misconception that the salary increase was a trade-off for their loyalty. Beyond the monetary component, we have a Commander-in-Chief who manifests a shared vision and purpose with the military and police. This is the greatest strength that neutralizes all attempts at destabilization. Identifying himself as one of them, he brings the message of purposive leadership. The decisive leadership that he always projects seals their unconditional loyalty. What alternative can you give to the fighting men? Who provides all the leadership qualities that define victory and success? Some Presidents did not identify with the warriors because they projected effeminate leadership that even bungled major military operations.
The enlistment of colonels and generals in government has provided it with the attributes of discipline, leadership, and selflessness. With their experiences and professional upbringing, they are the only ones who can claim readiness to sacrifice, life, and limb for the country. Only the weak and insecure despise military values.
Duterte neutralized the excesses of media, not being coerced or threatened by the threat of press freedom. He impressed upon the journalists the importance of humility and objectivity.
He is both loved and feared, but he is always prudent in asserting his constitutional prerogatives. He does not hesitate to chop off heads, is uncompromising in corruption. He has at times instilled calibrated fear to demonstrate his seriousness of purpose. The minority, envious and wishing to restore their lost power and prestige, tried to cross the line. Insincere intentions masquerading as love of country can never succeed.
By disrupting the status quo, presidential leadership invited new, innovative solutions to problems. It has put into place new systems and processes, reducing bureaucratic red tape and waste of resources.
Challenging the status quo and building a powerful coalition are the major factors that will ensure the completion of his term. The naysayers wishing him ill-will will just be wasting their time.
The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.
Lt. Gen. JAIME S. DELOS SANTOS (Ret.) is Professorial Lecturer (part-time) at UP Diliman, and a member of the MAP National Issues Committee.