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Looking for Number One


While a strong typhoon blows through a neighborhood, what’s wrong with children asking why the father isn’t around to make them feel safe?

There is Serbian wisdom that, when things get tough or rough, a child needs a father even if he’s just sitting in the corner. His presence may be enough to allay fear or  feel his protection while  in harm’s way .                                                                                                                                                       

So why did  Harry the Spox dissuade netizens, even critics, from asking his boss’ whereabouts when three strong typhoons wreaked havoc in many parts of the country recently? It’s as legit as  prayer in times of danger.

Why did President Duterte apparently took umbrage with his sovereign citizens who , presumably not from his base,  wondered why he was out of sight while his bloviating jester was presiding over  Cabinet meetings to address the impending disasters?

In the first place, he was supposed to be there doing the job, so it’s logical for people to raise that query.   Is the President in top shape, given rumors  the contrary or TV footage prior to the storms? How prepared is the government in dealing with the threats of destruction and devastation to a country already reeling under the pandemic?

Those who were looking for Duterte at the height of the storms were, presumably, not his pros, part of the minority that put him in office through the constitutional loophole in our democracy that allows a minority president to stand majority rule on is head.

It is said that Nero played the fiddle while Rome was burning. The great Mahatma Gandhi was said to be enjoying his wife while his father was dying in the next room. Duterte was supposed to be attending an ASEAN summit while ‘Ulysses’ was driving  up storm surges in coastal provinces and blowing houses apart.

Unlike Nero and Gandhi, though,  Duterte has a constitutional responsibility, not the least being the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces, including the Philippine National Police which prides in its ” to serve and protect” motto, to fulfill– with a sense of priority, needless to say.

Shouldn’t he exemplify the motto, especially in a time as dire as a strong typhoon blasting everthing in its path, even by just simply being there to be at the emergency Cabinet meetings?     The buck stops where he’s at, not at where his alter ego is. The Spox is there to be the ego’s bullhorn, not the ego itself.

That, partly, should explain the netizens’ expressed uneasiness and discomfort  on his absence. Is that too difficult to understand?

Wooden Allen has said presence is 50 percent of success. More than showbiz, political astuteness demands it. Did Duterte’s absence during the meetings/briefings on the raging typhoons as these were dumping record rainfalls and mighty winds contributed to some people’s observation that the government failed in providing enough preparation and assistance to vulnerable communities?

Or did  the President need a break from the series of calamities, particularly the pandemic, that was too much for an ordinary mortal, like him, except that he wants to reject the notion,  an invention  allegedly coming from the opposition?

At some point in the past, Duterte had signified he wanted out of it. Fatigue , after all, is part of the  human lot.  Even the strongest get tired, Nietzche said. Duterte has been there, done that. If he had known beforehand , he would not probably have gone this far.

But he got his genie out of the bottle. And the genie did not tell him that every president, whether minority or majority,  is meant or destined to face a crisis, sooner or later.

Duterte’s experience is unprecedented. Even before he won, the South China Sea dispute with China was already looming large ahead of his ascent to power.  He knew what was coming and, forthwith, issued a bravado of a statement that he would take jet ski to the disputed territories to assert Philippine rights over them.

It didn’t happen.  Of course, he was misunderstood or he was just being lightheaded.

Taal volcano later erupted, and Duterte threatened to dumped  bodily urea   into the volcano’s crater.  It’s a good thing the deadly volcano stopped spewing lava. The Covid 19 virus had alarmed some  people the first time it signaled it could turn into a health nightmare.  The mayor from the South warned that he would slap it away.

The interest of netizens in Duterte’s “invisibility” during important meetings for the nation is more than an instinctive curiosity or scoring political points.  It’s a zero-sum game.  His no reelectionist. Given his dispositive, dismissive  attitudes in the past, many may be just wondering now , nearly four and a half years gone in his term, whether he’s really serious about the highest job in the land his betters dreamed of and still do.

No less than Sen. Richard Gordon, a ‘dreamers’ club member,  whose Philippine Red Cross Duterte mocked as “mukhang pera”, doubts the President’s seriousness even in his avowed campaign against corruption in government.

Gordon says it seems to him the effort is  more slogan than anything.

In the aftermath of three destructive storms, the President has created another task force to look after the rehabilitation of badly affected areas.   That’s on top of other task forces like the one on the pandemic and the one on government corruption.  More delegations, more potential out-of-sight engagements. More money  from where there is less even for a much-needed vaccine.

Give Gordon the benefit of intelligence as well as experience. The Covid 19 threat is still around as people appear to have learned to live with or die with it. He should know whereof he speaks. He’s on top of the biggest COVID testing agency in the land.   He chairs the blue ribbon committee in the Senate.  No “big fish” has yet been caught in the corruption campaign, with  some potential “big fish” being ruled out right off the bat.

Will many Filipinos heed Roque’s advise to  stop yearning  for their President’s  presence, or perhaps get used to seeing less and less of him, in the remaining  part of his term and simply wait out for the new  one who will fit the bill?

Number Two for Number One?


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