Can Duterte renew the people’s faith in government?

Can Duterte renew the people’s faith in government?

- in Opinion
President-elect Rodrigo Roa Duterte arrives at the Reception Hall of the Malacañan Palace together with his Special Assistant Christopher "Bong" Go.

Duterte’s inaugural speech pointed out a crisis of legitimacy afflicting our Republic. A crisis fomented by the people’s loss of confidence in government, which Duterte considered as the real problem confronting us. The Inquirer disagreed with him. According to their editorial, “the surveys, the record-high voter turnout, and [Duterte’s] victory…support the opposite view.” But that conflates confidence in a particular individual with confidence in government as an institution. According to the 2015 Philippine Trust Index, the government has a 12% trust rating from the general public and a 7% trust rating from the informed public. The record-high voter turnout might be more an effect of the appearance of a candidate who possesses the qualities citizens want from their leaders. The Philippine Trust Index found that the most important qualities are: “someone who listens to people, has strong political will, shows genuine concern for peoples welfare, true to his/her campaign promises, talks in such a way that even ordinary people understand his/her message, has integrity.” Duterte has them all.

President Aquino tried to stir the country towards a righteous path, but he was not ready to turn his back on his friends, such as Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, allegedly Napoles’ mentor.  To be fair, Aquino was able to stand up to the powerful Catholic Church and evangelical groups when he fought for the passage of the Reproductive Health Law. Meanwhile, he flexed his political muscle when he mobilised Congress to impeach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, arrested the former President for corruption charges, and jailed three senators, including Enrile, who was later on allowed to bail because of dubious humanitarian reasons. Aquino tried but he wasn’t able to bring about a new order.

Besides the plunderous being in the positions of power, the colonial unitary structure of the country has also made the Republic incapable of spreading bounty to different regions. The Republic cannot thrive with a sclerotic government structure and institutions people don’t trust. What kind of leadership does this situation demand? What is needed to be done?

Moments of great social crisis require extraordinary deeds. They are the fertile grounds for charismatic leadership. Max Weber believed that systemic change is the deed of an exceptional person: a charismatic leader who “seizes the task for which he is destined and demands that others obey and follow him by virtue of his mission.” By implication, the charismatic leader fails when the people perceive that he is just an emperor with no clothes. Thus, the charismatic leader must constantly prove himself by actually performing heroic deeds that bring about a new order. As Luciano Cavalli put it in Charisma and Twentieth-Century Politics, charismatic leaders must free “his followers from any sense of guilt towards old laws and principles, and gives them new laws and principles, arousing a sense of obligation and moral duty towards them.”

This is not the right moment for Roxas to lead. Philippine politics, characterised by a high-degree of personalisation, is not yet ripe for a leader like him who thrives more in a well-functioning bureaucracy. Besides, simply continuing what your predecessor did is not enough to re-enchant a disenchanted citizenry. Meanwhile, Binay doesn’t exude any sense of mission at all. He doesn’t inspire hope. Poe is charismatic, but lacked the experience necessary to bring about a new order. Duterte has charisma, experience, an electrifying purpose, and the will to do it.

The strong sense of purpose driving Duterte’s will to power is aptly expressed by a word he used in his inaugural address: REVITALISE. If you have listened carefully, fighting corruption, illegal drugs, bureaucratic inefficiency, and criminality were not the terminal goals of Duterte. As he said, these problems are simply “mere symptoms of a virulent social disease that creeps and cuts into the moral fibre of Philippine society.” This disease, Duterte continued, “is the erosion of faith and trust in government.” 

Thus, the end goal Duterte intends to reach in his term is the great renewal of the Philippines rooted in the revitalised faith and trust of citizens in their public servants and institutions. Without the faith and trust of the people, Duterte said, “no leader, however strong, can succeed.” Without their cooperation, no vision, however noble, can become real. He was forthright in telling us what to expect as the process of unfolds: “the ride will be rough.” And he pledged to do everything within the limits of his power and authority as president in order to make it happen. “I am ready to start my work for the nation” — that’s how Duterte ended his speech, reminding us that the task before him is hard work and he, we, must start it now.

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