I’m playing psychologist, and the man on my imaginary couch is the President of the Philippines.
Before agreeing, he makes a strange request, that he be inside a mosquito net for the full hour and that our session be called “shooting the breeze.” The word “shooting” makes me a bit uneasy, but in this profession we risk personal safety to patients.
It must be panic time for the septuagenarian, when one’s health is said to need most watching, and, by complexion and gait, indeed, he doesn’t seem in the pink of health.
His six-year term is about to end. What’s the big deal? Most other past presidents have taken it in their stride, but to someone like him, who needs power as normal humans need oxygen, it could be over in many ways.
He’ll never find the kind of satiation again. The Philippine presidency, as it turned out, was his narcissist dream.
In less than a year, the extraordinary powers, along with the immunity from suit that goes with them, will no longer be his. That’s why the idea is being floated that he may go for the vice presidency, as running mate to his daughter: Their election will guarantee his escape from accountability. Trying to appear cool, he endorses the prospect, “It’s not a bad idea. I have unfinished business.”
“Cringe,” as my 13-year-old granddaughter likes to say—it’s one of her favorite words these days for something tasteless and crass that offends her sensibilities. Apparently, she realizes, picking up, I suppose, eavesdropping on television political shows we regularly watch, that this President has done enough cringey things.
Sara Duterte-Carpio herself is running for president with no appreciable ability for leadership, as evidenced by how she has presided as mayor of a provincial city with a population of fewer than 2 million. But then in this country, it doesn’t seem to matter whether one is fit or cut out for public leadership—Congress itself is testament.
Field of choice
Sara has to run because her father can trust no other successor. For a while he seemed to be grooming Bong Go, his amah and now concurrently senator, but he appears to doubt whether a servant of even such long standing, would stay loyal once the roles were reversed.
His field of choice is truly narrow. Except for a handful of them, the people around him—from the generals he has recycled for civilian positions to his Cabinet to the Supreme Court—are more friends of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s than his.
And, for spiritual connection, he only has Apollo Quiboloy, who has proclaimed himself a divine descendant by seeing and hearing things. If it’s lonely at the top, wait until you’re down.
Predictably, team Duterte is cooking up a little drama starring the Drama Queen as labeled by her own papá after she confessed to being raped as a young girl. Any psychologist, certified or not, like me, should smell something positively aberrant there.
In any case, they would have us believe there’s conflict between father and daughter. The script is a variation of the old hele-hele, which 16 million Filipinos fell for in 2016. Supposedly, father opposes a draft for daughter; daughter defies him to appear as her own man. How can she be anyone else but her father’s daughter, unless, of course, she runs as a Carpio.
Lives at stake
But at what point does the father suddenly emerge, like a disguised ninja, as her running mate? Not that he’s not done anything tackier before; the man, after all, is cornered. The International Criminal Court is closing in on him. He must win at all costs. Someone has warned, and I believe him: “If this tandem wins, they will never let go of power.”
I never saw, or may have refused to see, this coming, in spite of my husband’s prescient conviction. He seemed almost driven to launch a speaking campaign—he has always preferred to set down his thoughts—starting with our barangay and later expanding his campaign to reach business, civic and social clubs. He spoke of credentials and history, facts being his very business, and answered all questions that came to make his point.
At one point I had to ask, “You’re acting like our lives are at stake in this election, is it?” His answer was almost eerie, ”Yes!”
Soon he was being invited outside our city, but with so little time he could only cover so much ground. He was careful not to appear leaning toward anyone of them. We took a poll before he even began to see where his audience’s sentiments lay and another poll at the end. The results were quite uncanny. In every place he spoke, there was a dramatic shift toward moral, sensible, credentialed leadership.
This time our resolve must match the passion and intensity of the other side’s desperation. Either side cannot afford to lose this fight. May God have mercy on us all. INQ