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A time to roar

His actuations since he assumed office 16 months ago seem to indicate that Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the strongman mayor of Davao, the kilabot of drug dealers, pushers and addicts, the bane of the corrupt, abhors, if not fears, strong women.

I could go Freudian here and examine his relationship with his mother, who reportedly imposed physical punishment on her children, but that’s for a psychologist to tackle. I would rather explore his relationship with the five women leaders who are in his crosshairs:  the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Maria Lourdes Sereno, the Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, the former Secretary of Justice and now Senator Leila de Lima, Vice President Leni Robredo, and Senator Risa Hontiveros.

These are strong women of integrity who occupy powerful positions in high places.  And they have done well dispensing and pursuing justice for all, to the admiration and applause of the public. But all Duterte sees in them is the color yellow.  Which is unfortunate because the country could use the talent and conviction of these outstanding women leaders.

He has decided that three of the women are corrupt and has sicced his minions in Congress on them. Senator de Lima, who he has accused of trafficking drugs, is languishing in detention. CJ Sereno and Ombudsman Carpio-Morales are facing impeachment before the Lower House.  VP Robredo was told to stop attending Cabinet meetings, virtually firing her from his Cabinet. And Senator Hontiveros is facing kidnapping and wire-tapping charges filed by Duterte’s Justice Secretary and other allies.

What have these women really done to deserve such treatment?  They have shown that they have — in macho parlance and for want of a simpler word — balls.  Leila de Lima, in an earlier incarnation as chair of the Commission on Human Rights, dared investigate reports of extrajudicial killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad under the then mayor’s leadership.  Duterte never forgave her for challenging him in his own territory, and once he became President, he ordered his Secretary of Justice to throw the book and the kitchen sink at her.  In detention on false charges of drug trafficking elicited from convicted drug lords, Senator de Lima has not let up criticizing Duterte’s governance.

Duterte has said he has nothing against the eminent CJ Sereno, whose reminders about respecting the Constitution have irked him in the past.  But he alleges that she is corrupt, citing charges filed against her by a Duterte loyalist that have already been debunked. The truth is, CJ Sereno is a strong woman leader of a co-equal branch of government whose independence is a threat to Duterte’s equanimity. To his challenges, CJ Sereno has responded, when required, with eloquence and gravitas, and to his rants, with a dignified silence pregnant with meaning.

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Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’ “crime” is that she takes her job as impartial arbiter of the law very seriously.  Every case filed with her office is given attention. And when Duterte’s alleged hidden wealth case filed by Senator Trillanes came up recently, Duterte went berserk, alleging that the Ombudsman is “biased” and threatened to have her office investigated for graft. Carpio-Morales’ cool response: “We won’t be intimidated…If the President has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear.”  He has also dared Carpio-Morales and CJ Sereno to resign, along with him.

Although she has spoken against EJKs and other misdeeds of government, VP Leni Robredo has not challenged Duterte frontally. But her gentle bearing and quiet demeanor belie the strength of her character, which the misogynist in Duterte abhors — if not fears, in a woman — especially one who is just a failed heartbeat (his) away from the presidency. 

Senator Hontiveros speaks out fearlessly against EJKs, and advocates human rights, women’s dignity, LGBT rights, and justice for all. This freshman senator tells it like it is, calling a spade a spade, which has Duterte’s “injustice league” trying to swat her away like a pesky fly.

These are women Duterte cannot control.  He would rather get rid of them, even if it means upsetting the checks and balance in government, and destroying the institutions they represent, because Duterte cannot take opposition. Already, he is imagining a plot to oust him.

My take on Duterte is that over 20 years as the undisputed Lord of Davao, given a wide latitude by his subjects to do as he pleased, with practically all opposition silenced one way or another, has made him the autocrat and control freak he is today.  He has brought to the presidency an air of omniscience and invincibility characteristic of small town potentates, which simply doesn’t translate well on the national scale.

What we are seeing is an attempt to re-create the nation in the image and likeness of Davao City where the “Mayor of the Philippines” as he is usually introduced, is in total control.  In Duterte’s perfect world, there are no critics, no dissent over his policies. Everyone applauds his every antic, including his cursing. He can get CJ Sereno and Ombudsman Carpio-Morales impeached by a submissive Congress.  He can get De Lima and Hontiveros convicted by a compliant judiciary. And he can sideline VP Robredo by forcing his idea of federalism on a passive public.

But he can only do this IF we allow him to trample over our democratic and constitutional processes.  Fortunately, the Philippines is not Davao. 

Women and men of the Philippines, it is time for him to hear us roar.

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