EDITORIAL - Presidency will eventually tame Duterte

The Freeman

Later today, President Duterte will be delivering his first State of the Nation Address before a joint session of Congress, as demanded by law, tradition, and protocol. Many of the things he will say are expected. But he is expected as well to pull a few surprises. There is both an element of excitement in that expectation just as there will be an element of trepidation. God knows what the man is capable of saying.

But more than the talk will be the walk. How Duterte will dress up is anybody's guess and the answer could be just as exciting. He has already ordered that he is not to be addressed as "Excellency" in all formal written communications. What is not clear is if the order includes addressing him in person. In today's SONA, he will have to be formally introduced. Will the "Excellency" be uttered as a matter of habit, or will there be a pained deliberateness to avoid it? Let us wait and see.

Duterte has slapped a dress code on all attendees. The SONA used to be a sort of fashion show where ladies come in all their pomp and finery, with the gents garbed in constricted formality, going for the name and price rather than the style. But Duterte is uncomfortable in all of that. He wears his barong with maong. Well, you plucked the man from the province but you cannot eliminate the province from the man.

The country's most popular president ever - 91 percent trust rating in the latest Pulse Asia survey - is hardly a month in his job, so let us just give it to him. Eventually, though, he will get around to understanding the particular demands of his office, including those that have nothing to do with executive functions, politics, and governance. These demands hew to a particular set of expectations called protocol. In the end, even Duterte will have to learn to adjust and adapt.

The key to his understanding is learning how to differentiate himself as a person and the office he holds called the presidency. There are certain attitudes and manners of behavior associated with the presidency about which the man occupying the office just cannot ignore and set aside. Eventually, he will have to yield to official styles and the decorum ascribed to the office.

Many of those who initially cringed at the rough edges of his person when he assumed office are hopeful that the office will eventually tame the man, not the other way around. Duterte must have sensed the trepidation and promised to metamorphose. And just like in metamorphosis that comes in stages, Duterte has slowly done away with the profanities that used to litter his speeches like anise seeds encrusted in torta.

The office will eventually change the man. That, many people are very sure of. The belief in a personality change made up the sizeable chunk of the confidence that propelled Duterte to the presidency in the first place. It was this trust in the innate capability of people to change that allowed people to follow him despite the great cause for worry that his aura projected around him. Let us, therefore, pay more attention to what matters, instead of to the frivolous.

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