EDITORIAL - Surrogates should not out-Duterte Duterte

The Freeman

Just because the fight against drugs and criminality is high on the agenda of the president doesn't mean the performance of local officials should be measured by the standard of the president's passion for his priorities. Unfortunately, that seems to be the gist of what new interior and local government secretary Ismael Sueno expects of local officials when he warned them of prosecution in case they do not measure up to the presidential fight.

In his first visit to Cebu since assuming the DILG portfolio, Sueno told local officials they need to make extra effort to fight drugs and criminality in their respective areas. Nothing wrong with that. An exhortation, like pep talk from a coach in the locker room, is always a good and necessary morale booster. It should not be couched in a threat.

A threat, like a scolding from the same coach, can backfire. Instead of egging on the players and inspiring them to do more, it can trigger resistance and resentment. It can demoralize. If what Sueno intended was to rally the troops, that was not the way to do it. Besides, he is the wrong person to be making threats. He is not Duterte himself but a mere surrogate.

If Duterte makes threats, that is a different story. He is the president. And he is that kind of person. But Sueno is a nobody until he was appointed DILG secretary. Before his appointment, only three people probably know him. And now he comes to Cebu talking tough as if he is the president. That is not the way to rally the troops. First you need to win their confidence. Then you win their respect. Do that and you can make them jump over the cliff.

But to demand performance under pain of punishment is not the way to do it, especially if you are just a relatively obscure surrogate. Besides, what is the basis for prosecuting local officials who do not measure up to the president's passion. Is there a clear definition about what constitutes performance or non-performance in the fight against drugs and criminality?

Before Sueno goes on threatening anybody on the basis of his or her performance or the lack of it, he should first make clear the measurement by which he intends to pass judgment. Is performance equivalent to 10 people arrested, or jailed, or killed? Or is it 500? Or maybe even 62,567? Sueno needs to have a legal basis for his demands. He cannot just talk through his teeth, or else he might be the first to be reported to Duterte via 888.

Duterte has amassed a lot of political capital by way of his honesty in saying what he means and his determination in doing what he says. No elected official, especially a president, has ever earned the trust of 91 percent of the entire populace. That is nine out of 10 Filipinos willing to put their fate in his hands. Let no one mess that up from among his eager-beaver functionaries. People understand what enthusiasm is, and it is not trying to outrun the bulls in Pamplona.

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