Pendulum swing

There’s simply no other way to explain it: the rise of Rodrigo Duterte as presidential frontrunner represents the swing of the political pendulum to the other extreme after six years of feckless, hands-off governance by Noynoy Aquino.

I’ve always believed that while there are five candidates seeking the presidency three weeks from now, there are only two kinds of votes that will be cast. To me, the coming election is simply a referendum, during which voters will be asked if they are satisfied with Aquino or not.

That’s why the first kind of vote is the one that approves of Aquino’s performance and wishes to continue it by electing his surrogate, Mar Roxas. The second, which the surveys say represents the vast majority, is the one that disapproves of Aquino and will choose anyone but Roxas, who represents more-or-less seamless continuity of the incumbent’s reign.

Duterte, the potty-mouthed, do-everything mayor of Davao City, is merely the apotheosis of the anti-Aquino vote, the end-point of the natural progression away from the son of Ninoy and Cory. Noynoy started his rule with the bang of reform but now only seems hell-bent on ending his term in the whimper of ignominy and incompetence; Duterte is the voters’ revenge for their remorse.

The reason why Roxas has never made any headway as a candidate is because he has taken on the role of Aquino’s clone. Duterte, on the other hand, is anything but Aquino, which makes him the most attractive candidate for those who feel that their government no longer works for them or even cares to appear that way.

The reason Duterte’s frequent broadsides against Roxas (who personifies, in the mayor’s off-color language, the “konyo”) resonate is because of the disaffection that Filipinos feel after six years of Noynoy. Duterte doesn’t even have to call himself the anti-Noynoy; everything about him is the polar opposite of the rich kid from Hacienda Luisita via Times Street. I contend that if Duterte’s political star is ascendant, it is because of the failure of Aquino. If Aquino, after all, is truly “the best president the Philippines ever had,” Roxas would only have to declare himself as Noynoy’s choice and take it easy in his family’s sprawling Cubao digs; he would be president without even lifting a finger.

It is no coincidence that the most vocal of Duterte’s detractors will confess, with only very little prodding, that they are actually supporters of Roxas. In the same manner, the most fervent of Duterte’s fans are most likely those who will have nothing to do with Aquino and his empathy-challenged regime, his incompetent officials and his failed promises of uplifting the lives of the poor.

Aquino made Duterte a viable candidate because he was such a bad president. Roxas, as usual, doesn’t stand a chance.

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The founder of this newspaper, Rodolfo T. Reyes, came closest to being the equivalent of the latter-day media celebrity the hard way: he infiltrated a drug den and wrote about it.

That was in 1961, when RTR, as we called him, was making a name for himself as a police reporter of the Manila Times. The ever-affable, soft-spoken Rod Reyes, in contrast to some of those who gained fame as media personalities, always knew that he wrote the stories and was not the story himself.

For his drug-den expose, Rod received numerous awards, including one from President Carlos Garcia. His work as a police reporter even got him to Harvard University as a Nieman fellow.

But I’m sure, like many committed journalists, Rod was happiest when his story got results. In his most famous story, that meant the closure of the heroin den that Reyes wrote about and the ensuing police crackdown on similar establishments in and around Manila.

RTR, as we used to call him, died last week at 80. He left behind, apart from his grieving family, a generation of journalists who wanted to write like he did and achieve similar results.

I met Rod when he and Andy del Rosario took me in as a police reporter in this newspaper shortly after it opened in early 1987. I quickly learned how illustrious my boss was. I have always tried to live up to the high expectations he set for himself and his subordinates, even if he never openly stated them.

Over the years, I would work for RTR two more times and he never ceased to amaze with his quiet, self-effacing demeanor. Rod Reyes was a man who didn’t have to brag about anything-he’d done enough on his own to distinguish the careers of a whole raft of journalists, as top-flight media executive, two-time press secretary to two administrations and de facto ambassador to Taiwan.

Not a lot of people outside of the media profession remember Rod Reyes. Those of us who do, however, are thankful to have known him and to have been inspired by his example.

Source: The Standard