Another plot to assassinate President Rodrigo Duterte is now under investigation. And like the one earlier this month, there is a strong American connection. While assassination threats are common in the head-of-state business, plots are far more serious, and this latest one is being treated as credible. Very few details have been released so far, but one thing that is eminently apparent is that whoever is behind it has not been paying attention.
Duterte is not merely a person, he’s a movement. He is the most popular president in the history of the Philippines – and by a long way. It’s not just the 16 million who voted for him; it’s the tens of millions who support him. All ages, all walks of life; from the well-heeled to the downtrodden; from middle income to no income; from Catholic to Muslim; from university educated to uneducated.
He is the embodiment of an ideal. The genie – the one that tells the people that this is their land and their government – is out of the bottle. It can’t be put back. Nor can it be stopped by a bullet. The metal from that wouldn’t weaken this movement; it would strengthen its armour and its resolve.
Hasn’t history provided enough lessons yet? From Abraham Lincoln to Mahatma Gandhi, from Martin Luther King Jr back to Jesus Christ – all were killed by those who despised their vision; who felt threatened by it. And in every case, and many more, the numbers of their followers rose to become countless. The visions of these martyrs and the movements that they created lived on and prospered. There are few things more powerful than martyrdom. Closer to home, when Noynoy Aquino was gunned down at Manila Airport on 21 August 1983, did that subdue his followers? Did it restore the coveted status quo? Does anyone for a moment think it would be different this time?
There has been loose talk that the Liberal Party would go to any lengths to take back Malacañang. Rumours and conspiracy theories, of course, are not a new phenomenon. But the notion that the current Vice President could return the presidency to the Liberal Party would require the IQ of a three year old, and not a very smart one at that.
She would be a lame duck from day one. Congress would not work with her; none of her Bills would be passed; her budgets would never get approval; no-confidence motions would fly around the House and Senate chambers like confetti; calls for her impeachment would be on a loop – and more importantly, the Liberal Party would be consigned to the political desert for a generation or more; that is, if it was able to survive at all. It would be utterly toxic.
The removal of President Duterte, by whatever means, would sound the death knell for the Liberal Party – at every level of government across the archipelago. This locomotive is picking up speed all the time and the Liberal Party would never be able to fashion a break to halt it.
There are a small few who could follow in Duterte’s steps, but none spring to mind from the Liberal Party right now. Former president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, is credited – and should be – for the contributions he made to the Philippine economy. Many of the metrics by which economic health is measured, went up during his tenure. He also made inroads into tackling corruption in the public sector. He introduced a number of commendable reforms. But he can never claim to have eased the lives of the poor and the marginalised. The inconvenient truth is that they never benefitted from the gains that he achieved.
There was no trickle down. Get outside of Makati and wander around the poorer parts of Metro Manila; or the broken squatter quarters of Antipolo, or Cebu; or Iloilo; or anywhere else. Get out of the high-end, high-security gated villages and wander into the slum lands – the kids there aren’t playing Pokémon Go on their smartphones, they’re sniffing solvent out of dirty plastic bags; begging barefoot to buy a bottle of Rugby contact adhesive to get them high and staunch their hunger. There are no Pokémons hopping happily in these neighbourhoods. Or take a trip to Northern Samar in the Eastern Visayas where 61 families out of 100 live below the poverty threshold – that’s PHP864 (US$7.88) a week. For a family! If they’re benefitting from a trickle down, God alone knows what their lives were like before.
These are all Duterte’s people. The Liberal Party never reached them; it never earned their trust. They may not have been able to cast a vote for DU30, but they know him and they support him. They pray for him and they call his name.
Other rumours suggest a hit may be contracted by a powerful local oligarch. But again, all he would reap is ruin. His purse would not be able to buy-off the spirit of Duterte; the days of pay-for-favour are nearly done. That will not magically change in a post-assassination Congress. And the oligarchs – the ones who might fantasise over the removal of this president – they’re already on a list. This administration knows who and where many of its enemies are. They should make no mistake; if they want their businesses and corporations to flourish, their best option is to get fully behind this president.
When Communications Secretary, Martin Andanar, told the press of the latest plot, he made the following pledge: “Rest assured that we will protect our President.” But that didn’t just mean his person; it means his vision and his promises to his people.
So here’s the point. Duterte’s promise to restore social harmony to the Philippines by eradicating the illegal drugs trade and by effecting a lasting peace settlement in Muslim Mindanao; his promise of a federal Philippines that will allow the regions to reap the rewards of their own labour; the promise to drive out corruption in all its forms, wherever it dwells; his socio-economic agenda that seeks a fairer, more equitable society; his commitment to the poor that he will reward them for what they’ve had to suffer for so long – all these are now indelibly printed on the hopes and aspirations of the people. And anyone who believes that all that can be erased by a bullet is living in a galaxy a long way from this one.
The killing of this president would inspire and fuel a people’s revolution of Frankensteinian proportions. The entire country would go into meltdown – its institutions, its corporations, its industries; its entire social fabric would burn up like a dry rag. It would be a monster which no assassin could silence. Take down the history book again; it’s all there.