Saturday, December 5, 2020
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Duterte’s inferno

President Rodrigo Duterte (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Rodrigo Duterte and Dante Alighieri share one thing in common: they’ve been to Hell and back.

The only difference is while author Dante Alighieri had the poet Virgil for a companion in his 14th-century epic, Duterte, in the Hell of his own making, has the likes of Mocha Uson and the rest of the run-of-the-mill lot for friends and supporters.

Sometimes I pity the President. I know you won’t believe this coming from a political and social critic, but it’s true. He vacillates. He wrestles against himself daily. Chops and changes his decisions like they were soiled underwear.

A propos his team of recalcitrant communicators, rogue police officers, wayward department heads, and the like, it’s almost a pity to watch the President hem and haw on whether to save their behinds or just lock them all up in jail—for their own sakes.

That’s understandable. Having people, whose reputation for mediocrity makes demons, murderers, even the petty thief, shudder in disbelief, is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, not even an old, cantankerous, kill-kill-kill-driven Commander-in-Chief.

In his mid-70s, I would presume Duterte is beginning to feel the assault of aging. Brittle bones. Pain in the joints. The sporadic cracking in the knees. Migraine from out of nowhere. The endless fatigue. A patience that wears ever so thinly each day. Blurred eyesight.

To say nothing of an injury he continues to suffer from a motorcycle accident years ago. A source of unbelievable pain. He told me as much during a two-and-a-half-hour interview in Davao.

My own experience with old folks tells me as much: it’s a hard, ego-breaking existence. Life, in its last legs, can be brutal to a once robust, healthy individual. Men the likes of Duterte, most especially. The limitations age inflicts on a man, a man known for his disproportionately excessive masculinity, could be an extremely humbling experience.

Humility, after having sat in power for a couple of decades, however, remains the unwelcome guest. A flawed, disconcerted conscience, at once cold and uncaring, would immediately bar humility from the table of fellowship. It is unwanted, annoying, like the stirrings of conscience in the devil.

To people like Duterte, who has had a taste of unrestrained power, humility is a virtue he can do without.

Recent questions as to the President’s health had prompted me to write this piece. I’m no stranger to government service and election-related work. Suffice it that one needs superhuman strength to survive the daily grind.

Anyone familiar with working for government knows the slog begins before the break of day and ends predictably in the same.Now, imagine a President of the Republic. Any Chief Executive worth his or her pay check rises before dawn, and works till the wee hours.

That is on a good day.

On days when mercury retrograde is at its peak, and things aren’t going as planned, a President who wishes to be ten steps ahead of his crew should be up and about even as the moon is beginning to warm up on its bed on the horizon.

No problem if the President is in his teens. Blame the Constitution for not allowing pre-pubescents to sit as leaders.

Sleep anxiety is a given. Couple this with old age and it becomes a crisis. Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc in the physiology of a person regardless of how buffed the body is. Duterte’s slew of pain killers and whatever pharmaceuticals he’s taking only makes matters worse. The kidneys and the liver would be the first to raise a grievance.

The brain, too, suffers. Immensely. Recent studies by British and Italian experts concluded that long-term sleep deprivation forces the brain cells “to eat” the brains’ synapses, disrupting connections between cells. Brain damage, for lack of a better term.

As if it’s not enough, sleep deprivation also causes a rise in the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

I’m not saying the President is suffering from this slew of diseases. But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear news of it. Old age and superhuman demands inflict long-term damage on a person.

Add to it the gargantuan stress of having reckless and irresponsible personnel in your team, then what you’re facing is a virtual death sentence.

The only thing different between this kind of ‘capital punishment’ and musketry or the electric chair is that the former can be long, tortuous, and extremely painful.In fact, even humiliating for a person of his stature.

The 1987 Constitution is clear. As regards the President’s health, it should be made known to the public. I think that’s only proper. Not only for reasons of taxes paid, mind you.

If anything, a President’s health is a matter of national security. To be left in the dark as to whether the country has a live pilot or not is to court pandemonium. If you’ve ever experienced a plane ride without a live pilot at the wheel, you’ll know what I mean.

To deal with a government lurching toward dictatorship has more than enough troubles of its own. The killings, the impunity, the unwarranted arrests of dissidents and the opposition, the harassments of farmers, activists, students, teachers, the manhandling of the Bill of Rights, the murder of journalists, to name a few. All that is trouble enough already.

This should be disturbing even for those who blindly support them. Lest we forget, these problems are heaped on top of myriad social and political snags that the country has yet to solve: debilitating poverty, hunger, marginalization, militarization, wayward capitalism, economic downtrends, and serious environmental concerns.

The public is left with little choice but to suffer restlessness. This growing discontent can easily turn into something government might not be able to manage. As per history’s claims, it is simply a matter of fact.

All around us, the Duterte administration has created an unhealthy social and political climate—at once infernal and difficult to address. The sense of uncertainty is quite unlike any other in the history of the country.

To leave much of the populace speculating as to the health of the President is not something I’d advise. G

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