imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

IN MY EYES: Mang Maing: President Duterte, a strongman indeed

Who is a strongman, fellas?

The dictionary says a strongman is a powerful, typically dictatorial leader who rules by force.

I am one of those who are proud when Time Magazine branded our very own President Rodrigo Duterte a strongman, along with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Urban, Turkey President Recep Tayyip Edrogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

May I also add the names Nguyen Van Thieu of Vietnam and Muhammad Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan as strongmen, too.

Thieu rose through the ranks of the South Vietnamese army to become a general in 1962. One of the leaders in the 1963 coup that toppled President Ngo Dinh Diem, he emerged two years later as head of state. In 1967 Thieu won the presidency under a new constitution, and was reelected in 1971 after a campaign of intimidation. An unbending anti-Communist, he presided over a dictatorial regime that opposed any United States settlement with North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front.

Zia ul-Haq was the strongman-president of Pakistan (1978-1988). Despite an undistinguished career, he rose to the rank of general and was promoted to major general in 1972. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1976 passed over more senior officers and named him chief of staff, reportedly because of his lack of political ambition. In 1977, however, Zia led a coup, overthrew Bhutto, and placed him under house arrest. Ruling first as martial-law administrator, he assumed the presidency in 1978 and had Bhutto charged, convicted, and executed for murder in 1979.

But I do not consider Duterte in the ranks of Thieu and Zia.

For me, our president, as in Time’s definition, is a strongman in the sense that he has political will.

It is the imposition of his political will that makes him a strongman in this country where previous rulers failed to do. Being strong to protect the majority of the people is a good value. In other words, he is a populist, an advocate of the rights and interest of ordinary people.

Why do I say he has political will, fellas?

First, when he ascended to power, he made true his words that he will stop (although not in six months or a year) the drug trade in the country. It has not stopped but it is diminishing, and he is asking for another year.

With the figure that there are already more than 3,000 drug personalities killed (who fought it out with the police, as the PNP says) and increasing, anti-Tokhang advocates say that’s a small figure. It should be more than 12,000 killed since President Duterte came to power, they say.

“Ganito na pala kalala ang problema ng droga sa ating bansa,” Mang Maing said.

Others say that if Duterte lost in the last presidential elections, the drug problem would have worsened because the other candidates were not as tough as him.

“Except, of course, the late Madam Miriam Defensor Santiago, but she died early,” Mang Maing said.

Second, he does what he says no matter how strong the opposition is.

At the height of the tanim-bala milking of crocodiles there at the NAIA, he gave an ultimatum and heads rolled. You can just imagine how many travelers have been victimized there before Duterte became president, fellas?

“Ang taong matigas ang ulo ay nakahanap na ng katapat,” said Mang Maing.

Another example is the closure of Boracay for six months in order to “fix” the island. Influential people who own the big resorts there pleaded for consideration but he did not listen. Instead, he listened to the plights of the thousands of workers who were displaced by the closure order and offered them help.

Third, he stands firm in his principle that he knows better what is good for the country than foreign nationals who criticize him for his policies.

“And for all I care, ‘yung security guard, police, general o NPA o si Sison or a teacher or a gardener can criticize me, I will take that. Kayo ‘yung nagsusweldo eh sa akin. Ngayon, okay sa akin ‘yun na ‘yung magsigaw sila diyan Gabriela, go ahead. You use your freedom of expression,” he said as he refuted Time Magazine’s inclusion of his name that he is one of the strongmen of the world today.

However, he said he will never take criticisms from foreign nationals.

“Pero kung foreigner ka, that is another thing,” he said.

Fourth, when he said he will increase the salaries of the men in uniform, he did it. That’s why many of those who graduated in senior high last April or this first week of May have decided to take up Criminology.

“Maganda na po kasi ang pasahod ngayon sa PNP,” said Carlo, one of those who graduated with honors.

In other words, he is tough on the tough but kind to law-abiding citizens.

“Sa tigas ng ulo ng maraming Pilipino na pinatigas pa ng pangungunsinti ng mga nagdaang administrasyon, ang kailangan talaga ng Pilipinas ay isang matigas na presidente na katulad ni Presidente Duterte!” exclaimed Mang Maing.

“Hindi naman ako strongman. Kailan pa ba ako naghari-hari dito sa Pilipinas,” the president said during the 37th Philippine Principals’ Training and Development Program and National Board Conference in Davao City last May 4.

“Whatever he says, for me, he is a strong ruler and tough and that’s what we need. That’s my definition of a strongman and nobody can refute that!” Mang Maing concluded.

What else can I say but amen.

At least, Mang Maing and I have the same definition of the word “strongman.”

Any reaction, fellas?