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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, July 25, 2016
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Dash to Deadline
with Eli Tajanlangit

A different presidency

Sure, I did not vote for Rodrigo Duterte for President. But because 14-million other Filipinos did, he is now President of the Republic, including mine. Wherever he will bring this country in the next six years, I'd like to be with him. In a world where China can claim whatever seas it is interested in, we need to rally around our President, whoever he is.

But that does not mean we stop arguing with him or being his critics. Rallying behind the President does not mean supporting him without thinking. That, by the way, was what I thought was the biggest virtue of former President Noynoy Aquino, his ability to pursue his agenda amid all the noise and cant. You can say anything about the man, but he withstood all sorts of criticisms, including the baseless and the most cruel and needlessly personal and continued to do his work. He was one President who could withstand the noise of democracy, even if it hit levels detrimental to the eardrums.

Which is something we cannot say of Duterte, one of whose first acts as President was to shut down the media that traditionally dogged the Presidency. The man would rather be interviewed by a Mocha Unson than face the reporters of ABS-CBN and Inquirer, so he's cancelled the presidential press cons and limited his media encounters to the barest minimum. Instead, he has the Palace communications team following him, releasing only what they decide will be good for him.

Just in case you have forgotten, Duterte still has not resumed the Presidential press conferences, the one time that the nation, through the media, can ask things from the President directly and get the answers right away, live. Just in case you have forgotten, he has basically tinkered with press freedom in this country and no one seems complaining. Some people find that a good sign, with the noise against the President brought down. I don't know but history teaches us that the death of democracy is almost always preceded by the death of press freedom.

Elsewhere, our president continues draw praise and commendation for the things he has done, like lining up for the buffet table, going after garbage on his motorbike, and ordering that he not be addressed as “His excellency” and his official family, “Your honor”.

He wants to keep things on the normal and the ordinary, supposedly to remind everybody that majority of Filipinos live normal, ordinary lives. Maybe these superficial actuations of a President refusing the accoutrements of his office will have long-term impact on how our government behaves; I really hope because otherwise, we are wasting so much Presidential time on inconsequential things.

Why in earth would he line up for the buffet table, when the time he spends there would be better used talking to his constituents? Why take the economy flight when you know your life is the country's responsibility and therefore resources are spent to protect you while you willfully expose yourself to unnecessary danger?

And then his latest order proclaiming he does not want to be called “His excellency” and his Cabinet, “Your honor.” Is that supposed to be good, or isn't that bringing things far too much? His supporters may cheer him on for being so down-to-earth when he ordered this, but on the flipside one can also ask: why does he spend so much time on these superficialities? How can a President, saddled with the problems of the nation, still have time to think about these trivialities?

Doesn't he have better things to do than ride his bike and inspect the garbage of Manila, when there is a Metro Manila Development Authority that should be doing it?

Today Duterte gives his first State of the Nation Address, and he has also asked for a departure from tradition. He asked that people do away with the red carpet fashion and come in simple clothes; he himself will pair his barong with maong pants, the common man's fabric.

Again, he may have a point in keeping things simple, but I wish he'd concentrate all his time in addressing the problems of the nation, not on what he wants people to wear.*

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