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Embrace it

What is it in the “strongman” term that turns off President Rodrigo Duterte? Was it because he was described in the same group of world leaders who were being associated with autocratic rule, if not despotic, tyrannical, repressive, oppressive, dictatorial and other negative attribute contrary or opposite to a democratic country like the Philippines?

President Duterte, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, landed on the cover of the May 14 issue of TIME Magazine, which carried a story about the rise of strongmen. The article, written by foreign policy expert and political scientist Ian Bremmer, noted the “rising tide of violent street crime” helped propelled into presidency former Davao City Mayor Duterte who made a campaign promise to “wipe out the drug trade with his own brand of justice.”

TIME Magazine also described President Duterte as “a former mayor who talked more like a mob boss than a President.” In his TIME article, Bremmer declared: “In every region of the world, changing times have boosted public demand for more muscular, assertive leadership. These tough-talking populists promise to protect ‘us’ from ‘them’…Out of this divide, a new archetype of leader has emerged. We’re now in the strongman era.”

President Duterte did not hide his irritation over the TIME Magazine article that included him as a “strongman.” At first glance, it seemed to be a compliment but actually was a backhanded slap on him.

“You don’t have business demanding from other tribes or other nations if you are son of a b***h. When did I act like a king in the Philippines? I won the presidency by six million because for most of the people, I was the only one carrying the message appropriate for the time,” President Duterte fumed.

A few days later, President Duterte was adjudged one of the most powerful people in the world by another popular international magazine. The widely read Forbes Magazine, cited President Duterte’s tough stance on illegal drugs and criminality and his “tendency to say what he thinks no matter how raw also keeps him in the headlines.” He was ranked 70th among 74 persons in the list.

The Forbes’ ranking was according to the number of people those in the list influence, the financial resources they control, the extent of their power in multiple spheres and how active they are in using that power. President Duterte was one of 11 new names in this year’s Forbes’ list.

Topping the Forbes’ list is Russian President Vladimir Putin whom President Duterte earlier admitted is his “idol.” This was the fourth consecutive year Putin was ranked as the world’s most powerful person. US President Donald Trump came in second, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping ranking third and fourth, respectively. Pope Francis ranked fifth on the list despite being the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

Forbes likewise cited Duterte’s pronouncement that he would “separate” from the US. This statement though was later clarified by Duterte administration officials as nothing but a mere reiteration of his previous declaration that the Philippines would pursue an independent foreign policy during his watch.

While he has no reaction yet on the Forbes Magazine, President Duterte vehemently disputed TIME magazine’s portrayal of him as a “strongman.” For one, he argued, he has never sent any of his critics to jail. The Chief Executive regards himself as a mere worker in government who gets paid by taxpayers’ money to do the job he is expected to perform in accordance with the laws of the land. In fact and in practice, he swears by his oath of office in respecting and protecting press freedom and other democratic ideals enshrined in our country’s 1987 Constitution.

Another way of looking at this, President Duterte – in a way – should credit his one-man effort in breaking into the consciousness of the international community. His style of governance shocked, if not scandalized them to his manner of expletives-laden speeches, a lot of cussing and locking horns with world leaders like former US President Barack Obama, or with officials of the European Union (EU) and with United Nations (UN) who cross swords with him on human rights issues, among other things.

In his own crude ways, President Duterte generated much interest about the Philippines now ruled by an unorthodox leader like him.

Obviously without aid of highly paid international public relations firms, President Duterte got the Philippines in the radar and now being noticed by the rest of the world, albeit in a negative light.

But his crude ways though are apparently paying off well to a certain degree for our country. We have been, in fact, getting better deals than the scraps previously given to the Philippines from our supposed allies.

While foreign policy may not be his strong suit – like matters on economics also – President Duterte admits he can never be a diplomat nor a statesman who always speaks and acts according to protocols and tradition.

President Duterte did the most unthinkable solutions to lingering problems in our country. Who expected he would impose martial law all over Mindanao? Did anyone think he would close down Boracay island? Has anyone imagined he would be imposing total deployment ban to Kuwait acting on abuses there to overseas Filipino workers? Arguably, he has been making calculated risks when it comes to diplomatic and state matters.

Demonstrating his streak of “strongman” rule, President Duterte has fired four of his Cabinet members and several other presidential appointees on corruption and other alleged wrongdoings since he took office almost two years ago now.

President Duterte chooses the time and circumstance to dish out tough talks. When he decides to embrace “strongman” tag, perhaps it is then we can expect President Duterte to talk tough about our country’s sovereign claims over West Philippine Sea. But then again, talk is cheap. Who wants war anyway?

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