Keep your enemies closer

I vaguely recall a line from some “lawyer” movie or TV series where it was said by one lawyer to another, “Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.” As far as President-Lawyer Rodrigo Duterte is concerned, last weeks’ debate challenge has surely taught him that lesson. Thank God we are not living in some Western cowboy setting or the times of Jose Rizal and Juan Luna when men would place their lives or honor on the line by way of a gun fight at high noon or a sword or pistol duel in a secluded place. Fortunately, the debate that-never-was quickly de-escalated into a comedy show online full of memes and, for once, the childish pranks of Pinoys saved the day and diffused the tension, albeit at the expense of the President and his substitute duelist Harry Roque.

But in all seriousness, how does one save the day as far as our national leaders are concerned? Having disengaged from the matter, should the President simply walk away into the sunset to fight another day or can the President flip the matter into a win for all? I would boldly advice President Duterte to turn on his personal laptop if he has one or call his youngest daughter to tutor him so he can look up what Sun Tzu, Jack Ma, Al Pacino, Samuel Jackson and Nelson Mandela, as well as the Bible, says about dealing with your enemies.

Sun Tzu and “The Godfather” a.k.a Al Pacino both come up with the advice: “Keep your friends close, your enemies closer.” Many of the President’s staunch supporters in the early days have shared privately that they no longer have access to the President. One senator even confided that the “Cordon Sanitaire” is so small and tight that you can’t even get a word in sideways. Gone, they say, are the days when one person could be relied and trusted to carry a message to the President unfiltered and delivered. Judging from the levels of difficulties and delays encountered by various health groups and experts that have been trying to get an audience or meetings with the President, it is apparent that President Duterte has become the equivalent of a mobile number that cannot be reached or has been turned off.

Based on the President’s “adverse reactions” to questions on vaccine supplies, use of unregistered vaccines, concerns of frontliners and doctors etc., it is evident that the President is no longer getting “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” from his Cabinet members and remaining “friends” with access. They are either pandering to the President or fearful of the President. One big businessman even said: “In the presence of the President, Say nothing.” On the other hand, a wise man simply has to go online to gain an unfiltered perspective from others. He can even pick up ideas, solutions, etc., especially from those he perceives to be an enemy or critic. Regardless of whether they are right or wrong, informed or ignorant in your eyes, they offer a perspective that is surely not meant to flatter or pander or please the President.

As Jack Ma the internet pioneer and billionaire has repeatedly said: “Don’t hate your competitor, respect your competitor. Learn from him.” Hate is too powerful a word and too destructive an action to utilize because Hate can be uncontrollable. Worst of all it eats you up to the point of paralyzing your humanity. Besides which, life has a way of bringing things around and Samuel Jackson, the actor, shared another more practical thought: “Be careful of the toes you step on today, because they may be connected to the ass you may have to kiss tomorrow.”

One of the most challenging approaches shared was from someone who was mistreated, jailed, beaten and tortured for 27 years. The beloved Nelson Mandela tells us: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” The Bible to say the least is packed with advice and warnings about being proud and the practicality of humility. Proverbs 11:12 warns us that “Pride comes before the fall,” 1Peter 5:5 states: “God opposes the proud but give favor to the humble.”

While doing my research for this piece, I came upon an Old Testament account where the decision of a king and the leaders of the nation actually saved not just them but the entire country. Sometimes there is more at stake than our personal honor, pride or ego. The account is in 2 Chronicles chapter 12: 6-7-8:

6The leaders of Israel and the King humbled themselves and said, “The Lord is just.”7 When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, this word of the Lord came to Shemaiah: “Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance. My wrath will not be poured out on Jerusalem through Shishak. 8They will, however, become subject to him, so that they may learn the difference between serving me and serving the kings of other lands.”

Filipinos have the unbelievable capacity to let bygones be bygones. We also have the unbelievable capacity to forgive great sins and major mistakes, whether political or personal. Perhaps President Duterte can muster enough humility, wisdom and sincerity to call on God’s help to be able to draw his “enemies closer,” to see through those who are false friends and devious advisers and to make partners out of his critics. You have nothing to lose at this stage but you have everything to gain and along with all that, the country and all the people will win or lose by that single decision.

Let us all humbly make this our prayer for the President and for the nation. God bless you all.

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