The butterfly effect

“Perhaps, President Duterte will still curse. He will still speak his mind to whoever claims to be a moral authority in the years to come. But shouldn’t we first seek to change ourselves? Shouldn’t we first seek to be contributors and vigilant actors to the nation-building advocacy that he wants us to take?”


IN MY childhood, I used to spend my weekend afternoons in our backyard watching tree clinging, 12-legged caterpillars transform into majestic flying butterflies. If nature permits, the cocoon would slowly break open paving the way for a beautiful creature to exist. It was magical. But today, I no longer see butterflies just as they are or their metamorphosis as a metaphor for 180-degree transformation. I see PDu30 in them.

A few days before he sworn into office, PDu30 said: “There will be a metamorphosis of the mind. From being a caterpillar, it will blossom into a butterfly.”

I still remember how hopeful and excited my mother was on the makeover that would occur on the most powerful man in this country. But did he really change? Can a man really change his ways in a snap to be more presidential? How can his demeanor reflect the way we see ourselves as a nation?

President Duterte knows exactly how to play his game. He got 16 million votes for a promise of strongman rule. Every time he curses, a microphone is in front of him to capture everything. Cameras are all over as he moves his mouth. He doesn’t care if you’re the Pope. If you made him wait in traffic for hours, feel free to listen to his wrath. He confessed every possible detail of his humanity that can be used against him during the campaign period – a womanizer, bloody murderer of rapists, and a killer of sorts. While this “playful use of words” has become second nature to him, a majority of us including the international media is caught unprepared, confused, and puzzled on what he really meant. He is willing to slap anybody even a former senator and cabinet secretary with his truth. He has “nothing to hide” he would say. And then expect his speakers and allies quick to interpret and explain what he just uttered.

Just recently, he headlined news reports for “cursing” President Barack Obama of the United States. But if you’ll play the video over and over again, he did not directly curse him. He addressed it to those who would question the way he handles the drug problem in our country in the ASEAN summit. I wonder why some media organizations say otherwise.

Every day, we witness his antics, we listen to the way he expresses himself, his expiration in controlling his mouth and emotions past midnight which is common to someone who’s 71 years old. He’s probably irritated, we would say.

But how did we get here?

Why did we resort to a cursing, foul-mouthed president instead of entrusting the kingdom to yellow king’s heir – masked with his signature elitist eyeglass – who has vowed to continue the fight for the straight path in well-tucked polo shirt? How about the short, dark-skinned man who reigned over the concrete jungle of the country’s financial district and prematurely announced his aspiration to the throne?

The answers to these questions are slowly revealing themselves in front of our eyes. We got tired. Our ears got to the spilling level on the traditional politicians with the same platforms that we sought for someone sincere and unconventional. We’ve become impatient of the inefficiencies that surround us that we made ourselves believe that who we need right now is a punisher, a strongman, someone who understands what we’re going through in our everyday lives. PDu30 is the exact opposite of PNoy when it comes to demeanor and manner of speech. I’ve never heard PNoy curse; PDu30 has it in his system.

We celebrate him despite of the knowledge that thousands have died in his world-famous war against drugs. Those who were killed either resisted arrest or tried to steal the gun of the police officer while being handcuffed, they would say. We believe on this reasoning because none of our family members has become a victim yet. Because we believe that nothing will happen to good people. And at the same time, we accepted full-heartedly that an innocent man could die. It’s the trade of the game. Because we understand that in any warfare there shall be collateral damage. They are just numbers flashed on our tv sets. Just another update for the day until someone close to our hearts becomes a lifeless face of that statistics. Can’t we see the disconnect on our own beliefs?

Suddenly, we became more involved. We post comments and status updates about the workings of the government. We watch his every interview. We listen to him like students to a teacher with the admiration to be catalysts for change. We talk about him during lunch at work and within the confines of our homes. No wonder, historically, he has one of the highest approval ratings among presidents.

PDu30 made us realize that we’re not genuinely happy inside. We’re unhappy with drug addicts and pushers roaming around backed by some corrupt law enforcers and government officials themselves. We’re unhappy to walk on the streets no matter what time of the day because there is no security.

Perhaps, President Duterte will still curse. He will still speak his mind to whoever claims to be a moral authority in the years to come. But shouldn’t we first seek to change ourselves? Shouldn’t we first seek to be contributors and vigilant actors to the nation-building advocacy that he wants us to take?

And the next time that President Duterte flaps his wings on stage or in front of a camera to deliver a 45-minute extemporaneous speech about the challenges and pressing issues that we face as a country, may we not just count his contradictions and the number of times he cursed but choose to see him the same way President Obama once described him: “Clearly, he’s a colorful guy.”