Happy Birthday, President Duterte

They say as you get older, you get better. At 72 years old, you should be a stellar role model to your contemporaries. You should be one of the most responsible, most tactful and wisest individual among your peers at that age. President Rodrigo Duterte turns 72 today, yet he doesn’t resemble anything like a wise Solomon.

In fairness to him, the former Davao mayor admitted he has failed to live up to the standard of a statesman. For this he apologized, adding that he has not “graduated from a mayor to a president”. The honesty is appreciated, but instead of self-deprecation the President can instead work to achieve that statesman persona.

Doing so is imperative, given the numerous times Duterte has landed himself in hot water for giving tactless statements. During the presidential campaign he made a rape joke that was condemned by the international community, he made a similarly ridiculous statement comparing his crackdown of drug traders to Adolf Hitler’s purge of Jewish people. His non-chalant attitudes toward extrajudicial killings, even endorsing it, garnered international sanctions which affected our trade.

President Duterte blows the candle on his birthday cake during a celebration hosted by religious cult leader Apollo Quiboloy. (Photo taken from The Philippine Star)

President Duterte might find his antics humorous, but given that such rhetoric impacts the rest of the country negatively he needs to be more mindful of his conduct. He said last week that for his birthday, he only wants “God to give him strength to face the country’s problems” – he would have a lot less problems to deal with if he had been more tactful.

Aside from tact, Duterte could also polish his political strategy and avoid being so reckless. He is prone to making rash comments, such as prematurely declaring severance of ties with the United States and once declaring that ordinary citizens can eliminate drug suspects themselves. Both instances he retracted his statements, saying of the former that he simply wanted to move away from being overdependent on the superpower and of the latter saying he merely wanted the community to be more vigilant of narcotics trade in their vicinity. Had he become more calculated with those remarks, there would have been no controversy.

Another dynamic in Duterte’s character is his propensity to be distracted from the main concerns. Despite constantly admitting the scale of the problem the Philippines faces the President instead wastes resources on non-issues, such as giving a hero’s burial for Ferdinand Marcos or banning pornography. He also gets caught up responding to critics impulsively, even when the criticism was an obvious ploy to get a reaction from him. Duterte should endeavor to immune himself from denigration and to focus on the major problems plaguing the country instead.

On his birthday, President Duterte can be thankful that he still enjoys a majority support from Filipinos. Despite enduring several blunders he still has the public’s trust – but for how long? Surely there is a tipping point for the people’s support, they can only forgive so much gaffes. Duterte needs to be mindful of his eccentricities, before he loses it all.

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