Dear President Rody Duterte
I thought of writing you about something you love doing, an activity you revel in: talking.
The first time I listened to you was at the Rappler candidates’ forum at the De La Salle University early this year. Only you and your running mate, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, showed up.
The instruction was for you and your VP candidate to speak on your platform for about 25 minutes. A question-and-answer session would follow.
But you were in your element and, without any notes, you talked mainly about criminality and how you were going to curb it. You laced your speech with stories, adding a touch of humor here and there. Despite the floor director’s signal for you to wind up – this she did twice or more – you went on and on, and, in a light vein, even asked for more time.
Cayetano, who spoke before you, must have known your disregard for the conventions of time because he kept his speech short and stuck to his written notes.
That gave me a glimpse of what a raconteur you were, albeit impervious to time. For you, time seemed to be a stretchable commodity, adjusting to your mood and bending to your pace and whim.
As the campaign rolled on, you eventually became known for long, rambling speeches, peppered with jokes, expletives, anecdotes. At the Makati Business Club, you strayed from your written guide and meandered, even talking about Viagra and not letting that thing “hang forever.”
During the campaign, I followed your statements. Journalists who covered you reported much of what you said verbatim. I told myself, there must be a morsel of truth or fact even in your most outrageous or seemingly exaggerated pronouncements.
Remember that when you burst into the national scene with your on-and-off declaration to run for president, you gave us a piece of your mind. You said the Manila media should take a briefing from the Davao media so that we can discern whether what you were saying was serious or simply a joke.
This, you reminded us again in one of your midnight press conferences as incoming president. You told us not to believe what you say if it is “preposterous.” Here’s your quote: “Kayong mga media, Davao media, you tell this guys… If the answer is preposterous or ridiculous, try to whisper to the older guy dito sa tabi mo na taga-Davao, ano ba ito, sasabihin sa’yo, ‘Loko lang ‘yon’.”
Mr President-elect, like many others, I take what you say seriously, every word that escapes your mouth. As the incoming leader of a country of more than 100 million, what you say carries a lot of weight. It is policy, it is a marching order, it is an idea that you want your co-workers in government to imbibe, it is a message to the public.
The burden to decipher your intent is not on the media nor the citizens. Mr President-elect, the burden is on you. You communicate to us your vision, programs, and where you want to take this country – and we will listen. But please, do not make the national conversation a guessing game, leaving us to decode the words that tumble out of your mouth.
We shouldn’t be spending time mulling over whether what you said was a joke, a float, or simply bluster. This will leave many of us confused and unclear about what you really want us to remember and lodge in our minds.
Change must come
You place a heft of a premium on your identity: you are not Rodrigo Duterte without your distinct speaking style, your brand of humor, letting your tongue out when women is the subject, or even whistling and casting longing looks on a female reporter as she asked you a question – as we saw in your most recent press conference which was carried live on national TV.
Mr President-elect, the campaign period is over. Your identity is no longer as important as rallying the people behind you – especially those who did not vote for you – and uniting the country. Your borders have vastly expanded, you are no longer talking to one community in one city. Every time you face the media, you speak to millions of Filipinos and to the international community. Your world is much bigger now.
This means change must come – to you, Mr President-elect: a shifting of mindset and some discipline. For a start, think of time as a jewel, something not to be trifled with. Then you may start adjusting your press conferences so that they hew to time limits and organize them better for coherence. For this, you need a sharp moderator.
Mr President-elect, your personal identity now takes second place to your strategic goals for the country. We want to listen to what you have to say – and keep the national conversation clear and substantial. – Rappler.com