..Or how I learned to stop worrying and began understanding why the the middle class and Imperial Manila are about to elect a foul mouthed, gun toting mayor of Mindanao to Malacanan.
People on my feed are turning apoplectic at the prospect of a Duterte presidency. Along with the rise of Marcos in the surveys for Vice President, they are asking whether we are about to vote for a dictatorship. They are beginning to question the wisdom of democracy itself, betraying a tendency to respect the voice of the people only when it coincides with their choices.
Filipinos have always voted for messiahs. Joseph Estrada was the savior of the poor. He was going to be their champion as he was in the movies. But his Presidency was aborted by the middle class whose middle class morality was offended when it became clear he was not just keeping many mistresses, he was also stealing the people's money to house them in grand mansions. We then voted for another messiah in exactly the same mold, no less than the King himself Fernando Poe Jr., but Gloria stole the elections - to the relief of the middle class. By 2010, however, corruption finally became a defining election issue not because Gloria was qualitatively worse, but because more people finally entered the middle class. When Erap was elected, 41% were poor; when Aquino - the next messiah to eradicate corruption - became President, 28% were poor. It was no coincidence that the Arroyo decade was the time when the BPO industry rose rapidly while OFW remittances continued growing, fueling the rise in consumption of condos, cellphones and cars that are now clogging the streets.
The rise of the middle class, however, meant an even faster rise in expectations. We appreciated Pnoy's gumption to impeach a Chief Justice and to jail three senators, but only for a while. Soon we began asking for more. We forgot that Pnoy was elected not for what he was: he was not particularly distinguished before he became President for any achievement other than being the son of Benigno and Cory Aquino. He was elected for what he was not - he was not a thief like the two previous presidents. We began expecting not just an honest government, but a functioning one. Not just a government that was not stealing, but one that was competent in governing.
To be fair, the Aquino government has been competent in many areas: the fastest growing economy since the 1970s; a fiscal policy that earned investment grade ratings and increased revenues by double digits, enabling the expansion of programs such as the conditional cash transfer, Philhealth coverage, and the elimination of the classroom backlog; a courageous foreign policy that stood up to China while recognizing the need to partner with the US; a peace process that has held up despite the failure to pass the Bangsamoro Law, and so on. But failure in several areas have been glaring, especially for the middle class residents of Metro Manila: the daily traffic gridlock, the derailed MRT trains, the sense of desperation against uncontrolled drugs and criminality. The Aquino administration made a conscious decision to subordinate the interests of the capital: MRT fares were increased because it was unfair for the poor in the countryside to subsidize the urban middle class. It was probably the right decision for a President, but a disastrous choice politically for his anointed successor. And when Secretary Abaya blithely asked those who endured the daily hell that is EDSA traffic whether traffic was fatal, the stage was set for someone like Duterte to capture the vote of the capital and the middle and upper classes who mostly live in the metropolis.
So now we are about to elect our next messiah, a savior that represents order and competence if one with a wicked mouth. We hear Duterte promise to eradicate crime in 3 to 6 months. Perhaps some supporters believe it. I think most see it as hyperbole, but also a courageous commitment from someone who can get things done and will get it done. Private sector executives are routinely asked and routinely make commitments to hit a target despite a host of uncontrollable variables. Seeing Mar Roxas hem and haw about how things were complicated and were dependent on this or that factor, or blaming things on the previous administration simply does not inspire confidence. Duterte's approach may sound simplistic, but he understands the power of putting one's name on the line by declaring he will do it, not just that he will do his best. He understands what it means to be accountable.
Supporters of Duterte shrug off accusations of human rights violations. Victims of criminals who have turned for help to feckless policemen, who in some cases are criminals themselves, are hardly going to cry for due process when they hear about a rapist getting liquidated. This is not the most politically correct thing to say, but Duterte is the last person who would care. In his supporters' view, political will - and Duterte is nothing but raw will - is what will end crime, solve traffic, and finally get the trains running.
Political analysts will lament this election as one dominated by personalities instead of political parties. This is obviously not the year we begin to have functioning parties. Yet I do not view Duterte's impending victory as a backward step. I do not agree his supporters are asking for a dictatorship. They are asking instead for effectiveness. They are asking for a government of results, not excuses. By voting for Duterte and not Binay, they are still voting against corrupt traditional politicians. By voting for Duterte and not Roxas, they are voting against the perpetuation of the oligarchic elite and against the perceived incompetence of the administration. By voting for Duterte and not Poe, they are voting against the politics of celebrity and name recall that dominated politics back in the 1990s, for Poe's candidacy is built on nothing but the name of her father and the melodramatic narrative of a foundling rising to the highest office despite once turning her back on her country. But by voting for Duterte, the electorate is actually making a revolutionary choice. They are electing as President for the first time a local government executive and a son of Mindanao. They are voting for someone from the periphery to fix the problems of the center. They are voting for someone known for his effectiveness in running a city, not in making speeches in the debate chamber that is the Senate. Above all, they are voting for competence, effectiveness and order.
I have been to Davao only once but what I saw was a city that works. The first thing the driver told me was that there was a 40km per hour speed limit and, to my impatience, he proceeded to drive at that pace despite the wide open highway. He then said there was a curfew by 1 am, and, indeed, there was nowhere to go to for a drink after midnight. I also learned that firecrackers were banned so my family and I celebrated an unusually quiet, but certainly safer, New Year's Eve. Some may say these are trivial, but one can hardly say trivial things like getting a driver's license or a car plate work in Metro Manila. If the overriding concern of the Filipino public right now is the perception that the government lacks effectiveness and they are making a conscious choice to elect someone who they believe can get things done, then this democracy is working just fine. I have been undecided until now, but conversations with friends and family tell me there is a wave coming.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Lim is a BPO executive for a Fortune 100 multinational technology and consulting firm. He holds a Political Science degree from the University of the Philippines - Diliman. He and TP became good friends when they were still active members of the UP Debate Society not too long ago. This article was originally published in Rappler X