2018 is undoubtedly an important year for The Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte has helped to avoid war by striking a deal with China for the mutual exploitation and exploitation of resources in the South China Sea, all the while helping to secure win-win deals via Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, Seoul and throughout ASEAN, all of which will be invaluable to future generations of Filipinos. Duterte’s “Build, build, build!” infrastructure programme continues to revitalise local infrastructure in what will will culminate into the biggest physical revitalisation of the country since the Macros era and just days ago, Duterte helped ink 20 major deals with South Korea for investment in The Philippines as well as a major loan from Seoul to help modernise the Cebu International Container Port.
But instead of having coming together as a nation and offering proposals on how to make these new initiatives function at their optimum level, Duterte’s obstructionist opponents are trying to undermine the economic and geopolitical progress that Duterte has made and more recently, they have tried to derail the Duterte Presidency over a playful kiss that the President gave to a well-wishing support. This simple kiss would not have even registered as an issue were the Philippine so-called opposition either sane or patriotic.
The entire non-issue was blown up by the Philippine gutter press and the yellow opposition when Duterte invited a young woman on stage during one of his frequent speeches to overseas Filipino workers, this time in Seoul. During his speech Duterte recommended a book called Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church by Aries Rufo. Duterte has long been a critic of the Roman Catholic Church’s political meddling in the secular democratic affairs of the nation.
Duterte vowed to give away a copy of the book and invited a young woman on stage to kiss instead of a more traditional form of payment. The entire episode was entirely light-hearted and innocent, that is unless one has a deceptive political agenda.
While many of Duterte’s opponents and the radical militant feminist Gabriela Woman’s Party have criticised Duterte, the woman who kissed Duterte in exchange for the book said that the whole thing had been a fun joke and that she was happy with the experience. The ‘kissed woman’ Bea Kim said of her experience,
“The kiss doesn’t mean anything except to entertain and make other Filipinos in the gathering happy. I assure you, for me and even the President, there was no malice in the kiss. My husband was seated in front while I was in the middle part of the audience. I just went up the stage when the president picked someone in white to come up the stage. I looked around, there was no other in white except me. It’s rare to have the chance to meet the President up close. It’s true, it was just a twist and there is no malice. The President even asked me if I was single. I told him I am married to a Korean”.
While the woman kissed by Duterte is happy about her experience, others have taken it upon themselves to put false words in Bea Kim’s mouth all in further attempts to slander Duterte. This is becoming the de-facto method for Duterte critics who are unable to convince his legions of supporters to abandon their president, so instead they rely on lies, innuendo and misappropriation of the facts to try and create conflict where there is none.
Now Duterte has hit back at his opponents after returning to The Philippines from his productive visit to South Korea. Duterte stated,
“If there are enough women to … Well I think if all women here would sign a petition for me to resign, I will resign”.
In other words, Duterte is telling his unhinged opposition to either ‘put up or shut up’. I have little doubt that most sane men and women in The Philippines, the vast majority of whom continue to support Duterte in numbers higher than most western elected officials could dream of, will continue to see that the kiss was a happy, playful and amusing moment.
The problem therefore is not that there is any real chance that there will be a “coup de kiss” in the country but instead there is a much more realistic problem that is already taking its toll. The Philippines under Duterte has been voted as the world’s number one investment destination by US News and World Report. The combination of a classic Keynesian growth model of increased productivity, increased domestic and foreign investment and a weak domestic currency, when combined with Duterte’s pro-commerce anti-bureaucratic reforms have clearly struck a chord with investors from around the world who have realised that Duterte is turning The Philippines from ASEAN’s economic basket case into a country on the road to becoming a future so-called “Asian tiger economy”.
The problem is that Duterte’s opponents may scare away investment from both private corporations and sovereign sources of capital by pursuing an obstructionist policy that looks wilfully destructive, mentally deranged and incompatible with political stability. In other words, whether they know it or not, there is a devious method to the madness of Duterte’s opponents and it is one that could retard the economic, social and security progress that Duterte has begun to deliver to the Filipino people.
Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew famously warned of the dangers inherent in the confrontational attitude of the Philippine media and political landscape in the 1980s, saying that such an atmosphere is not conducive to the kinds of problem solving techniques required to build a modern Asian economy. He further cautioned against an overtly Americanised model that may just about work in already wealthy developed nations, but which do not serve the needs of the developing world where cooperative problem solving in the service of national economic development is far more crucial than a confrontational political atmosphere which favours competing interests over finding workable solutions to universal problems which effect all citizens.
If Lee was alive today, I have no doubt that he would encourage a spirit of cooperation when it comes to Duterte’s economically and politically revolutionary program to revitalise the Philippine nation, while he would feel distraught at the fact that petty childish issues become the stuff of fake scandal and political innuendo which only serves to distract from the key issue of adult problem solving initiatives.
Duterte’s opponents have revealed their most base, intellectually vacuous, clownish, childish, regressive, myopic instincts by latching on to a kiss as though it is a war, economic recession or armed insurgency. If in an imaged scenario, the US and China agreed to fight a war in The Philippines and which ever side dropped the most bombs is declared winner, I’d expect less storm and fury from Duterte’s opposition than that which has raged over a playful kiss at a meet and greet style speaking event.
While those who watch The Philippines closely realise that like an animal being slaughtered, Duterte’s opponents are shouting the loudest as they reach the end of their political life, those who are less observant may be frightened away from investing in The Philippines because to put it bluntly, Duterte’s opposition make the entire country look like a floating lunatic asylum.
The solution to this dire issue is for Duterte to work towards the creation of a federal-parliamentary system. In such a system, Duterte’s opponents would still have their legal right to scream, shout and make fools of themselves, but they would do so in a system where the number of members of parliament is indelibly linked to the popular democratic support of the nation’s political leader.
In such a system, Duterte would be able to lead his government with hundreds of members of parliament sitting behind him offering their support for the government, while a low number of opposition members could scream and shout to their heart’s content, all the while the world’s cameras would see that a few children at a side table do not reflect the attitude or capability of the adults.
In a parliamentary system, all parties and leaders stand and fall by the amount of direct support they have from the public. It is time to transform a political circus into a political abacus, where the numbers will speak for themselves, irrespective of who can produce the most animal noises at the highest volume.