My love for you is obvious, says an Air
Supply song, that even a fool would know.
The government’s resolve to clean
government, kill criminality and move the country to first world status is
clear as daylight, suggests the satisfaction rating surveys, that Sal Panelo’s
brilliant paternosters are easily understood even when you mute the TV he is on.
His face has a language of its own and— especially for his fans like me—it is
If at times there seems to be contradiction
between what he says and what his boss—President Rodrigo Duterte—says, it
should not be for lack of clarity. I suppose it must be about context.
Mr. Duterte has made it look like methods
that debase established social norms are what we need to move the country
forward. Operating within a constitutional framework that came to life when the
rule of a dictator died, one that makes it hard for another dictator to
resurface, Duterte on at least one occasion publicly trash-talked the supreme
law of the land, citing its dubious worth of being less than equal to a toilet
These extra-legal methods invite questions.
The administration’s response to those who oppose them are varied. For the
political opposition, an appointee was uprooted from the Supreme Court, a
Senator was relocated from the session hall to a detention cell, while another
former Senator is a Judas away from incarceration. Duterte himself has shown
his hands-on approach to dealing with real or perceived killjoys and
destabilizers. He threatens people in government, such as State Auditors, with
physical harm for the delays they cause in the delivery of government services.
He peppers the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, among others, with insults for
making noises out of the drug war summary killings that victimized mostly the
In short, Duterte’s context is about making
his government popular. He may or may not have a genuine concern for the
people. But he needs to stay in office. After all, the power his office grants
is what can facilitate the changes he wants to happen. The more he trash talks,
sow terror in the minds of criminals, and see dead bodies in crime infested
communities, the more likely it is for him to enjoy high trust ratings.
(At this point, one may wonder if ours is a
generation that has lost its moral sensitivity, if not the urge to figure out what
happens next when mechanisms for check and balance in government have been
decapitated. But that’s another story.)
Panelo’s context, on the other hand, is to
reconcile the conflicting standards of the ideal and of what is necessary under
the current scheme of things. Although thousands have been killed in the
government’s war on drugs, Panelo does not seem inclined to highlight this
accomplishment, possibly braving howls of protests from legions who continue to
express support to the government. He is probably a damper, creating a buffer
zone for a possible shift of sentiment in the future when one day a kid in his
innocence will tell the emperor that he is naked.
Whenever he is asked to
comment on insinuations that government fights criminality with the methods of
a criminal, the standard reply has been an amazing display of both verbal and
non-verbal communication. He contorts the movable parts of his face, then proceeds
to convey in magical ways his truth: “Drug-related
killings are absolutely not state-initiated nor state-sponsored.”
There was this story about
a young Duterte, taking up law at the San Beda, who shot a fellow student for
making fun of his Tagalog. (The school investigated the incident. Rene Saguisag,
who as student council representative was part of the investigating panel, recalled
that nobody recommended the expulsion of the pistol-packing bandit except
himself. The Benedictine priests did not have the heart, Saguisag seems to
suggest, to see Rodrigo go. By hindsight though, I think they had had the foresight
to position their school in the company of the elite institutions from where Philippine
presidents had emerged.)
That anecdote came to mind
because of Panelo’s heroic display of illumination, yet again, the other day.
Duterte, in a speech
before a crowd of VIPs he just appointed to various government posts, digressed
to something that amounted to be just another day in the office. He kind of bragged
about how he masterminded the ambush of a mayor he previously tagged as
narco-general. His words: “Loot, p—mo, nanalo pa na mayor. Inambush kita,
animal ka, buhay pa rin!”
Panelo felt the need to
explain for the boss. There was confusion, he said, over the President’s Bisaya way of talking since “he is not
proficient in Filipino… What the President intended to say was: ‘Inambush ka
na, buhay ka pa’ …”
Unmuted, sometimes Panelo makes it sound like tales are so tall that even a fool would know the spox is fooling himself.