Grappling with ‘Dutertespeak’

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I’m from Davao, and while I don’t pretend to fully comprehend what goes on in the mind of President Duterte, I think I can fairly navigate around some of his public statements.

At one time, I found his pronouncements against criminals revolting. That has changed. For one thing, I really have no love lost for such dregs; they can all rot in Hell for all I care. For another, he’s said it time and again: if they put up a fight, shoot to kill. That’s a no-brainer, in my book, and anyone still tied up in knots about it is coddling murderers and rapists, period.

The President had also been lukewarm, bordering on the inhospitable, to Leni Robredo. I thought that was thoughtless, even if I surmised it had everything to do with partisan politics. But in the end he pulled the rug on everyone by having a warm, convivial meeting with the Vice President, and thereafter offering the housing portfolio to her. Never a random person, it seemed he had long made up his mind about this.

If that seemed theatrical, what does one make of his campaign antics vis-a-vis China? Riding on a jet ski, planting a Philippine Flag on the contested Scarborough Shoal, and taunting Beijing? All that proved to be Happy Hour for the peanut gallery. Because no sooner than the indelible ink dried up on voters’ fingers than the Duterte camp began intimating diplomatic initiatives with China.

Mindful not only of sovereignty issues, Duterte’s partiality to the greater good should be well known by now, if grudgingly by his perennial critics. Should possibilities of win-win solutions in addressing poverty and accelerating economic development emerge out of bilateral negotiations, I am sure the President will live up to his reputation as a pragmatic leader.

Which brings us to mining. Duterte had always maintained an anti-mining position when he was mayor of Davao City. But that was a local setting then, and Davao wasn’t really in the market for extractable minerals. But when he appointed Gina Lopez as environment secretary, I nearly fell off my chair. Mining stocks plunged, too, and business writers rightly described all kinds of horror stories unfolding across the Philippine minerals landscape.

Yet, Lopez now seems like a gem of a choice. She has cracked down on erring mining operators. And she’s promised to continue being the nightmare of both legitimate and illegal operators, big and small, that despoil the environment.

Miners who do their jobs right, she assured, won’t get the axe.

Which is just as well. More than ten years ago, sober thinkers in government and the private sectors thought we were squandering our opportunities.

“I believe in harnessing our natural wealth,” said Delia Albert in 2005, then the Philippine Ambassador to Australia, adding that it was “hard to imagine that we’re literally sitting on a goldmine, when many of our countrymen are mired in poverty.”

At that time, the country’s mineral wealth was already estimated at between US$ 800 billion – $1 trillion, with a potential generation of at least 240,000 jobs within a six-year period. Mindanao alone accounted for 80% of the national total deposits of copper, nickel, and gold.

From her latest pronouncements, it would appear that Lopez is no pushover when it comes to the industry’s lay of the land. I guess Duterte struck gold on this one.

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