President Duterte, in a recent public address, derided those who believed in his jet ski promise, basically calling them idiots for doing so. He justified it as a campaign stunt, an act of bravado in the middle of his 2016 presidential run. Duterte cited its impracticality, such as the distance to the disputed waters, the size of the waves he’d face, and how he’d run out of gasoline before reaching his destination.
‘Hindi siguro sanay itong mga g*go sa style ko sa kampanya’, chided Duterte.
But in his derision, Duterte seems to belittle the intelligence of his audience. Even back then, no one expected him to literally jet ski into the ocean. Not even the fisherman who asked him the question. The same fisherman who knows the waters well enough to ask for actions against China’s encroachment on their territory and livelihood.
Instead, Duterte’s hyperbole was supposed to be a symbol of hope. That underneath all of the chest-thumping and bravado was a man of action. The Philippines was coming off a great victory in 2016, having won an international ruling in Hague against China. Now, there was this upstart candidate, who, even with his exaggerated delivery, promised to uphold a ruling that would’ve benefited the marginalized.
But fast forward to today, the same candidate is now ‘good friends’ with China, who accepts every overstep, and most recently, called the Hague ruling a ‘piece of paper meant for the trash can’. We could just imagine being that fisherman, who went home all those years ago, believing ‘change was coming’, only to see the opposite five years later.
‘It’s just a joke’ has been the common explainer for Duterte’s missteps and shortcomings during his term. Even his ever-loyal interpreter, Presidential Spox Harry Roque, would be willing to challenge the limits of human imagination just to spin the narrative into his boss’ favor.
But what seems lost on Duterte and his camp is that for a nation that has a litany of problems, every promise of change comes with unbridled hope, and with every retraction – aka ‘joke’ – comes with an even greater sense of disappointment. The jet ski promise might’ve not been real, but the promise of making a stand was very much so.