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Image courtesy of PhilStar.com

One thing that has stood out since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency in July last year is the fact that the former mayor of Davao City cannot handle criticism. Unable to handle criticism, he easily explodes and threatens just about anybody who dares oppose him.

Last week, Duterte exploded and berated the president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, who was seated a few chairs from him, before a body of lawyers in Davao City. “Who the f— are you to tell me [not to be onion-skinned] in the face of fabricated evidence?” Duterte said, addressing IBP national president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo.

Duterte was reacting to a comment by his compañero that public officials should not be “onion-skinned” because “a government official holds his life open to public scrutiny.”

Earlier, Fajardo had told the President to lay off the Office of the Ombudsman, which Duterte threatened to investigate. “As an independent body, it must be insulated from political pressure — most especially from the highest political office of the land,” Fajardo said.

During the lawyers’ event, Duterte reiterated that he would immediately resign if it is proven that he has P200 million in his bank account, as alleged by his political nemesis, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, adding that the documents presented by Trillanes and Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Carandang were fabricated.

If this were the case, the President simply had no reason to explode in anger, berate the IBP president, and order the investigation of the Ombudsman probers. As they say, if he has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear.

His actions tend to show that Trillanes’ accusations have hit Duterte in the gut. He has threatened to impeach Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and to expose corruption in the Ombudsman, the constitutional body tasked with investigating and prosecuting government corruption.

Duterte won on a promise to curb corruption, as did all presidents before him, and yet when the investigations threatened him and his family, he wouldn’t allow it. Instead of letting the legal processes to clear him and his family and if he was so certain Trillanes’ claims that he had billions of pesos in his bank accounts were untrue, Duterte would rather toss back the accusations to Trillanes and to the Ombudsman.

Duterte claimed Trillanes had offshore bank accounts with millions of dollars in Singapore, even showing to the media the supposed accounts during a press conference. But when Trillanes, accompanied by media people, went to the Singapore bank to prove there was no such account and the bank official said there was none, the President admitted that he invented the bank account purposely, but never apologized for the mistake.

Trillanes signed waivers, which would allow the banks claimed by Duterte to bare publicly such accounts. Trillanes challenged the President to do the same, but he never did.

Then came successive Social Weather Station (SWS) survey results that showed thee out five Filipinos believe only the poor get killed in Duterte’s drug war and that his net approval and trust ratings had plummeted by close to 20 points in a three-month period since June.

These survey results and the criticisms from Trillanes, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Liberal Party president Sen. Francis Pangilinan, and Senators Bam Aquino and Risa Hontiveros were obviously taking a huge toll in Duterte’s very thin patience. He decided to fight back.

Through Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the President sought to impeach Sereno, Morales and Comelec chief Andres Bautista, who is not a critic at all of the President, but whose position is important to Duterte’s desire of gaining absolute control of the government.

Duterte also formed a special commission to investigate Morales and the entire Ombudsman office and accused Sereno of being corrupt while claiming that he is suffering the same demolition job launched against the late Chief Justice Renato Corona. What an irony, the man who loves to demolish people with unsubstantiated accusations now claims he is being persecuted.

Duterte’s persecution complex and paranoia have led him to accuse his critics, including the Liberals and the Left, of plotting to destabilize his government. And so, he plunged again to his usual dramatics, daring the military generals to oust him if it is proven that he has attained illegal wealth and challenging Sereno and Morales to resign, and he would resign with them.

Even during the campaign, Duterte has already threatened to declare a revolutionary government if Congress and the Judiciary blocked what he claimed was his reform agenda. He has also threatened to declare martial law nationwide if street protests became violent.

All these dramatics are apparently meant to recast his image as the underdog. After all, he won the presidency by picturing himself as the underdog, that he would rather just be mayor of Davao City, the politician who spoke the language of the masses, who acted like the ordinary kanto boy, and who would fight the crime lords, the corrupt politicians, the oligarchs, and established political dynasties to make the country a better one for future generations.

And the people loved him for it. So that when he ordered a brutal drug war that has resulted in thousands of deaths of, unfortunately, mostly poor drug users but leaving mostly untouched the drug syndicates, the people cheered him, until they realized that the war has killed their kin, their neighbors and the poor like them and that they now live in fear, instead of in peace that Duterte has promised them.

Then, they realized that other than the bloodied streets and a government focused on fighting critics, local or international, there really is no change after almost 16 months of the Duterte administration.

Indeed, beyond bloodied streets, where is the change?

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