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Barry M. Gutierrez: Drawing the lie


Politicians lie. This is a belief so common it has become cliché. Politicians lie to get votes. Politicians lie to cover up wrongdoing. Politicians lie to undermine their political opponents.

The truth is, however, that politicians do not lie so much as they HEDGE. They – or perhaps, we, since many would undoubtedly include me, rightly or wrongly, in the same category – avoid outright lies, as well as plain truths, through obfuscation, avoidance, and misdirection. Many people justifiably despise this political doublespeak because it is ultimately empty. It offers up no direct falsehoods, but neither does it offer any real substance.

In large part, it is this widespread dissatisfaction with this political doublespeak, coupled with a seething contempt for the trapos that habitually engage in it, that enticed a lot of Filipinos into supporting our current President. During the campaign – and to some extent, even after – he successfully cultivated the image of a plain spoken leader; a breath of much needed fresh air after a seemingly endless array of politicos who did everything they could to avoid giving straightforward answers to the public.

In contrast to this equivocation, Rodrigo Duterte, tough-talking Mayor of Davao City, was all about straightforward answers. He said he would end crime in six months. He said he would take a jetski and plant the Philippine flag in disputed territory in the Spratlys. He said he would compel all government officials to sign waivers to bank secrecy. He said he would kill drug addicts.

Refreshing, as I said. But, sadly, as borne out by the events of the past 15 months, also false.

Apart from the killing of drug users, Duterte has failed to walk his loud, boastful, and oftentimes obnoxious talk. He has not hedged, true enough. Instead, he has lied to us outright.

And as the days, weeks, months, and soon, years, of his Presidency roll by, the lies only keep becoming even more brazen and bizarre.
The most glaring example from the past few weeks can be seen in his statements on the supposed “Singapore bank account” of Senator Antonio Trillanes. On different occasions, Duterte made the following conflicting claims: that Trillanes had a bank account with the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS); that he (Duterte) had “invented” the account numbers to “trick” Trillanes; and that Trillanes had “closed the accounts online.”

A cursory examination of these three claims readily establishes that Duterte has lied at least once, and in all likelihood several times, in the course of his entire “exposé.” But it is not the lying that is significant – it should be clear to anyone who follows the news that he’s done that, repeatedly, before. It is rather, the OBVIOUSNESS of the lie.

Increasingly, this has become the hallmark, not just of the President, but his entire administration. A Presidency that quite ironically was launched as a reaction to the endless bullshit of politicians has now evolved (or perhaps, more accurately, devolved) into a shameless, and quite unapologetic, regime for promoting the most patently obvious falsehoods.

This is where we are now. We have a President who admits to fabricating bank account numbers to score PR points against an administration critic. We have a foreign secretary who brazenly – and quite ineptly – misrepresents international reaction to an official report submitted by the Philippines to the United Nations. We have a justice secretary who makes accusations based on fake news, and, lest we forget, we have an assistant secretary for communications that actually manufactures it.

The frightening part of all this is, the lying has become so frequent and so pervasive, we are actually slowly getting used to it. This, we cannot allow to happen.
When a government lies to the people it serves, it violates a trust that is indispensable to a representative democracy, and which prevents any meaningful engagement between citizens and the State. When government lies openly, repeatedly, and aggressively, to the extent that the lying mutates into a policy, it renders any possibility of effective governance – and the legitimacy that necessarily flows from this – completely impossible.

Politicians lie. But in today’s Philippines, we have to stop letting them get away with it.