Digong and the Dictator


Observations from the sidelines of the Presidential inauguration

By K. A. Montinola

“Simple and meaningful” was Digong’s directive for the occasion, according to Ambassador Marciano Paynor, reported by Tina Palma, ANC.1 The president-elect, says Ambassador Paynor, gave few but firm orders for the inauguration, in which Rodrigo Roa Duterte was sworn in as President of the Philippines this past Thursday, June 30.

Was simplicity achieved? On that score, the event gets high marks—the choice to hold the inauguration at Malacañang’s Rizal Hall instead of Quirino Grandstand allowed for around 500 guests instead of 5000, and reduced the risk of monstrous traffic.

The choice to keep it frugal and no-frills also scored Digong many points in the eyes of the people, for two big reasons: 1) It further cast himself as an opposing force to the excesses of the elite who previously held the position; and 2) It is another way in which he can diverge from the traditions of “Imperial Manila,” his topic of the week. Everything seems to have worked out in his favour—after all, deep into this social media age, who needs to attend an event in person? InterAksyon reports Digong to be the first president in Asia whose oath-taking was broadcast over Facebook,2 on top of the nine broadcasting companies covering the event.

On Twitter, in the #Du30SaJune30 hashtag, there was one palpable sentiment that highlighted this anticipation for change.



Voices in the hashtag are largely filled with hope, thanks to this idea made visible. Gone is the old way, and in comes the new. Things are going to change. In that sense the “meaningfulness” of Digong’s inauguration has been made clear to roaring, twittering success. 

As for our Vice President, who had to have her own inauguration at Quezon City Reception House, things look a little rough. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (BBM) saw fit to file a protest the night before Leni Robredo’s inauguration, which was also a simple affair (unless you think chocnut buchi is fancy). Leni staidly called for unity in her speech, and vowed that her office would be open to any sector and any party, with no mention of the fact that Digong has not given her any kind of position in his cabinet. BBM asserts that something is fishy about the way Leni won by such a thin margin, and rather merrily attended Digong’s inauguration as one of his guests. 

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It’s odd that Digong’s camp has not said much on either side of the VP equation, only that Marcos is a friend. It might not be worth it to read too much into what’s “meaningful” in this situation—the president who vows to smash “Imperial Manila” calls the son of the former dictator and face of excessive plunder “a friend”? But it won’t do to take it merely at face value, either. After all, Digong has gone on record to say that the only thing that prevents the elder Marcos from being the best previous president in his eyes was the fact that he became a dictator.3 

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“I have adapted as an article of faith,” Digong said, in his inauguration speech (according to the transcript at Rappler), “the following lines written by someone whose name I could no longer recall: I have no friends to serve, I have no enemies to harm.” By which he means he won’t succumb to either cronyism or political vengefulness. All good, though a quick search only yields one possible attribution for the quote: Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Dictator of the Roman Republic.