Political cartoon by Thomas Nast

SANDRA CAM THREW a hissy-fit at the NAIA last February after being charged for occupying the VIP Lounge, the Inquirer reported yesterday. She was clearly ineligible for the privilege, not being a government employee, though she haughtily assured the NAIA staff that “in three months” she would be – and a cabinet member at that. Arrogant, vulgar, and abusive, Cam berated the young employee and her manager, who were politely and patiently enforcing the rules. She threatened them with reprisal and name dropped “Bong Go” like a dirty bomb. What really teed her off, it seems, was that they failed to recognize her – her, a death-defying whistleblower! How could they not know who she was and that she needed the VIP Lounge for protection? Que horror. After copious threats and insults, she eventually boarded her flight. The Inquirer did not report whether she paid the P1,200 VIP Lounge user’s fee.

Of course, readers reacted viscerally to this story. Above the rants against her behavior, however, rose the question: What @*#&!$ Cabinet post? Because, really, besides whistle-blowing (and flight attending) what can Cam do, and how is she qualified for governance?

None of that appears to matter to Digong Duterte, because when asked for comment about Cam’s meltdown, he had this to say:

“She helped me during the election. Prangka-prangka ako. Her behavior? Let the public judge it. Ako, tumulong siya. Tutulungan ko siya. Utang na loob iyan. She helped me during the campaign,” he said of one of his senatorial candidates.

“Iyan ang promise ko. Tutulungan ko siya. If she would ask for a work, I will give her a work. It doesn’t erase that because she was shouting there. That’s her business,” he added. 

What Cabinet post then?

“Wala pa. Magpatay muna tayo ng gabinete bago — kumpleto na iyan eh.”

Okay – he was joking. But still, there are individuals (myself included) who would delist her outright, help or no help, for her atrocious insensitivity and hauteur. Government offices exist for the people’s weal, and by her outburst Cam displayed her manifest unfitness for any public service post.

But not Duterte. For him, clearly, it’s all about utang na loob, not qualification. That he would still consider appointing her despite the absence of any clear proof of aptitude in any sphere of governance explains a great deal about his administration.

I noticed his tendency for patronage in a recent story by Ramon Tulfo where he narrates this exchange with “Mano Digong”:

The President mentioned to me the name of the tycoon when I talked to him in his Davao City residence about two weeks before his inaugural in Malacañang last year.

He said the magnate tried to contribute a big amount for his campaign fund but he rejected it.

Had he accepted the money, Mano Digong said, he would be beholden to the super-rich Chinoy, who has many companies. (emphasis supplied)

Duterte was up front with Tulfo about it then; he publicly revealed his proclivity last December when he told CNN Philippines that he had no obligations to any narcopoliticians, only to a handful of individuals:

“Ang saving grace ko is wala akong utang na loob kahit kanino except for about three or four persons,” he said.

When asked to elaborate, the President was quick to name Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos as one of the people to whom he has a debt of gratitude.

“Imee. Because I promised to bury Marcos during the campaign period,” he said.

He didn’t mention her financial contribution in that interview, but he did so in a speech he delivered last October, when he disclosed:

“Wala akong pera, si Imee pa ang nagbigay. Sabi niya inutang daw niya. Imee supported me.” 

Imee is not listed in Duterte’s Statement of Contributions and Expenditures, but he notoriously made good on his promise to her on November 18, 2016, rousing nation-wide wrath. Imee denies her financial contribution to his campaign.



His top contributor, banana magnate Tonyboy Floirendo, said it was “brotherly love” that prompted him to donate P75 million to Duterte’s campaign with “no strings attached.” But in October 2016, China suddenly lifted its import ban on Philippine bananas after the Duterte administration took a conciliatory stance on the West Philippine Sea issue. One of Duterte’s first moves as president, lest it be forgotten, was to seek China’s “permission” for Filipino fishermen to return to Scarborough Shoal despite the UN arbitral tribunal’s decision favoring our claim to ownership of the disputed territory. During his state visit to China, he also brusquely declared his desire to pursue “an independent foreign policy” from the United States, and strengthen the Philippines’ alliance with China and Russia. The immediate result of this kowtowing was the restoration of the $160 million banana import deal and pledges of $24 billion in Chinese loans and investments. (The latter have yet to be fulfilled.)


(photo: Centrist Democracy Political Institute)

Duterte has also made no secret that he will hand the Foreign Affairs portfolio to his defeated running mate Alan Peter Cayetano once the one-year ban on appointments is lifted; scuttlebutt is that he is preparing to return Francis Tolentino to his MMDA post as well. Duterte also identified SMC’s Ramon Ang as a significant contributor, though, like Imee, he was not listed in Duterte’s SOCE. Last September, Ang made headlines when he announced plans to build a $300 million cement plant in Davao.

But the most horrifying spectre is of Duterte’s golden boy, Bongbong Marcos, who has been energetically trying to poach the vice presidency from Leni Robredo since she trounced him. Many suspect (with reason) that the Duterte-Marcos toadies are behind the spate of malicious moves against Robredo, with Duterte’s knowledge and approval. After all, he did indiscreetly announce in one of his China events (where Bongbong was present) that his boy wonder would one day be vice president. Duterte’s denials are vehement and rife, but not at all persuasive.

Duterte ran on the promise of change, but after eight months with him at the helm, it’s pretty much business as usual. He has bent his energy on stoking a national paranoia against drugs and drug users but has not taken decisive action against the drug lords (one of whom is his kumpare); in fact, his government has effectively exonerated a gaggle of them. Meanwhile, more than 7,000 are dead and the number is rising daily.

He has no qualms about destroying the poor who, he claims, are part of “the drug apparatus”:

“Iyung talagang mahirap, iyan nga ang problema. We have to destroy the apparatus. It needs people killed. Wala talaga tayong magawa… that’s just how it is. You cannot stop the movement of drugs in the entire country kapag hindi mo yariin lahat.”

But he is not as zealous about sifting his friends who have an equally noxious effect on the nation. He does not care about their qualifications, he does not care about their behavior. All he cares about is that they helped him get elected and that he owes them an enormous utang na loob. That’s about the size of it.

“Now let each of you fear the Lord. Watch what you do, because the Lord our God wants people to be fair. He wants all people to be treated the same, and he doesn’t want decisions influenced by money.”

2 Chronicles 19:7 

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