It’s Duterte’s fault

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Johnny Depp will always be Captain Jack Sparrow as Robert Downey Jr. will always be Iron Man/Tony Stark. The actors and the characters are intertwined and locked together. It is improbable that any other actors could play those roles in the way various performers have given cinema life to iconic personalities, such as Batman and James Bond.

Every organization has a leader and sometimes the person becomes more than just the title, but becomes the personification of the organization. Mark Zuckerberg is Facebook as Elton Musk is Tesla Inc. It is easy then to make statements like “Zuckerberg wants to destroy our privacy”.

You may know, for example, that Manuel V. Pangilinan is the chairman of the board and president and CEO of PLDT Inc., which is the parent company of Smart Communications Inc. But what is the name of the person who is in charge of Smart? If your Smart wireless signal is bad, whose desk do you threaten to jump up and down on to get better service?

When it comes to government and public policies, “It is Duterte’s fault” as it used to be “Aquino’s fault”.

Common sense tells us that no single person is responsible for the decisions and actions that a government—or a corporation for that matter—makes and takes. No member of the Henry Sy family trained the SM department store cashier that gave you good or bad service. A bill passed into law is the collaborative effort of all the legislators and the Executive branch. Decisions from Malacañang do go through discussions now and in the past, regardless if you think a particular president has been sent as a divine blessing or as a divine punishment.

However, this idea of equating government almost exclusively with an individual is becoming more extreme. The immigration situation in Europe is German Prime Minister “Merkel’s fault”. The US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq are “Bush’s war”. While leaders should take responsibility for the actions of the organizations they are in charge of, it creates a public mind-set that problems—and solutions—are only a result of who is in charge.

Political historian Joshua Knowlton has written a lengthy academic essay on this topic and cites in his opinion that this trend began during the time of US President Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s economic policies were first labeled “voodoo economics” by his opponent George H.W. Bush who interestingly became Reagan’s vice president. The press changed this to “Reaganomics” and now we have “Abenomics” in Japan and previously “Aquinomics” and now “Dutertenomics” in the Philippines.

While it may be easy to label a policy that has a name and a face, the emphasis goes to the name and not the policy. Further, this labeling lends itself to promoting a political agenda, which can be far removed from the discussion of the policy itself. Dutertenomics becomes sensible or not based on whether you voted for Duterte. With that way of thinking, you do not even need to know what the economic policies are all about.

In addition, to put the success or failure of government initiatives solely on the shoulders of the individual at the top makes it much easier to blindly follow the leader and not the direction the nation is moving to. It is our responsibility to understand and take charge of where we are headed.