The President was rather subdued when he went on air for a press conference after having dinner with the Palace press corps. He didn’t take the bait when asked about Kian delos Santos, preferring to double-down on his support for the police. It’s not as if he could be reasonably expected to go beyond a pro forma approval of an investigation into that murder. From the very start, he has been candid about the bargain he has offered the country and which, despite the manner that made many recoil at the sight of the CCTV footage, many still support.
That bargain is simple and threefold.
To the police, unqualified and total support, down to the guarantee that even if any cop ends up convicted for following his instructions, they are assured of a presidential pardon.
To the public, he offers nothing less than full absolution for whatever transpires in their name. That absolution comes in the form of the President repeatedly assuming full responsibility for everything and anything connected to his war on drugs. The public — absolved of responsibility — can therefore rest easy on the pretext that whatever happens, however grisly or harsh, it is not of their doing, since they have neither the power nor the capability to cause the doing of what is being done.
Furthermore, if the policy of liquidations claims innocent victims, that may be slightly regrettable, but not really. A nation instructed that it is a victim will have little sympathy to give while it is luxuriating in the feeling that collective revenge is being exacted on its behalf. That is why the President has been so insistent on rejecting what he considers alien: Western concepts of due process or the rehabilitation of offenders. He is compelled to insist on an eye for an eye, the third part of his grand bargain with the police and the people.
That the President is very careful to ensure that he entertains his audience whenever he makes a public appearance does not mean he isn’t mindful of being consistent. He is remarkably consistent about what he believes is the thing that truly matters. What truly matters is not just sustaining, but intensifying, the fundamental basis for his public support—his policy of liquidations. He does not quibble about methods and has little patience for those who do. He is like one of those 19th-century writers who brought out their novels in installments. Anticipation — and tension — must be sustained. There must be an escalation. There must be drama. There can be momentary pauses, to be sure, but this only serves to heighten blood lust: Deadlines are moved, then abandoned in favor of a wider, deeper, total struggle. One made possible only by The Leader—for he knows as well as anyone — the moment he won the presidency during the televised debates in 2016. Asked about the presidency, his rivals tried to outdo each other in eloquence while he simply replied, “The presidency is about leadership.”
The kind shrewdly premised on the grand bargain he is fulfilling today. As Nietzsche once wrote, “Pure will without the confusion of intellect — how happy, how free!” Joy through Strength. You can almost imagine a kindred thought emblazoned over every police station in the country: Work sets you free.
All else is an exercise in instilling obedience, from the President’s early appearances before the police where he sternly admonished them that unlike the military, he wouldn’t abide by any Board of Generals but would, instead, personally scrutinize and approve every promotion because the cops didn’t deserve any institutional latitude. From his thundering that he knew that certain cops had proceeded to liquidate their drug assets even before he took office, that is, when those assets weren’t being rubbed out by higher-ups in the drug trade, he reminded them he was all-knowing.
That he would, often in the same set of remarks then tell the public he was shocked at the enormity of the drug trade was not, as some might believe, a confusing contradiction. He segments his audience. He speaks the language of the cops just as he speaks the street slang of the public at large. It all comes together in what follows: the waves of liquidations punctuated by the spectacular elimination of prominent, previously considered untouchable, targets.
He could have purged the police first, for no crime exists without the toleration if not connivance, of the cops. But to have the effect needed to sustain applause, liquidations have to be wholesale. Which is what makes the policy unsustainable and in the end, futile. It will only lead, as it has been leading, to moments when the guaranteed absolution suddenly feels unclean.