President Rodrigo Duterte’s inaugural speech was a stark departure from his previous statements and his demeanor in the past few weeks. It was a good first day in office.
Those who were anticipating a strongly worded speech from the usually tough-talking Duterte were surprised that he was presidential—calm and even tentative in a few unguarded moments, as if he were just coming to terms with the overwhelming task that lay before him.
The speech, interrupted numerous times by applause, did not last longer than a few minutes. But it was enough to lay the foundation for what we may expect in the next six years. The President said there were ills to be fought: criminality, corruption, illegal drugs, and the breakdown of law and order. He said, however, that these ills were just symptoms of a bigger problem—the erosion of faith and trust in government. This, he said, was “a virulent social disease that creeps and cuts into the moral fiber of Philippine society.”
The succinct, simple and straightforward address also indicated that inclusive growth would be a priority in the next administration. We cannot disagree with this.
The speech and all that took place on Thursday fit the narrative that Mr. Duterte would undergo a metamorphosis the moment he is sworn into office. He ran and won, after all, on the promise of change—even as he earlier petulantly said he would never do so.
A most encouraging sign was the emblem of the Philippine flag pinned to his barong, telling us that he is our leader whether or not we supported him. There were no attempts to portray himself as a savior out to deliver the country from the claws of evil. What was there instead was an acknowledgment of the difficult task and an invitation to unite. “The ride will be rough, but come and join me just the same,” he said.
The absence of pomp and fiery rhetoric in Mr. Duterte’s inauguration tells us exactly how we should think about the next six years. This is not a time for grand gestures. The patriotism and commitment of the next batch of leaders will be tested every day, in the big and little things alike, based on their actions and omissions instead of their words.
We look forward to the metamorphosis—not Mr. Duterte’s, but the nation’s.