Santo Rodrigo or Santo Muerte?

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Greg B. Macabenta

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Santo Rodrigo or Santo Muerte?

Which should we prefer: a blustering, vulgar President Rodrigo Duterte or a sleazy, barefaced liar like President Donald Trump? The ideal answer is: Neither. But if we have to make a choice, it would be Duterte. As his spokesman, Salvador Panelo, rationalizes, whenever Duterte puts his foot in his mouth, he should not be taken seriously because he’s just joking. Trump, on the other hand, is a vicious demagogue who purposely lies to confuse, mislead and delude the American public, especially his voter base.

Every time Duterte spews another one of his atrocious or ridiculous comments, I am reminded of a grade school teacher’s quip about the antics of a juvenile delinquent in her class. “Nagpapapansin lamang iyan. KSP kasi!” (He just wants attention. Kulang sa Pansin kasi — because he lacks attention.)

Of course, being president of the Philippines, Duterte should already be satisfied with all the attention he is getting from the media, his sycophants and the DDS or Die-Hard Duterte Supporters. But craving for attention can go to one’s head and when it does, one is never satisfied.

One can only guess that when Duterte is seated on the john, his thoughts are on the latest shocker he will pull out of his mischievous brain to gain him more attention. Remember how he became the talk of the Christian world when he called God “stupid”? And remember how he cursed the Pope?

Duterte keeps trying to outdo those classics in vulgarity. In fact, he may have already succeeded. Duterte’s latest caper was to mock the solemn observance by Filipinos — many of whom are DDS — of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Not satisfied with spiting the way ordinary folks respect their dead, Duterte reportedly suggested that his picture should, instead, be mounted on an altar and be venerated as Santo Rodrigo.


Note that Duterte still hasn’t dared to place himself higher than God, but by naming himself a saint, he has already ranked himself higher than Pope Francis who has not yet attained that celestial stature.

Imagine that! Santo Rodrigo. Or San Digong. Don’t be surprised if his ardent admirers allow that to metamorphose into “San Diego.”

To refer back to Panelo’s lame explanation that Duterte’s proposed sainthood should not be taken seriously, some pundits disagree. They think Duterte’s idea is worth considering. First of all, sainthood is usually conferred on folks who have passed on, which is something that the political opposition has reportedly been praying for.

This reminds me of the two husbands who were talking about their wives. One husband described his wife as an angel. This prompted the other man to quip, “You’re lucky. Mine is still alive.”

At any rate (invoking executive privilege), Duterte could be conferred sainthood while still remaining on this earth, but with a slight modification. The folks at my favorite watering hole in Daly City think that Duterte should refer to himself as Santo Rodrigo Nuestro Señor del Santo Muerte.

This could give the Philippines its own version of Mexico’s Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte or Our Lady of the Holy Death. Santa Muerte is a deity who is the personification of death and is part of Mexico’s annual observance of Dia de las Muertes or Day of the Dead, which falls on the same day as All Saints Day.

Mexico’s Santa Muerte is depicted as a skull but dressed up like a saint and mounted on an altar, befitting sainthood. It is said that the same set-up would be appropriate for Santo Rodrigo Nuestro Señor del Santo Muerte. Better yet, he could be mounted physically on an altar in Davao City (not just his picture) and he could be kept there for the remainder of his term.

Imagine him standing triumphantly on the skulls of thousands of tokhang victims. The Mexicans would envy that and could be constrained to upgrade the presentation of their own Santa Muerte.

The guys at the Daly City watering hole (some Mexicans among them) think the idea of a Santo Rodrigo Nuestro Señor del Santo Muerte is fantastic and is perfect for someone like Duterte who loves to brag about killing people.

But all kidding aside, the Filipino people have had Duterte in Malacañang long enough to understand that he is “just joking” when he makes atrocious statements. And his really big promises, like getting rid of corruption in government, cleaning out the drug trade, attracting foreign investments, and protecting Philippine territory from Chinese intrusion, should be taken as “just jokes.” Duterte should just be allowed to run out his term and then be consigned to Davao.

The more serious challenge is choosing the next president of the country. The Philippines has had a streak of bad luck in the choice of president. Noynoy Aquino’s supporters were prepared to confer sainthood on him before his election but he turned out to be a big disappointment.

We all know about President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her co-president, Mike Arroyo. And before them, there was President Joseph “Walang kai-kaibigan, walang kama-kamaganak” Estrada.

Filipinos became so desperate for “change,” they elected Duterte — and they ended up with loose change. And a lot of dead bodies.

The perception among international media and corporate leaders is of a Duterte government with a revolving door system, by which officials who are ostensibly fired or displaced for corruption or incompetence are subsequently appointed to other key positions. The perception is also that corruption has not lessened — but has, in fact, increased — under Duterte and that incompetence still prevails.

Duterte’s apologists will argue that these perceptions are wrong, but among foreign investors, perception is reality. When they read headlines like, “Foreign funds still leaving PH stock market,” “Foreign investors jittery on the Philippines,” and “Why some investors choose Vietnam over Philippines,” the likelihood of big money being placed elsewhere becomes almost a certainty — only the really daring entrepreneurs will invest in a market when it is down in the hope of seeing an eventual upturn.

It is said that the families of OFWs are rejoicing over the fact that their US dollars are getting upwards of P53 or even more than P54, but then, with the prices of commodities and services correspondingly rising, the gain is really illusory.

Indeed, the prospects for the Philippines are not encouraging. It seems there is a greater possibility of Duterte, Leni Robredo, Tito Sotto and Gloria Arroyo attaining sainthood than for a competent, honest and dedicated politician to be elected president — at least, not in the foreseeable future.

In this regard, we do not suggest that the Filipino people should pray to Santo Rodrigo Nuestro Señor del Muerte for succor. Even if Duterte responds, spokesman Panelo will likely say it’s just a joke.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.