Many years ago, when my father was still alive (and perhaps the same age as you are now), we had a long talk — just me and him. I had decided to be open and honest to him about certain behaviors he was exhibiting that I found disturbing. So for perhaps the first time in my life, I decided to be quite candid about it. The conversation went better than I expected. He did not react in anger and in fact opened up to me about his struggles with the same problem I noticed. So I understood him better after that, and my respect for him was not diminished in any way.
So I write to you today, not as a critic nor a detractor, but as one of your supporters and as one of the people who voted for you. I write openly with no intention of pulling you down or of lambasting you in public, but with the intention of giving voice to my fellow supporters who feel the same way as me but cannot express what they feel in their hearts nor have a venue for doing so. I write to you as a son of Davao of which you have been a father for many years. I was born here in the 70’s and grew up here in the 80’s. I know what Davao was back then and I know what it is now.
I write to implore you of one thing and one thing only, and it is not even unique: Please choose your words carefully. Please learn to control yourself.
I understand that in the election season, your street language was what endeared you to your voters and also attracted media to you to provide the necessary exposure and mileage to win. However, it is no longer election time. You have already won and have just marked your first 100 days as president. You no longer need the media splash and attention yet you are still getting it, for all the wrong reasons.
I understand that you do not really care what other people say about you. I used to be that way until I learned that some things I said hurt people I deeply cared about, even if I had no intentions of doing so. Like you, I had to apologize and explain myself several times, and I knew I had to work on improving my behavior, because apologies and explanations can get old pretty fast and people will tire of it if they see no true intent to change.
Speaking of which, your whole campaign was built on this one word: change. You promised to bring change and indeed we have seen many changes for the better in this short time, yet they have been overshadowed by the same careless language that you used prior to assuming office. It is ironic that in this regard, you have been showing a seeming unwillingness to change — you give reasons like you are really just fit to be a mayor and that people should not mind your mouth or your words too much.
May I respectfully remind you, sir, that words have power — as I’m sure you understand when you use those words to instill fear in criminals. Words can heal and words can kill — they can inspire a person to dizzying heights, yet also bring him down to the depths of despair. However, the sword cuts both ways and the careless use of words can come back to bite you as well when they cause people to be unsure of what you are saying and to lose their respect for you.
Also, change starts with yourself. In fact, may I remind you of your promise to be more “presidentiable” once you are elected? We cheered your efforts to change that one time you caught yourself before uttering a curse in a televised interview, but you soon slipped back into your old ways. Change is most effective when it comes from within, when people start doing things because they are right, not just because they fear the consequences of doing wrong. As our leader, showing to us your sincerity and willingness to change for the better will go a long way in inspiring others to do so.
When asked to describe your first 100 days in one word, one of my acquaintances answered, “polarizing” and as much as it pains me to hear it, I have to admit it is also true. Your detractors from before the elections have not been won over and have in fact, entrenched themselves further from you. The moderates have swung to either unapologetically defending you or outright hating you.
Mr. President, Mr. Mayor, Tatay, whether you like it or not, you are now president of the country, not just your 16 million voters, but of 100 million Filipinos. We are watching your every move and taking cues from every little thing you say and do. It is your unenviable task to bring us all together – red, white, blue and even yellow – not to let us drift further apart.
And it all begins with your words, for words shape our beliefs and beliefs inspire our actions. Imagine 100 million Filipinos with one mind, one vision and one goal. That would be a force that can change the world.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.