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Dear President Digong:
During those 25 years, I have observed my homeland through the eyes of an expatriate and honestly from the perspective of my new adopted country, America.
I recently became a dual citizen, which gave me the right to vote in last May's Philippine presidential elections.
From everything I have read in the news media, I said to myself then that there was no way I was going to vote for you. But I closely followed the presidential campaign, seriously weighed the platforms of the candidates, and examined the state of affairs of my homeland. It was then that I was convinced the Philippines didn't need a political status quo. If change were to come to the country of my birth, we needed to have a leader who understood the plight of the majority of the citizenry who for decades have been at the mercy of the very few who were elite, or those who would do everything to hang on to political power.
I found that leader in you. And despite the constant cussing that shocked the hell out of the self-identified well-mannered people (and the news media), I focused on the hope of change that you would bring to the country. You understood what it meant to be poor, to be a victim of bureaucracy and corruption, and how many Filipinos constantly live in fear, uncertainty and criminality.
I honestly didn't know the extent of the illegal drug problem in the Philippines until you came along.
Because of some timing technicality, I couldn't vote in the Philippines during the May elections. But if I did, I knew I was going to vote for you.
I watched in tears as you took your oath as the new president. They were tears of hope and relief. Finally, I said to myself, we will see meaningful change.
And we did. Tremendous change in just a few days and weeks into your presidency.
Having to go through NAIA many times as I shuttle back and forth from America and the Philippines, I finally felt secure from unscrupulous schemes like laglag bala, airport bribery and transportation.
In the weeks after you assumed the presidency, I had to deal with several agencies to secure required government documentation including passport renewal, IDs, claims and the like. I couldn't have been more impressed and happy at the kind of expediency that I experienced. I could feel that the employees were extremely happy to help, and help in the best way they can!
While the news media here and abroad were having a grand time with their sensationalized and inaccurate reporting of your war on drugs, I almost couldn't believe the many significant changes that were happening right in front of my eyes.
911 Emergency. 8888 complaints line. One-stop processing service especially for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Help for stranded OFWs. Free medicines and medical check-up for poor Filipinos. No-nonsense campaign against terrorist groups like Abu Sayyaf. Protecting our environment from destructive mining activities. More discipline in traffic enforcement. Giving back the sidewalks to pedestrians. Cleaner public venues. Standing our ground as an independent nation free from the bullying of foreign governments and international institutions. Protection of innocent citizens from the perils of drug addiction and trade. And many more -- all in the span of less than 100 days into your presidency. (And how dare your critics not even give you the courtesy of a honeymoon period!)
I have been accused of being your apologist -- even by my own friends and colleagues -- because I chose to stick to the facts that I see and experience right HERE, rather than be swayed by the biases of your critics and the news media whose reporting emanates from comfortable cubicles rather than from staff on the ground.
I myself have been involved in the news media through my work in America. I worked for organizations that were committed to fair, accurate and balanced reporting. So I am quite frustrated when I see the news media being selective, inaccurate and sensational when reporting about you and your programs and campaigns.
The biggest issue against you is the alleged extrajudicial killings in your war against illegal drugs. I can see how it is easy for the news media to label you and your efforts in your campaign against drug lords, pushers and users. But I also know that some media outlets have been unfair in their reporting, ignoring facts and figures that would have easily separated killings that were the result of police operations and those that could have possibly been perpetrated by the very criminal elements that you are trying to go after.
So, while I personally will never condone any extrajudicial killings, I am hopeful that the news media and others will refrain from painting the situation with a single broad brush. At the same time, may I suggest that your administration adopt more judiciousness and transparency to assist the media in their follow-up reports on these killings?
Lastly, I know that you have been criticized for your many statements, and yes, expletives. Deep in my heart, I believe that it was never your intention to cuss at foreign dignitaries including the Pope and President Obama, and I know your mention of Hitler has been totally taken out of context.
But as your constituent and supporter, I must now request that -- hopefully with the help of your communications team -- you will begin to tone down your rhetoric and refrain from statements that could offend individuals, groups, countries and institutions or be misinterpreted -- intentionally or not -- by those who are out to put you and your noble intentions for our country down.
I am not asking you to change your ways. But I'm sure there's room for some restraint.
You are our leader. But you can also be a leader that will gain the respect of other nations. A leader that we as Filipinos can be totally proud of.
Mabuhay po kayo!
Rene Astudillo is a writer, book author and blogger and has recently retired from more than two decades of nonprofit community work in the Bay Area. He spends his time between California and the Philippines.
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