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The Manila Times : Cocaine-user claim is like the wife-beating fallacy

News & Interviews
23 November 2021

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

First word

INCREDIBLY, in the final lap of his presidency, which will irrevocably end on June 30 next year, President Rodrigo Duterte is squandering the hard-earned gains of his presidential term in a vainglorious attempt to dictate to the nation who will succeed him as president through the election on May 9, 2022, and how the new government will govern and run the country.

In defiance of the Constitution and all rules of conduct and demands of duty, Duterte has opted to reject the idea of riding into the sunset of his public life. He is determined to stay relevant and engaged in national affairs whether we like it or not.

For this purpose, Duterte has launched a series of actions and initiatives designed: 1) to thwart the people's will and choice in the election as it is now tending; 2) to destroy the reputations and public standing of the leading candidates for president; and 3) to throw the election into chaos in May so that he, as the incumbent president, can then intervene to resolve the situation.

Specifically, the following are actions that are now happening under DU30's direction and command.

First, he has hastily formed his own political party especially for the election, and he has named his own set of candidates in the balloting, including a chosen one for president and his own candidacy for senator. He has instructed members of his cabinet to run for the Senate in the election, and this has resulted in the desertion of many posts in the executive branch.

Second, he has launched a series of attacks against the presidential candidates, particularly Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr., who has been tagged by all public opinion surveys and preferential polls as the clear frontrunner. The maneuver is designed to prevent the electorate from voting for, or voting in, Marcos.

Third, he has virtually mobilized the entire government bureaucracy to engage in electioneering, contrary to the provisions of law and civil service regulations.

Sancho Panza for president

In the classic Spanish tale of chivalry and old age by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote de la Mancha, old and frail though he was, stopped short of knighting his squire and servant, Sancho Panza, and naming him as his successor knight in shining armor.

Now, in a Philippine retelling of the story, President Duterte has named his longtime aide and shadow, Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go as his chosen candidate for president.

With no experience whatsoever for the tasks of national leadership, Go has literally emerged from the shadows to now present himself to our country of 120 million people, and to take his chance at becoming the boss and the hero.

Go has obeyed every prompting and dictate by Duterte so he can be listed in the official ballot come election day.

The big question is whether Filipinos, who take their elections seriously, can be induced to consider Go as a serious candidate. To many, he is a figure of fun like Sancho Panza.

Sancho is endearing, Go is a nuisance.

I have a circle of friends who believe Bong Go is just a hologram in the election, a mirage of light and shadow created by order of the President.

When the time comes for the people to choose, no one will vote for a hologram.

Fallacy of loaded question

The current election cycle has been thrown off kilter by the sudden spate of attacks by President Duterte against Bongbong Marcos in order to bring down his popularity and high level of support.

As BBM's stock has risen, Duterte's broadsides have become more fevered and wacky. He has publicly accused Marcos Jr. of being a cocaine user, dismissed him as a weak leader and a spoiled son.

All these strikes, however, are based on a fallacy of reasoning. They will be dismissed outright by all thinking people, especially members of the legal, professional and business communities.

Duterte's cocaine user taunt is no more than a nasty retelling of the old fallacy of the complex or loaded question.

In the context of our public affairs today, presidential aspirants in 2022 are being asked: "Are you a cocaine user?"

A loaded question is a form of complex question that contains a controversial assumption (e.g., a presumption of guilt).

The traditional example is the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

Whether the respondent answers yes or no, they will admit to having a wife and having beaten her at some time in the past. Thus, these facts are presupposed by the question, and in this case an entrapment, because it narrows the respondent to a single answer, and the fallacy of many questions has been committed.

Similarly, in DU30's cocaine-user charge, a presidential aspirant is trapped in the questioner's web however he answers. If he answers, yes, he confirms that DU30 is correct. If he answers no, he will dignify the question and validate the concern about drug use.

And then also, DU30 with this yarn has cleverly thrown the candidates into confusion by inducing them to pretend individually that DU30 is not referring to them as a cocaine user.

And then there are those like Bong Go, who on cue from DU30, has declared his readiness to be tested for drugs, to support the drug testing of all presidential candidates.

The target of all these moves is to deflect the canard towards the presidential frontrunner BBM, and to dent his indisputable lead in the pre-elections polls and deflate some of his high favorability rating.

In his book Straight Thinking, Monroe Berdsley says that the loaded question fallacy is based principally on the emotive power of words, their capacity to rouse fear, anger or hate.

With DU30's claim, "cocaine user" are words with emotive power. He fancies that Filipino voters could be repelled and will abandon BBM.

But like the wife-beating question, it only works if you foolishly submit to it.

Cocaine-users, similarly, will go nowhere. Ditto with the charge of a weak leader and spoiled child. They amount to nothing.

Duterte's declining approval and trust

What Duterte really fears here, however, is the electric response of the people to BBM's candidacy, which stands in marked contrast to his continuing decline in popularity as his term approaches its end.

In the last sensing of public opinion on Duterte in July this year, Publicus Asia in a nationwide survey reported that Duterte's approval and trust ratings had recorded a marked decline.

Publicus said President Duterte's approval and trust ratings had a "noticeable" drop. The second quarter poll conducted from July 13 to 19 showed Duterte's approval rating had dropped to 57.93 percent from around 65 percent in the first quarter, while his trust rating slid down to 50.4 percent from around 55 percent in the previous quarter.

The survey involved 1,500 respondents from a research panel of some 100,000 registered voters.

"While it is a sizable drop for both approval and trust ratings, President Duterte still leads the top five government officials with his approval rating and trust rating of 50 percent.

In terms of approval ratings, the President was followed by Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd (38.13 percent), Vice President Leni Robredo (32.26 percent), Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo (26 percent), and House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco (24.26 percent).

Publicus is the same survey organization that has reported several times on BBM's continuing rise in public approval.

President Duterte sees now that BBM has perceptibly overtaken him in public esteem and support.

If Duterte and Marcos were to be pitted against each other in a public opinion survey, it will be a rout. The president-to-be will beat the incumbent and termed-out president hands down.

Duterte cannot bear the thought of a national leader more admired and loved than him.

He would rather scuttle the election than see this confirmed in black and white on election day.