Beyond tsismis and legend

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Truth and fairness.

These, according to award-winning writer and investigative journalist Earl Parreno, are the values upon which his book Beyond Will & Power, an unauthorized biography of President Rodrigo Duterte was built.

That means, and the author made this clear during one of the mini-launches of his book, that every fact, every datum included has been verified, and cross-checked, with interviews from people who knew the man known as Digong.

What is interesting, however, is that the book has already been reviled online by people who, most likely, have not even read a single page.

An anti-Duterte troll account named Rudy S. Tupido says it is “[u]seless decoding Rody. For what? Duterte’s life was and is not interesting — he’s a master con man, a liar and a manipulator. End of story. I won’t waste a single centavo on this book.”

A copy of Beyond Will and Power. Earl Parreno signing a copy of hos book during a launch held recently in Bacolod City. | Photo and text by Julius D. Mariveles
A copy of Beyond Will and Power. Earl Parreno signing a copy of hos book during a launch held recently in Bacolod City. | Photo and text by Julius D. Mariveles

Another netizen, a certain Allan Reyes, called Parreño “dilawan”, a favorite insult of supporters; while another user, Lincon Yap dismissed both the book and the author as “rubbish”, saying, “Paper and Ink are wasted, how unlucky the printing machine that printed every pages (sic) of story of a CON MAN who covers behind Drug War Campaign that in thruth (sic) he is the Drug Lord of all Drug Lord (sic). Rubbish book deserve to be in Payatas.”

So much bile and vitriol heaped on a book that has, at that point, hardly been released.

But Beyond Will & Power, had any of these netizens bothered to read it before judging it, remains neutral, or as Parreño says, “neither pro nor anti”.

Deftly combining values of investigative journalism plus the crisp prose of a lover of history, Beyond Will & Power traces the roots of Digong up to his maternal grandfather (Eleno Fernandez, a Spanish-Chinese mestizo from Cebu who adopted the name Roa after a relative who took him in as a young boy), and his family’s rise to political power in Davao.

Book’s prologue starts in media res, in November 2015 in a hotel in Davao, where the author recounts the then mayor declaring that he will be running for President, interspersed with dialog that is heavily accented with Digong’s trademark cussing and jokes of killing criminals.

After the prologue, book then follows a linear narrative which starts with the President’s ancestry – from both paternal and material grandparents – to his parents’ deep sense of service to the people (nanay Soling through her civic works and activism, tatay Vicente through his political work), and how these and the family dynamics helped form and mold the man who would become the most powerful in the country.

Book is filled with interesting vignettes, anecdotes, and tidbits about Digong as it attempts to unmask the man through interviews with classmates, close friends, and contemporaries.  Book is also dotted with quotes by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who introduced the concept of the ever conflicting master and slave morality, where one is in constant struggle against in a battle that would inevitably end in the subjugation of the other.

It delves deeper into the man who critics dismiss as “insane”, as it traces fascinating facets of the leader who knows the game of political survival by using a vast network and machinery, along with duplicity and populism, and his apparently sincere hatred for drugs (after seeing one too many children – some as young as one-year-old – raped and murdered by drug addicts).

Book does not justify the drug war; in fact, it publishes part of the reports of the Human Rights Watch as well as that of the Commission on Human Rights on the thousands killed in Davao when Digong was mayor, with some of the victims as young as 12 years old.  It touches on the Davao Death Squads and said squads’ brazenness in carrying out vigilante justice.  And, the book also notes, the people seem to support the killings especially if it means safer streets for the rest of the citizens.

Should it be read?  It should. 

Whether we support the man or hate his guts, there is some wisdom in knowing who our leaders is– whether we helped elect them to power or not – and where he is taking our country with his policies. 

But more than that, Beyond Will & Power is a beautiful historical-cum-biographical account of arguably one of the most controversial figures in Philippine politics.  

It is – and should be – part of the collection of any serious student of politics and history.  A brilliant piece of investigative work.

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