Lords of war: Duterte vs. Escobar

Art by Rard Almario

What is it with Colombia these days? The beautiful South American country seems to be a hot destination lately — and I’m not just referring to its abundance of the Lord’s greatest gifts: natural resources, magical realism, and Miss Universe candidates. No, we’re all about Colombia right now because of one particular show, the Netflix Original series called Narcos, which chronicles the beginning and end of Colombia’s errant middle child, Pablo Escobar.

Escobar became famous for being a narcotraficante, arguably the most famous drug lord ever. He’s been immortalized in so many ways since his death — through books, films, television series — but it wasn’t until actor Wagner Moura played him in Narcos that we asked ourselves, “Why am I actually rooting for this truly horrible person to win?”

Netflix just dropped the second season of the series, and we gotta admit, we were just as hooked on seeing his downfall (spoiler, sorry) as we were addicted to watching his rise to power. Granted, the Narcos version of Escobar isn’t exactly historically accurate (the producers make no secret that they took liberties in depicting certain events and characters) but it has certainly caught our attention. So much so that we began to wonder what it would be like to put the late, great Señor Escobar against another man whose fiery personality, temper, and controversial methods rival even his own: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. After all, President Duterte’s foremost platform is to eradicate drug addiction — unequivocally, completely — and should their paths ever cross, Escobar would be at the top of the food chain.

We decided to pit these two men against one another in a few choice rounds to see where their differences lie, but upon doing so we realized that they also have a few things in common. Both Escobar and Duterte came from humble beginnings, which was what endeared them to the masses. In their own ways, they’re charismatic and inspire loyalty without ever having to ask for it. And perhaps the most interesting thing in common? They both had their eye on the presidency in their respective countries. Although we kind of know how that played out for both of them, we’d still like to find out: in a fair fight, who would actually win?

Round one: Coolest Nicknames

Since announcing his presidency, Duterte has inspired many nicknames among his admirers, chief among them: P-Diggy, DU30, Pigong (from his actual nickname Digong), or simply Mayor, which harks back to his days as the chief of Davao City. Escobar, meanwhile, is addressed by his army of sicarios (hired guns) in a choice set of honorifics befitting a mobster: Don Pablo, El Padrino (literally The Godfather), and my personal favorite, El Patrón.

Who wins? Escobar. Nothing makes me happier than hearing Escobar’s sicarios answer him with a deferential “Sí, Patrón” like they totally have no choice but to shoot down a bunch of people in that barrio. Meanwhile, Duterte’s nicknames aren’t exactly cute. P-Diggy? My little cousin can do better than that. And he’s eight.

“In order to run an empire, one need not surround one’s self only with yes men, something that Duterte has unfortunately done since becoming President.”

Round two: Cussing ability

Both Escobar and Duterte have mouths you wanna scrub with soap. In every episode of Narcos, you will hear Escobar spew a string of beautifully accented cuss words whenever he doesn’t get his way. Which, let’s be real, happens a lot when you’re a bajillionaire with a ton of enemies. On the other hand, Duterte has been in hot water — both in the local and international media — for cussing out a number of prominent individuals and organizations, which include but are not limited to US President Barack Obama and the United Nations. Has there ever been a time our nation has dissected the true meaning of p—g ina more than we have in the last few months?

Who wins? Duterte. Sure, Escobar gave a new flavor to the classic hijo de p—a, but no potty mouth has ever gotten an entire country in trouble as much as Duterte’s has. So in a roundabout way, he actually wins. Well, f**k that.

Round three: Biggest fans

When Escobar was just beginning his drug lording career, he also needed to earn the trust of Colombians in order to fortify his operations. Key to that is dirty journalist Valeria Velez (a fictional character in the series, but based on the life of reporter Virginia Vallejo) who not only smushed booties with Escobar on the side, but helped shape public opinion about him — calling him the Robin Hood of his neighborhood. Similarly, dancer-turned-Duterte-advocate Mocha Uson may not have been in an extramarital affair with the President, but certainly contributed to his campaign. Apart from singing his praises in her Facebook page called MOCHA USON BLOG (yes, all in caps), she has regularly discredited legitimate media sources and has championed the Duterte administration’s many, er, questionable causes.

Who wins? (I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…) Mocha Uson and Duterte do. While both Velez and Uson are clearly ill-equipped for their chosen professions, it’s Uson’s fearless defense of a man she hardly knows personally that is admirable. Consider her the Stan to Duterte’s Eminem, minus the cool peroxide blond hair.

Art by Ina Jacobe

Round four: BFFs and worst enemies

Honestly, Duterte should keep a running tally of whom his government is friends with on a particular day. Sometimes he hates the Jews, then he sucks up to China. On other days, he hates the UN for butting their heads into his business. Then he’ll sometimes plays nice with the communists, but won’t let exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Joma Sison fly back to the Philippines. But — always, always, always — he hates Americans. Escobar plays a similar game of shady associations. He allied with Colombia’s communist party to help destroy evidence against him, and he’s teamed up with his fellow crooks to murder the same communists who helped his cause. But true to form, Escobar also hated the United States, particularly for their threat to extradite him to America.

Who wins? Escobar, but barely. While Duterte and Escobar hate the United States with so much irrational passion, they’re undeniably reliant on America’s soft and hard power — from military and culture to commerce. (For Escobar, his biggest customers are in Miami, Florida. For Duterte, it’s everything else.) Try as they might to beat the specter of white privilege, it seems that they’re both actually kind of powerless before it. Which probably explains why they have both acted like overgrown toddlers once the topic comes up.

Round five: Muscle of choice

Duterte’s proverbial battering ram in the war against drugs is Philippine National Police Director General Ronald de la Rosa. Bato, as he’s usually called, possesses a temper as fiery as his boss’s. He’s been known to incite anger among his police force by encouraging them to douse the houses of drug pushers with gasoline and burn them down. (Way harsh, Gretch.)

For Escobar, it’s his cousin Gustavo Gaviria, his right-hand man in every way. Gustavo is known to be the only one who can quell Escobar’s temper and make him see reason when he mostly sees red. Until Gustavo’s death, Escobar had said that his cousin was a huge reason that their coke business was so successful.

Who wins? Escobar, hands down. In order to run an empire, one need not surround one’s self only with yes men, something that Duterte has unfortunately done since becoming President. Let’s not get started on his bungling Cabinet to prove that point even further…

“Escobar made no secret that he was kind of an effed-up guy. Duterte, at least for now, may pretend to be some kind of rugged hero from an action movie, but maintains his innocence on the subject where his honesty matters the most.”

Round six: Incorruptibility

Escobar and his gang were known to threaten members of government (or anyone in their way, really) with a simple question, “Plata o plomo?” which implies that they either let themselves get paid off or they meet their bloody end with a gun. Duterte has explicitly said that he is sick and tired of the systematic corruption in the Philippines and has refused all sorts of lavishness by wearing simple clothes and sleeping under a mosquito net. He’s a simple guy, he says. However, a number of his political appointees seem to reek of patronage politics — chief of which is his close association to defeated veep candidate Bongbong Marcos.

Who wins? Escobar, by a hairsbreadth. Look, both men have admitted to and have been accused of doing some awful stuff. But Escobar made no secret that he was kind of an effed-up guy. Duterte, at least for now, may pretend to be some kind of rugged hero from an action movie, but maintains his innocence on the subject where his honesty matters the most.

Round seven: Audience impact

In many respects, both Duterte and Escobar are hometown heroes, beloved in their own barangays and barrios more than anywhere else. Davaoeños praise Duterte’s decades-long terms as Davao City Mayor. Meanwhile, Escobar has inspired so much loyalty from Medellín, where he grew up, that everyone would cover for him whenever Colombian police would come looking.

Who wins? Duterte, literally. Both men may have wanted to become president, but only one of them actually got to be one.

So who actually won?

By a mere one-point win, the man from Medellín actually bested Davao’s finest. What does it say about Duterte’s bloody war on drugs? Not much, to be honest, but perhaps it’s high time to rethink strategies if the feared head of state can lose to a dead guy on paper.


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