The Movie “Sully” Could Be A Great Metaphor For Philippine President Duterte’s Current Predicament


Hey, y’all!

I was excited to see Clint Eastwood’s Sully in IMAX Mall Of Asia last Wednesday, but I guess I don’t share this enthusiasm with many people as there were but a few seats occupied in the theater. Last week, I said the movie will be presented in full IMAX glory, from floor to the roof, however, it turned out, and it’s not the same as the select scenes of Nolan’s Batman movies. It was indeed taller than longer though, and I bet it still provided a more immersive movie-viewing experience than the standard format. The landing on the Hudson River (not a crash, as Sully pointed out), was shown about twice, and with the actual scale of the movie being presented, I couldn’t help help but feel a little bit emotional.

The truth is, it wasn’t just the IMAX format that made it quite relatable. I can’t help but relate the Philippines’ current state, and see Duterte in Tom Hanks’ character, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, as he tries to make an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River after the plane he is piloting has had a bird strike. However, it isn’t just about the harrowing ordeal of trying to make a water-landing, which, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, or are not aware of the miracle on 2009, was successful with almost all of 155 passengers unscathed. What Sully had to deal with was that the government is trying to prove that he had made the wrong decision, in that he should have shot for the airport and would have landed successfully. I’m guessing, you are already figuring out the metaphor. Read on below, but I need to warn you- there will be spoilers.

The Bold Decision

You know how our friends and families consistently tell us that when we need to make a decision, you really need to think it through, weigh the pros and cons, and really delve into the possible results of our actions? Well sometimes, life would only allow you to do that in just a span of only 208 seconds… and with a possible casualty of 155… your own self included. If it were me, I’d have given up just like that, at least after I lost my composure, and barf like it’s the end of the world. Sully however maintained composure, assessed the situation, and relied on his guts and instinct to achieve the impossible. Actually, he went for the least impossible thing to do given the scenario, and it paid off. And even after saving all the souls on board, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) went all out of their way to prove that Sully made the wrong decision and could’ve landed at the airport. As a pilot of the said plane, one couldn’t help but think “How can I be wrong when I saved all passengers?”

Now think about our president, Duterte. It isn’t just a plane he is at the helm of. It isn’t just 155 souls. And even though he definitely has more than 5 minutes to think, his decision could be greatly wonderful or absolutely disastrous. His predicament is a thousand-fold worse than what Sully had to face with. The people of New York was very thankful to Sully for doing what he was able to do, even if NTSB thought he did wrong. Duterte, however, doesn’t only have the government throwing pies on his face. There’s also a good amount of media, and incredulous amount of critics, local and abroad, out to press that eject button on him. They’re not telling him that he made a ridiculous decision landing where he’s supposed to be. They’re telling him he’s altogether wrong for the country. And just as landing on the Hudson isn’t a popular choice, Duterte’s stance on our War on Drugs could be considered the all-time most criticized decision a president has ever made. However, just like Sully, he wasn’t too concerned about being called a hero. Duterte isn’t afraid to be criticized either, or even bothers to be hailed as a hero. He knows that his life is on the line too. He knows that his approach will be the subject of criticisms and he knows that his image could look bad, not only in the eyes of his own people, but even in the eyes of people in other nations. What he does wouldn’t sit well with many, but he is choosing to press on despite all the criticisms and bad image. He knows that even if the stakes are high and the risks are imminent, he would need to do what he feels is right to land this country to safety, even if it is on a river.

Computer Simulations

During the investigation of the NTSB, they said that they have conducted about 20 or more computer simulations with the same parameters that Sully has had when the incident occurred, and all those simulations point that the plane would have landed successfully on nearby runways. What they don’t realize is that they have had several teams working out the variables when working on the simulations whereas in actuality, Sully only had his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (played by Aaron Eckhart), who had to consider everything and make a decision stat.

How can we compare this to Duterte? How long have we had this drug situation in this country? How many administrations have passed and how much of this problem has been solved? I’ve read an article in the news that one of ex-President Noynoy Aquino’s SONA ever so subtly makes a reference to an arrest of about 10,000 drug-related suspects that year. I’m no statistics expert but 10,000 arrests is nothing but a pin-prick to the problem we have on drugs especially now that the current Duterte administration has had over 600,000 surrenderees. The previous administrations only had “simulations” of a solution. Duterte, as unpopular as it is, actually has a solution that works albeit all the criticisms.

The Human Element

One of the misses of the NTSB investigation is to factor in the human element. The simulations have all the parameters, but it didn’t have the human element, in that it didn’t take consideration of the stress on what to do next, the pressure of having to take account the lives of the passengers involved, and the mere fact that the pilot’s life is also in danger. As Sully pointed out, the pilots in the simulations were briefed and instructed to head back to the airport immediately after the engines have gone out, and that it is unnatural for any human being, pilot or not, to immediately do exactly what just needs to be done to get the plane back to safety. As a result of raising this concern, an additional 35 seconds to the response time was added. After that was added, then all simulations had failed to come back to the airport successfully, and would have in fact potentially caused more harm, not just to its passengers, but including some establishments and residences that could be on the plane’s path. It was concluded that the right thing to do was to make for a water-landing on the Hudson.

Now, if we are to compare this to Duterte and his take on the War on Drugs, I could say that he has it all the worst. At the very least, NTSB was quick to recognize their mistake for not considering the human element, and at least they sounded apologetic to both Sully and his co-pilot. What we have here in the Philippines is completely the opposite, and quite ironic too. So many people are hiding behind the idea of “human rights” and using it against the president’s take on the drug war, and, I’m sorry to say this, but I find it all very hypocritical, especially now that the lead accuser could be linked to the very root of the drug problem. While Duterte recognizes the risks, he knew them all well, and he’s not privy to the thought that there would be casualties, not that it should be thought as acceptable, but that it could be unavoidable. His approach may well be unpopular and severely criticized but he’s willing to be the thought of as the villain if that’s what it takes to do what he thinks is right. How many presidents can you say that about? If that isn’t the most human element I could think of in this situation, then I do not know what is.

Everyone is the “X”

At the end of the movie, one of the NTSB officials had pointed out that Captain Chesley Sullenberger is the “x” in the equation. Take the x out and it would have been a massive failure. But Sully objects – “Everyone is the x” (or something like that). He said that everyone had to play a part during the whole incident – the pilot, the co-pilot, the 5 flight attendants present, the rest of the 155 passengers on board, the local authorities who have responded to the incident in 24 minutes(!) or less, and everyone else that got involved in the emergency.

In the same way, Duterte has always challenged each and every one to be a #PartnerForChange. Need I say more?

I’m not into making much commentary about politics, and this may very well be the longest I’ve written on the subject, but I feel like I was watching Philippine politics unfold in front of me when I was watching Sully. Sure Sully had kept his composure well, and sure, his and Duterte’s personalities couldn’t be any more different, but at the core of both their actions are the people they are responsible for. Duterte’s words are careless, mostly harsh, and sometimes it does seem like it isn’t at all carefully thought through, but we all do that, if not aloud, then at least in our minds. There are just no cameras pointing our way or microphones waiting on our lips. Our words do not have the risks of being dissected to bits or painted differently with too much or too less colors. We simply aren’t in the cockpit.

Have you seen Sully? See it in IMAX in MOA if you can, or sound off below at the comments section to let me know your thoughts.

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