Prompted by the last line of the previous column. Published on March 21, 2017.
I use the word “camp” advisedly, because the fundamental inconsistencies exist not only inside the administration but also among its political allies in and with the administration’s support apparatus. Here are 10 internal contradictions that may pose a threat to the harmony, unity, or even viability of the Duterte camp.
Dominguez vs. Lopez. I cannot recall an instance where a sitting member of the Cabinet testified against another member before the Commission on Appointments. But that’s exactly what Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez did a week ago, expressing his opposition to Gina Lopez’s appointment as environment secretary. It was an extraordinary scene, one of the President’s alter egos coming out publicly, methodically, against the confirmation of another of the President’s alter egos. The President has renewed his public declaration of support for Lopez. But people close to the President say that in fact he wants Lopez to read the handwriting on the wall and gracefully resign her appointment. Whatever the true situation, it is unusual for a policy difference like the administration stance on mining to be fought, in the CA, by dueling secretaries.
Dominguez vs. Duterte social media army. The second is corollary to the first: In one of his early interviews, Dominguez said something that no other finance secretary had said before. He said, among other things, that he expected the President’s social media team to continue operating, to help in the task of governance. So what should we make of the contrasting position staked out in the Lopez confirmation battle by the most high-profile general in the President’s social media army? Entertainer Mocha Uson has been busy supporting Lopez, following the President’s public pronouncements. What happens when Dominguez, one of the President’s childhood friends and a key symbol of continuity with the business establishment, needs the social media army’s help in supporting, say, tax reform?
Alvarez vs. Arroyo. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has never been shy about speaking his mind; previously, he called on the Philippine National Police chief to resign for embarrassing the President. Turns out he is not shy about executing his threats, too. Last week, having lulled the Congress into a false sense of business-as-usual, he had the positions of majority representatives who voted against the death penalty declared vacant—including that of Deputy Speaker Gloria Arroyo. Congressmen who’ve worked with Arroyo know she won’t take this offense sitting down.
Cayetano vs. Marcos. Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano has changed his position on so many issues that it’s difficult to keep track sometimes, but he did something during his campaign for the vice presidency that impressed many voters (myself included). He ran, vigorously, against the dictator’s son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. If he changes his mind on the crimes of the Marcoses, a family now openly favored by the President, will his credibility ever be able to recover? I happen to think that his hostility against the Marcoses is sincere; it is only a matter of time, perhaps months, before that sincerity will be tested. Will Cayetano accept Marcos in the Cabinet?
Other internal contradictions that may prove destabilizing (without any help from the political opposition) include some of Philippine history’s worst lawyer-appointees, for instance a presidential legal counsel and a solicitor general whose favorite form of argument is an undisguised threat; a weak ruling party (PDP-Laban, despite forming the core of supermajorities in both chambers, remains a small party vulnerable to turncoats); rising resistance among progressive supporters of the administration against continuing human rights violations; a culture of killing; the hypocrisy of the so-called war on drugs, which focuses on the poor, not on drug lords.
Not least: the President vs. himself. Mr. Duterte has given statements that should disbar him as a lawyer, that aid and comfort the country’s territorial competitors, that assert his liability for the continued killings.
When I argued, in this same space, that “If this administration fails or falls, it will be because of its own internal contradictions,” all of the above is what I meant.