Published on November 21, 2017.
From President Duterte down to his supporters, we hear the argument that the template for creating a “revolutionary government” was set by Corazon Aquino; why, he asks (they all ask), can’t he do the same thing?
He already raised the question when he visited the Inquirer in August 2015, during his long, coy campaign for the presidency. The idea that the presidency as an office was not powerful enough to fix what truly ails the country, and that a revolutionary government or a “constitutional dictatorship” was needed, was not Marcosian, he said. “Why will I be a Marcos? There is a lesson there in history to look at. Why not follow Cory?”
He repeated the same claim, that Cory Aquino’s revolutionary government was a pattern he can follow, in August 2017, over a year into his raucous presidency, when he started talking up the revolutionary government option again. “For the Philippines to really go up, I said: What the people need is not martial law. Go for what Cory did — revolutionary government. But don’t look at me. I cannot go there.” Continue reading
This column, about President Duterte’s fixation on expanded presidential power, was published on November 14, 2017.
Back in 2015, when Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was genuinely conflicted about running for president, he located part of that conflict in what he said was the lack of power of the Philippine presidency. The office, bound by rule and tradition, was simply not up to the task of running a sprawling, dysfunctional nation, he argued. If he were elected, he said in a June interview, “I will give myself six months to one year to do the reforms I want to do. If the system becomes obstructionist and I become inutile, I will declare a revolutionary government.”
He carried the same message to the Inquirer, which he visited in August of that year. “I have to stop criminality and corruption. I have to fix this government. I won’t do it if you want to place me there with the solemn pledge to stick to the rules,” he said. Then he added something truly startling: “The wellspring of corruption is the Constitution itself,” meaning the limits that the post-dictatorship charter placed on the powers of the executive branch lent themselves to graft and dysfunction.
“All money matters and budget appropriation [are limited by the Constitution],” he said.
Sereno at the Ateneo de Manila, May 26, 2017. Unimpeachable sources say this commencement speech gravely offended President Duterte, and may have sealed the Chief Justice’s fate.
Rereading this column, which was published on November 7, 2017, I am filled with a deep sadness, not only because of what was done to Chief Justice Sereno, but also and even more to the point because of what was done to the country. With the encouragement of President Duterte, a majority of eight justices justified the unjustifiable. If the Supreme Court itself can remove an impeachable official outside of the impeachment process, what can stop it from, say, agreeing with the House of Representatives that it can convene as a constituent assembly without the participation of the Senate? Sereno was the red line.
I think I now understand why Speaker Bebot Alvarez and the leadership of the House of Representatives insist on restrictive rules on cross-examination, in the Duterte administration’s campaign to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. It isn’t, as I imagined, an attempt to humiliate her by forcing the head of a co-ordinate branch of government to conduct the cross-examination in her own impeachment case herself, or to subject her to direct questioning by all committee members as well as by a cartoon villain of a complainant.
Rather, the restrictive rules are meant to protect the fatally defective complaint’s witnesses and resource persons, especially — I am reading between the lines here — Associate Justice Teresita de Castro. The impeachment case against Sereno does not allege a single impeachable offense, but it does rest on an explosive but misleading memo written by De Castro. But the full context of the memo is not flattering to De Castro, and any counsel for Sereno who is expert in the art of cross-examination will swiftly surface the embarrassing details. (The exact same thing will happen to De Castro if the impeachment reaches the Senate.)
Alvarez may be able to protect De Castro in the House; as a matter of political expediency, he will treat her as a (very) friendly witness. But unless I have been misinformed, Alvarez has no influence over the Senate. Can President Duterte persuade enough of his political allies in the Senate to promulgate new impeachment trial rules to protect sitting justices from the indignity of a hostile cross-examination? That’s a risk De Castro will have to take. Continue reading
This column was published on October 31, 2017. Remember the insane sexual banter Martin Andanar and Salvador Panelo thought made them look Duterte-like? “All they have really done is focus attention on the obscenities that have become characteristic of this administration. This is not a distraction from anything; rather, it is a concentration of perception.”
The recent scandalous public utterances of Secretary Martin Andanar and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo may have been scripted, designed to help deflect public attention from hidden wealth and drug smuggling allegations haunting President Duterte and his family, or they may have been launched, like other controversies, in an attempt to distract the public from its growing anxiety over extrajudicial killings. It doesn’t matter. We see through the statements and have not forgotten that only the poor caretaker of the warehouse where shabu linked to influential people in Davao was stored is in detention; we continue to monitor the President’s responses to the controversy over his bank accounts, and remember (at least I do) that when he visited the Inquirer in August 2015 he told us that he had “only P4 million” in the bank.
But the obscenities Andanar and Panelo used, whether deliberate or inadvertent, also reflect one aspect of the Duterte presidency which has begun to lose its sinister sheen: the use of foul language as format and substitute for policy. Some people still laugh, or titter, when the President fails in public appearances to “limit [his] mouth,” to use his own euphemism; I would think that part of this audience response can be attributed to nervous laughter, and part to a genuine appreciation of his colorful language. But I am not the only one to sense a general fatigue over his outrageous remarks. I’m sure part of this is resignation to the new normal, but if I’m not mistaken many people have learned to tune out the President’s bombardment of F-words, insults and rape jokes, to choose not to bear witness to his linguistic airstrikes. Like any entertainer whose performance is based on shock appeal, even a charismatic but tediously repetitive President will lose his audience.
All this makes the two secretaries’ scandalous statements not only sleazy but also lame. Continue reading