• Can Duterte do whatever he likes as our President?


    LET’S ask what President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has impelled non-believers in his omnipotence to ask: Can he do whatever he likes once he is sworn into office?

    On the eve of the May 9 elections, there was a sense of foreboding across the land that we, Filipinos, could wake up to a nightmare the day after—like (1) an election gone haywire because of massive electoral fraud, or (2) a victorious candidate, flushed with success, rushing to proclaim a revolutionary government and himself as dictator.

    In the sober light of the morning after, it seems that we have had a fairly successful election, give or take a few glitches and irregularities. And we have a clear winner in the presidential election—Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte, of Davao City

    The President-elect sometimes seems more thoughtful than candidate Duterte. Where he let cuss words and threats define his persona during the campaign, he now talks about undergoing a metamorphosis—to become maybe a statesman, and assembling the best Cabinet that he can cobble together.

    Disturbing questions
    Out of respect for his electoral triumph, it seems impolite to recall the uncomfortable and disturbing questions that Mr. Duterte provoked during the campaign.

    But based on recent developments, we are wise not to gloss over the following questions:

    1. As the 16th President of our Republic, can he really abolish Congress and any government institution or agency he does not like as he has threatened to do?

    2. As President, can he really order the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), or organize a national death squad modeled after his Davao Death Squad (DDS), to execute criminals and criminal suspects, in order to clean up the entire archipelago of criminal elements? Can he freely turn our people into bounty hunters by offering large sums of money for the killing of drug lords, drug traffickers, and other criminal suspects?

    3. As President, can he really rewrite the Constitution on his own volition and as freely as he likes?

    4. As President, can he bring into his administration members of the CPP-NPA who have been trying to overthrow the republic for over 40 years, without negotiating first a firm agreement for an end to the communist insurgency?

    To answer these questions affirmatively presumes vast powers in the presidency that only a close reading of the Constitution and the foundational principles of our democracy can confirm.

    A system of limited powers
    No such powers, I submit, are vested in the presidency. The same Consitution that allowed him to seek the office and will install him in office, limits the powers that he will wield as President.

    As President, he will see from his very first day in office that he shares the powers of office with two other branches of government, the legislative and the judicial. This was the competition that BS Aquino misguidedly tried to erase at his inaugural, by refusing to have then chief Justice Renato Corona swear him into office. The arrogant gesture, replicated in various ways throughout his term, doomed his presidency to failure.

    Duterte could be similarly misled because of his resounding electoral victory.

    Political heresy
    Some people fall into distorted notions of popular government because of misinterpretation of what majority rule truly means.

    Walter Lippmann, one of the preeminent theorists of liberal democracy, warned of a “political heresy” that infects some democracies. He wrote:

    “If all power is in the people, if there is no higher Law than their will, and if by counting their votes, their will may be ascertained—then the people may entrust their power to anyone, and the power of the pretender and the usurper is then legitimate. It is not to be challenged in that it came originally from the sovereign people.”

    This belief led many countries in the 20th century to fall under the rule of fascism and communism.

    On the other hand, liberal democracy, especially as represented by the American Constitutional system, resisted the totalitarian tide.

    The lasting significance of the liberal-democratic idea lay in this clear and simple thesis: “the sovereignty of the people is never absolute, the people are under the law, and the people may make no law which does not conform to that higher law which has been gradually revealed to the awakening conscience of mankind.”

    We, Filipinos, embraced fully this system of constitutional government and liberal democracy, when we recovered our independence and established full self-government in 1946.

    President is one official, not the republic
    Notwithstanding Mr. Duterte’s extravagant and sweeping statements, our system of constitutional government imposes very clear restraints on the powers of the President, and what he can or cannot do in office. The President is only one official of the Philippine republic; he is not the Republic.

    This is the overarching purpose and meaning of the famous system of checks and balances and of constitutional supremacy.

    To Lippmann, “the system of checks and balances is more truly democratic than one which allows majorities to do what they want when they want to do it.”

    A nation of law and consent
    Mr. Duterte may have overstated the problem of law and order, which is the cornerstone of his program of government.

    Based on the sketchy outline that he has provided, we are more likely to wind up with a police state, than with a strong and vibrant democracy.

    There’s a name for the kind of regime in which the police rule answers only to themselves. It’s called a police state.

    This is not the vision embedded in our Constitution, which envisions a nation of law and consent—rule of law combined with representative democracy.

    To return then to the question in my title, we should answer, no, President-elect Duterte cannot do whatever he pleases as our President.



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    1. What he may or may not do is different from what he can or cannot do. He may not, by law do the things which concern you, but if he believes he CAN do it, if he believes he can get away with it, he may attempt to do so. Our systematic moral corruption in govt., society, etc., may lead him to believe the Filipino people want a police state. If he believes that Filipinos will see him as a failure if he is not tough enough, he may pull the trigger.
      What is mentally entertaining is the difference in motivations between Mr. Duterte and former President Marcos. One was allegedly to fight communist takeover, but ended up as pillaging. The present situation is allegedly to prevent “pillaging” by drug dealers and criminals. The irony of the unintended consequences of moral corruption in a country!

    2. Guys… Everyone thinks he has the tendency to be dictator more than FM. If you want to stop him sign the call for his resignation. If you want him to reduce crime and drugs then give him a chance.

    3. Michael Richardson on

      Better that 100 innocent men are convicted than one guilty man goes free — ooooh – I don’t think I have remembered the quote correctly but you know what I mean!!!

    4. Very well presented, sir. I hope foul-mouthed Du30 will come to his right senses and conduct himself properly as president-elect of the minority.

    5. Rogelio Paguntalan on

      So many talented people indeed in our country… good in theory but failed in practice.. puro daldal!!! But until now no one has proposed to end the drug menace that penetrates even the most remote barangays in the Philippines. I believe President Duterte can make a difference in controlling drugs, crimes, and corruption at least as he has been doing in Davao.. Go go Mr. President.. dont mind people who are pretentious…and all-knowing.. Drugs are already available even in my home place- a remote barangay in Negros Occidental where people used to live in peace and harmony..

    6. An article should be more on constructive rather than instigative.

      What our new president is lining-up are those clues / hint or a guide to be consider usefull to clean-up this almost rotten country….

      He does not delaire or do what he wants to do… He only declared MUST STOP (for curruption / drugs / officials link to drug lord & activities) Isnt it good for our nation?

    7. Catalino Garcia on

      Aquino did whatever he wanted to do, so why can’t Duterte. The difference? Aquino said he did it in Good Faith.

    8. miguel corro on

      16 m FILIPINOS put duterte in office. foul mouth and all including warts. he thinks outside the box and has political will, which until now no one have except cheap talk let us give the leeway he needs to give us good governance ,suppress crime corruption the way he sees it. the old way never succeeded get the Filipinos out of this rut. and president digong is the way. so SHUT UP reap the benefit of a good Philippines

    9. Huwag kang maging propagandist ng mga yellow tards . makabenta..BINEBENTA mo ang oanulat mo sa mga dilawan..Hayaan mo na kumilos si DIGONG at i ayos ang bansa..Kamay na bakal ang gusto ng mga Pinoy at isa ka sa media na binanggit ni DIGONG..Gawin mo ng tama ang pag susulat na ayun kay DIGONG ng maging maayos ang bansa at mawala ang mga drug lord at corrruption na di nagawa ni Panot.Lalong naghirap ang pilipinas..

    10. If the law is not fair to us, then we are justified in seeking alternative justice.

      D30 was not elected by a majority. Only a plularity, albeit close to a majority. But majority does not necessarily mean right. For example, a Sunni in Iraq or a Shiite in Syria or a christian in either country cannot be reasonably expected to respect the will of the majority, because the will of the majority in their countries would mean their deaths.

      D30 is justified in doing what he has promised to do during the campaign. Damn the will of the majority and/or the rule of law.

      After all, according to the rule of law, the American revolution in the late 1700s and the Philippine revolution in the late 1800s were illegal and therfore wrong.

    11. Hector David on

      I think you are a great columnist and do read your articles…. but ..give the guy a break … drug lords are scared .. pushers have cut down .m shabu and illegal drugs at bargain sale…policemen and other governmen5 officials areally shaping up…and he has not even sat down as president…. he has done more to focus on crime and corruption in 2 months without welding power than Pinoy in 6 years….. support him friend for a better country and the uplifment of our countrymen .God Bless

    12. There is nothing new about declaring a revolutionary government. Cory Aquino exactly did that and no one opposed her as she was supposedly popular at that moment. Who says Duterte cannot do the same so he run the country better? The present Constitution has been a formula for deadlock, stagnation and effective one-man rule so Duterte might as well sweep away the niceties of governing under the present constitution.

    13. I agree 100% that we need a leader who can lead, has track records of economic success and incomparable courage to “short cut” ways to attain fair and advantageous results, for the good of the government and people. But as of now the courage and reputed good leadership that DUTERTE had earlier been known to possess as to achieve much for the Filipinos has turned to or actually are norms of ARROGANCE, impatience, bad-temper, impoliteness, disrespect, and “illusionary-dumbness” that are, sad to say, clear prescription and reflections for sheer dumbness, short-sigthedness, insecurity and sure failure as a leader.

      • The Manila based media kept on provoking him to say something from left of field and they made these as headlines.

      • There is a very big possibility of failure in the Duterte administration. He is 71 years old and he must have a lot of wisdom knowing his track record. He might be scaring the criminals and bad police to shape up or be eradicated. It is hard to say if this is a wrong decision. What is definitely will happen is many will die, hundreds if not thousands. Criminals will always be criminals Duterte or no Duterte. I have seen a lot of bad people in my lifetime and not one change to be good citizens.

    14. It is very early to say all of those. Remember the track record of Duterte and his profession. All I can say is, let see what will happen next after he assumes the office and what he can offer to the Republic.

    15. Totoy Reyes on

      The appointed PNP Chief, the DND Secretary, and the AFP chief of staff have to have wisdom and great judgement in the face of a Duterte-type of president. Either it would be chaos or repression should they carry out all these unreasonable order of their president. Indeed, the president is only but a cog in the wheel of democracy. The present fondness with an old man appearing to be fantasizing with his gung ho exploit should be judged carefully. It will be long six years, unless he is properly enlightened of every spark of wisdom he thought had come to his mind. He is but one. The worry is about more than a 100 million citizens.

    16. Your ideas and what Duterte is thinking is entirely different. Listening to him, he thinks he is the only person that rules, no congress, no supreme courts , no check and balance. Both of us must agree that there is a problem with drugs and criminality. Is Duterte the solution ? My answer is YES. In fact he is the only solution. Our police are corrupted. Police officers recycling drugs, police like Marcelino manufacturing drugs, EDSA incident police kidnapping Pilipinos. Courts very corrupted. This guy killed a whole family declared guilty by regional courts, guilty by appeals courts then suddenly declared innocent by Corona Supreme Court. As an ordinary citizen, I feel very insecure. There is no safe place. The voters knew what is happening that is why they voted for Duterte. It is a big gamble but Pilipinos are willing to risk part of their freedom to stop this epidemic. You are wrong when you say that peace and order and crimes are over blown. It is now an epidemic.

    17. Tama ang inyong sinabi. Bukod roon, Mas mataas ang batas sapagkat ang mga batas na iyan ay hindi basta na lang hinukay mula sa ilalim ng lupa o sinisid mula sa pusod ng dagat para gawing gabay ng mga mamamayan. Ang mga batas na iyan ay pinag-isipan, pinagdasalan at pinagkasunduan sa liwanag ng mga karanasan ng ating kasaysayan. Pero kung ang presidente ay kapani-paniwala, batay sa record ng kanyang PAGKATAO at PAGLILINGKOD “makakaya niyang iipod ang mga bundok mula kaliwa puntang kanan”. Iyon ay mangyayari kung itatrato din niya bilang panuntunan na “ang mga ipinangako niya noong nangangampanya siya ay isang UTANG na dapat bayaran hindi lamang sa loob ng anim na buwan”. Hindi niya dapat gawin ang ginawa ng ibang mayor ng kapuluan na pumupunta lang sa PALENGKE sa unang taon ng kanyang pagkapanalo at ng mga sumunod na taon ay hindi na. Ang pinapakinggan na lang ay ang feedback ng advisers na mas malimit ay one-sided, i.e., laban sa masa. Sa halip na sa palengke pumunta ay makikita halos araw-araw sa sugalan sa maynila at tagaytay.

      • Jose Samilin on

        Pakatandaan Mr. Ruben M. Dimaculangan na kahit makakaya niyang iipod ang mga bundok mula kaliwa puntang kanan, ngunit wala namang
        pagmamahal sa taungbayan, siya’y baliwala, o wala yan. Scripture says, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing, (1 Corith.13.2).

    18. Well-said Mr. Makabenta. I hope Mr. Duterte listens to what you are saying- not only for his own good, but also of the nation.

      He has all the opportunities to do good. I hope he does take all these opportunities.

      • Matagal ng stupido angmga Pilipino. Biro mo binoto si Pnoy, at ngayon si Duterte. Kay Duterte baka may pag asa pa. Kay Pnoy, look what happen. Criminality tripled. Why are the data not shown in his State of the Nation ? I was wandering, drug use up, assassins all over, traffic worst and Pnoy is saying nobody can beat his record. What a stupid guy like Pilipinos are so so stupid too.

    19. You have not been listening Mr. Macabenta to the president-elect’s instructions and pronouncements. His outbursts like “killing a dangerous drug user or peddler or drug lord ” are always qualified and preceded by cautions like “if your safety or life is in danger, and other provisions of law and the Constitution, before taking action.” The president-elect has been a prosecutor for 10 years and is a very sharp lawyer. Once he was asked if he approves of gay marriages. His answer was most admirably lawful. He said “it does not matter what I think. The law provides in the Revised Penal Code that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. That is the law.” So I am convinced that he knows and constantly reminds us that he will be true to his oath of office as a lawyer ” to always maintain allegiance to the constitution of the Philippines and to the republic for which it stands, and obey its lawful orders” Even Sen. Miriam Santiago wisely defined Mayor Duterte’s reaction to criminals as “preemptive self defense.”

      Under the Revised Penal Code this manner of reacting to criminal (even killing them” is taken up as “justifying circumstance” absolving one of criminal liability). This preemptive self defense is also sanctioned by the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights and practised by the US as the Bush Doctrine (justifying the armed attack against Saddam Hussein and other dangerous criminals).

      In view of these legal considerations, I submit that there is nothing to fear in the president-elect’s hostile behavior against confirmed criminals. The welfare of the state and the people demands such ‘preemptive self defense.” .

      • so we will accept it that those killed in recent “encounter” with so called “drug dealers” are “nanlaban”. Dead man tell no tales.

    20. Sam De Asis on

      Yes… he can.
      If a housewife in Cory was able to do that why not a lawyer in Digong! Remember? Cory claimed she was the ‘elected president’ of the 1986 Snap Election but out of nowhere declared herself as a ‘revolutionary president’, issued executive order that abolished the constitution, the parliament, supreme court and declared all positions in government vacant and replaced by whoever with nice-sounding names, picked a select people to draft a constitution, etc. Where in the world you will find that an executive order could abolish the constitution, etc.? Onli in Pinas!
      There is a constitutional provision about declaring martial law but nothing about a president declaring himself a “revolutionary president”. Cory’s case is a glaring precedent.

    21. Amnata Pundit on

      As long as the objective is to eliminate all the criminals from our streets and from our government, I don’t care how he does it as long as he does it. This is war against criminality in and out of government, and all is fair in love and war, isn’t it? If the democratic benevolent Americans always brush aside “conscientious objections” when they wage war and kill millions, why can’t Duterte do the same when he is not going after non-existent weapons of mass destruction but after the criminals and the corrupt? Now that we finally have a president who is willing to wage real war against rampant criminality, monumental corruption and degrading inequality, we will balk because of the rule of law? If the Catholic Church and the Americans adhered to the rule of law, they wouldn’t have their empires. A revolution is not for sissies.

      • The ends, no matter how sought after or celebrated, do not justify the means if the means to those ends are reprehensible, immoral or extrajudicial – beyond the law.

        Leave the Church and Americans actions out of this.
        If the PNP starts acting as if they are ‘johny on the spot’ judge, juries and executioners, the Philippines will be digging it’s own grave. Corrupt law enforcers will abuse the power of the badge to carry out whatever acts (illegal or not) against suspects or non-suspects that they wish – all under the guise of crime-busting. This type of mentality breeds a culture of sickness and impunity.

      • The end does not justify the means. What if innocent people are killed by mistake? Should it now be guilty until proven innocent?

        Nobody trust the justice system. The process to determine guilt or innocence of suspected criminals is very slow. Chief Justice Sereno and the entire judicial branch should be held responsible.