A people so sharply divided on the personal merits and fitness of Davao strongman Rodrigo Duterte are now called upon to come together as one nation under God and under incoming President Duterte. This is the first paradox and order of the day after June 30. How will Duterte lead, and what kind of change will he pursue? These are but the first two most important questions.
How will he lead?
In his most significant pre-election statement during the presidential debates, Duterte said, “I will provide leadership. I will probably borrow some ideas from the others, but I will lead.” Neither Mar Roxas, nor Grace Poe Llamanzares, nor Jejomar Binay, nor Miriam Defensor Santiago said anything like it.
He elaborated on this, by assuring his audience in subsequent statements that if ever he promised to do anything he would certainly do it. He would end crime and corruption soon after taking office; end the hated contractualization of workers, which has deprived millions of security in their jobs, as one of his first acts in office.
To gain credence for his avowed agenda, he narrated how as Davao city mayor he personally led police raids where he shot hardened criminals while resisting arrest or shooting it out with the police. His vivid retelling of his own exploits drew applause from his admirers, but also harsh rebukes from his critics in the social media and elsewhere–mainly for their street-spoken vulgarities.
Not a one-man job
Yet those who were wont to shout down his critics for daring to criticize him tended to imagine him as some kind of super-hero, who would single-handedly hunt down criminals as President of the 12th most populous country on earth with the same ease as when he was the motorcycle-riding city mayor of Davao. They seem to believe it would be easier for the President to physically eliminate criminals and terrorists, just because he has declared abolishing crime and terrorism as his first priority. The opposite could be true.
As head of state and Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces of the Philippines, he may no longer even pack a Magnum 38 or a Caliber 45, for his own self-defense. He could have hunting rifles and all sorts of weapons for target practice, if he likes to hunt or shoot, but he could no longer arm himself to lead a police raid. He may have to learn from the late former President Ferdinand Marcos.
In his last years in office, Marcos, a celebrated war hero and gun enthusiast, went to the Cancun summit wearing a .22 caliber under his belt. This showed on the security cameras and he had to hand it over to the security desk. But it unhappily also landed on the front page of The New York Times. I had left the Cabinet by then, but I told Marcos it was wrong for a president to wear a gun even for his own self-defense.
The risk of being assassinated is a right that comes with the office, I said; the secret service is there precisely to protect the President. Imagine if the President outdrew an assassin, the headlines would read–“President outdraws and kills assassin,” I said. On the other hand, if the assassin was quicker, the headlines would read, “Assassin outdraws and kills the President.” In either case, the headlines would not be too flattering for the President, I said. Marcos chuckled, saying I was out of my mind, but I believe he saw the point.
So we should not expect the next President and Commander-in-Chief to be personally killing criminals even in a police shootout. We should also be prepared to understand Duterte’s “three to six months” deadline for ending corruption and crime in the same way we understand the Biblical reference to “seven days” as the length of time God created the universe and everything in it. I don’t believe we should literally hold him on to his three to six months promise.
It would be a miracle if it happened, but it should be sufficient for us to see Duterte doing everything humanly possible to end corruption and crime, regardless of its results. After all, crime, notably transnational crime, is a multi-headed hydra that has spread its tentacles around the country for many years now. It will take more than human strength to slay the beast.
As candidate, Duterte fascinated and thrilled his supporters with his spicy and vulgar speech that dismayed and offended tender sensibilities. That performance will have to end now. Duterte’s supporters who were hypnotized by the risque and vulgar language must now allow him to develop the statesmanly manners and discourse of a head of state. It is not easy to abandon longtime habits, but for God and country, it can be done, and he should do it.
Using the Cabinet
Duterte will have to make full use of his Cabinet in the way Aquino and his late mother failed to use theirs. He will have to encourage the best ideas to come from the Cabinet, acting as a Cabinet, rather than as a bunch of cronies or cheering squad whose job it is to humor the President for their own purposes.
The best way to do this is, first, to appoint to the Cabinet only the best qualified men and women who are willing to give their all without any thought of reward; second, to allow the Cabinet to make collegial decisions on major issues rather than allow each Department Head to make individual decisions without Cabinet consultations and just have the Cabinet ratify those decisions later by default.
The Marcos Cabinet continues to be cited as arguably the best our country ever had. This was probably because Marcos was also arguably the most brilliant President our country ever had; he was never afraid to appoint people who might even be brighter than he was. He did not need to be the brightest man in the room, because of his sheer position. So he did not discourage anyone from speaking out in Cabinet meetings, or outside. As management experts put it, the good manager should not mind being “the dumbest man in the room;” if he turns out to the brightest of the lot, then it only means he did not choose his people well.
Results-driven, mission oriented
That said, the President must let his people work according to their best lights, without attempting to micro-manage them. Everyone must be results-driven and mission-oriented, based on the soundest moral and legal precepts. This means the President must have a way of keeping track of his people’s performance, even without listening to their self-serving reports, and without getting in their way either.
In my 10 years in the Marcos Cabinet, which entailed speaking for the government every single day, and running a two-way information program worldwide, there was only one time the President spoke to me about my work. On the day I took my oath of office on August 16, 1969, he simply said, “I will depend upon you, carry on.” That served as my perpetual marching order every single day for the next 10 years. I resigned in 1980 for political reasons——the only Cabinet member to do so on his own, six years before the EDSA revolt. My department was abolished after I left.
In my own experience, Marcos’s extraordinary relationship with his Cabinet explains the enduring qualities of his best years in office. Hopefully, the same good fortune would favor the incoming President.
Now, what kind of change will he pursue?
Duterte has whetted his supporters’ appetite for change. And he has spoken of system change. One of his earliest statements was that he would establish a revolutionary government. Then he began to speak of federalism. These are large ideas.
By definition, a revolutionary government is the product of a revolution, not of a general election. Many feared that if Duterte had been cheated, in the same way that the vice presidential shoo-in, Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr., is currently being cheated, he would mount a people’s revolt and declare a “revolutionary government.”
This is what the military did in 1986 after their US- and civilian-assisted coup ousted Marcos, and they decided to install Cory Aquino into power, despite her having lost the snap presidential election against Marcos earlier.
No more revolutionary govt
But that option was completely vaporized after Duterte won the unofficial count, and against all fearful forecasts, all his major rivals conceded their defeat. On June 30, he will have to take his oath as President and take command of the government, while B. S. Aquino 3rd awaits his uncertain fate. Should he for any reason still decide to declare a revolutionary government, he would be ousting a duly elected government, and the people and the Armed Forces of the Philippines who had supported him until now might be compelled to go against him.
We can therefore safely write off a revolutionary government for the moment.
What about federalism? This is a popular advocacy not only in Mindanao. In 1982, I wrote one of the first political party platforms, if not indeed the very first platform, proposing a shift to the federal from the unitary system. This happened when Reuben Canoy and I organized the Social Democratic Party, a few months before Nene Pimentel and his group founded the PDP, which has become Duterte’s vehicle in this election.
But such a shift requires a revision of the Constitution, not a mere executive order or congressional legislation. This is an elaborate exercise, which cannot be done overnight.
Under the 1987 Constitution, any amendment or revision of the Constitution may be proposed by the Congress upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members, or by a constitutional convention called by Congress upon a vote of two-thirds of all its Members or by the people themselves upon the recommendation of a majority of all the Members of Congress.
Since the President is not even mentioned in this provision, Duterte will have to work discreetly through his allies in Congress if he wants to push through federalism. This is how the cookie crumbles.
But system change is meaningless unless it seeks to enlarge the people’s right to participate in running their own political and economic affairs, based upon a universal obligation to obey the moral law. Such a change envisions a change in political and economic structures which should lead to a more equitable distribution of political and economic power, and free the enslaved from their chains. But it presupposes above all an inner change in man, to raise his capacity to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, justice from injustice and the will to choose the affirmative values. The change is primarily and essentially moral before it is anything else.
This is the system change which the National Transformation Council, composed of moral and spiritual leaders from the Catholic, Protestant/Evangelical and Islamic churches and citizen servant-leaders, has been eagerly but peacefully trying to promote these last five years. It is an agenda for strengthening the moral and spiritual foundations and fabric of the nation. It is an antidote to totalitarian despotism, which celebrates power at the expense of justice, reason, and God’s Law. It is not against anyone except perhaps the devil and the damned.
Duterte and his people would be well-advised to look into this program if they wish to heal and unite the nation. It is the path less traveled by, but the surest way to reach our commonly desired immediate and distant goal.
Erratum: In my Thursday column, I wanted to say Duterte’s victory made sure a former American citizen of no known parentage would “not” be sitting as our President. The omission of the word “not” failed to convey that meaning. My apologies.