• The Duterte-Alvarez show: Good cop, bad cop

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    Ricardo Saludo

    IT’S got to be an act. That’s the only explanation for it: House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has this unfailing knack of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, so to speak, just when President Rodrigo Duterte scores with the public, the media, some key sector.

    Take the past week. The signatures of Their Honors the Justices were not yet dry on the Supreme Court’s 11-3-1 decision upholding the constitutionality of Duterte’s May 25 martial law proclamation over Mindanao and nearby islands. Then Alvarez has the bright idea of calling for five more years of military rule, to wipe out rebels and terrorists from the region.

    Last Saturday he made sure to make headlines by telling the leading anti-administration paper that “if I can convince my colleagues, I will push for an extension until 2022, because two months is too short.”

    Never mind that the Commander in Chief has said over and over that he will listen to his generals and no one
    else on whether to let martial law last one day more than its expiry on July 22. Not to congressmen or senators. Not to businessmen or demonstrators. Not to churchmen or commentators.

    With Alvarez’s unsolicited suggestion to keep the troops in charge of Mindanao till Duterte finally leaves Malacañang Palace for his humble abode in Davao City five years from now, the Speaker has rekindled fears of Marcos-style martial law, after the military’s no-abuse record eased concerns.

    Now, with the specter of repeated anniversaries of military rule, even the level-headed and the anti-leftist rightists might actually pay attention to the insurgent Communist Party of the Philippines in its wild claim yesterday that the “forked tongue” Duterte was laying the groundwork for nationwide martial law.

    (Of all critics, the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, have no iota of moral standing to point fingers at imagined or real autocrats, not with their hands stained by the blood of hundreds of their own cadres ruthlessly purged in the late 1980s, plus unarmed innocents in the thousands. But that’s another story.)

    Back to the Honorable Speaker of the House. With his own fellow representatives still howling over his 2017-2022 martial-law trial balloon, Alvarez sends up another sure-fire party pooper.

    Two days after Palace relations with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines looked set to get better after the election of Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles as CBCP president, vice Lingayen-Dagupan prelate Socrates Villegas, who had not-too-subtly called on Catholics not to shade Duterte’s name on the ballot, the Speaker decides to ruffle the revered men of the cloth.

    He let it be known that legalizing same-sex marriage might be good to see on his legislative legacy. That would surely remind the bishops of the President’s own campaign pledge to allow like genders to wed, even though he publicly backed away from that un-Catholic idea not too long ago in March.

    Duterte’s lightning rod?

    If in his untimely and unseemly pronouncements the Speaker wittingly or unwittingly aims to draw lightning bolts of criticism and animosity from the President, it may be working, at least some of the time.

    Days after placing Mindanao under military rule before cutting short his state visit to Moscow, President Duterte told soldiers in Jolo, mixing English and Filipino:

    “While the police, not to mention the Armed Forces, have not said that the Philippines is safe, this martial law will continue. I will not listen to anyone else. The Supreme Court, congressmen, they’re not out here. … Why, are they the ones facing death? Are they the ones suffering here? They will suffer the wounds of war?”

    That Palace throwdown of verbal gauntlets would tend to invite its co-equal branches to cross constitutional swords with the tough-talking Chief Executive. But as media got ready with headlines like “Defiant Duterte dangles dictatorship, dismisses decrees and decisions dismantling defense department dominance down south,” Alvarez let loose with his own missive against the judiciary.

    When martial law opponents petitioned the Supreme Court to make Congress hold a joint session to review and vote on martial law, the Speaker let it be known that if the magistrates acceded and issued the order, “I would rip it up. …They should review their law books. How can the Supreme Court dictate to Congress what to do? We’re a coequal body,”

    Which then opened the door for Duterte to wax deferential, presidential and constitutional, promising to abide by any decision from the high court the very day after Alvarez thumbed his nose at Their Honors.

    “Of course, we are bound by rules,” the Commander in Chief told another military assembly in Sultan Kudarat. “That’s already the Supreme Court. … I’m sure that they will take into account the fighting and what’s behind it.”
    Good cop, bad cop.

    When showtime gets real

    If all the foregoing is an act, it’s vintage Duterte. After all, he was the presidentiable who made everyone think he wasn’t sure about running, and even missed the deadline for filing certificates for candidacy. Thus, rivals spared him from the attacks that sank frontrunners like then Vice-President Jejomar Binay.

    Alvarez’s nastiness toward the judiciary allowed Duterte to pledge compliance to the Supreme Court, wiping away his earlier defiance of both legislative and judicial branches if they tried to void martial law. With such presidential deference to the bench, in stark contrast to the Speaker’s unbowed arrogance, Their Honors got one more reason to rule for Malacañang.

    As for the five-year martial law balloon, now that even the Palace and the Armed Forces have shot it down, one or two years of military rule suddenly appears reasonable, if not positively democratic. It certainly looks much better than if the discussion was only about months or weeks of extension, not years.

    And if it works with Congress and the courts, why not the Church? If the CBCP gets friendly with the President to rein in the Speaker, the latter’s same-sex marriage idea would have served its purpose.

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