President Rodrigo Duterte promised change. And within 100 days he delivered. But it is change that tends to divide, rather than unite, the nation. In one fell swoop, he has changed the very concept and course of the presidency, the rule of law, the moral value of good and bad, of right and wrong, and the country’s foreign relations. Many who should have rejected the wrong things he said chose to applaud, embrace and glorify him instead. Scoffing at all moral, spiritual, and constitutional norms, they used the social media to silence or threaten DU30’s critics.
The institutions charged with providing the necessary check-and-balance to the presidency have undergone not just a change of skin but also a change of purpose and character. Congress has ceased to be a co-equal and coordinate branch of government, and is now a mere appendage of the Presidency. The Church has chosen to be silent.
What happened to Congress
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are led by untested politicians whose most outstanding qualification is that they are both from Mindanao, and members of PDP-Laban, DU30’s adopted party, which did not have more than five visible organic members before May, but which has since been swamped with political turncoats after DU30’s victory. With no will or mind of its own, this rubber stamp of a Congress will railroad anything DU30 wants.
He wants the death penalty, so no one in Congress even asks if there is moral, scientific, constitutional or popular support for the draconian idea. He wants a federal system of government, and no one sees that our problems are rooted in our presidential form of government and have nothing to do with the unitary character of our Republic. Moreover, President DU30 has no assigned role to play in amending or revising the Constitution.
But the leaders and members of Congress are eager to convene themselves as a constituent assembly in order to act on the desired shift. None of them seems to realize that they already lost all their credibility and legitimacy when they put themselves inside DU30’s pocket.
In their effort to shield DU30 from the effects of the drug killings, the Senate “super majority” voted to remove Sen. Leila de Lima as chair of the committee on justice and human rights. This was the first time it happened in the 100-year-old Senate. De Lima was clearly singled out after her inquiry into extrajudicial killings started listening to witness Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed killer, who claimed to have participated in some Davao Death Squad killings during the time of Mayor DU30.
This was not at all necessary. The majority could have prevented the airing of any testimony against DU30 because even if the alleged crime had been committed so many years ago, the alleged offender was now President and he may not be investigated by Congress or any of its committees, unless he has already been impeached by the House and was now being tried by the Senate. The Senate majority leader could have moved the motion, and that would have ended the Matobato show. But the majority chose to be bloody.
More damning and deplorable than this is the House inquiry on De Lima’s alleged involvement in the drugs protection racket at the new Bilibid Prisons when she was still justice secretary. It, too, has not happened before, that members of one House had to investigate a member of the other House, not “in aid of legislation,” but to try to pin her down on a serious criminal activity. The sole intent appeared to be to shame De Lima and please DU30.
What I could not understand was why Secretary of Justice Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd failed to file criminal charges in court against De Lima given the testimonies at the Senate inquiry. And how come that an overwhelming majority of the witnesses against De Lima belonged to a politically influential religious sect, whose wrath she had incurred when she was still secretary?
What happened to the Church
Another institution that seems to have changed is the Catholic Church, which has long carried the torch for human life, human rights and human dignity. In the face of DU30’s diminution of these values, which threatens the very soul of the nation, why is there an “epidemic of silence” in the hierarchy? Aside from Archbishop Socrates Villegas, archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines; Archbishop Emeritus Oscar V. Cruz, former CBCP president; Archbishop of Lipa Ramon Arguelles; Auxiliary Archbishop of Manila Broderick Pabillo; and some priests like the Redemptorist Fr. Amado Picardal, who have given their individual statements, the Church has so far failed to speak with one voice, and with the same conviction and vigor as she did during Martial Law. Is the situation more benign than Martial Law?
Last week, the four dioceses on Negros island, in a joint pastoral letter, said they were greatly disturbed by the government’s “inadequate action” to stop the drug killings and bring those responsible to justice. The letter was signed by Bishop Patricio Bauzon of Bacolod, Bishop Julito Cortez of Dumaguete, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, and the diocesan administrator of Kabankalan Father Rolando Nueva.
“While we commend the government for its political will and determination in addressing the terrible drug menace that has long plagued our country, we strongly urge that this be done within the bounds of law and with full respect for human rights,” the joint pastoral letter said. It deplored DU30’s “incendiary statements,” which “tend to encourage the killing of drug suspects, now numbering 3,800, according to reports. But these are only four of close to a hundred dioceses.
Silence in Manila and Davao
The Archdiocese of Manila, which used to reverberate with the booming voice of the late Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin during the Marcos years, has become far too serene under Cardinal Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, whom the Vatican reporter John Allen likes to describe as the next Pope. Pabillo, who heads the Episcopal Commission on the Laity, is seen being more active than Tagle in taking up the issue of drug killings.
In Davao, DU30’s home city, the church has also yet to be heard on the same issue. The last church statement on the issue in Davao was issued by Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, co-convenor of the Bishops-Ulama Conference in Mindanao, when he was still the archbishop and DU30 the mayor. On Sept. 19, Capalla hosted an anniversary celebration of the Bishops-Ulama conference, which DU30 had earlier agreed to grace as guest of honor. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came for breakfast with the bishops and ulama before flying out of the country that same day, but DU30 failed to send word that he was not coming at all.
In a statement yesterday Capalla urged DU30 to “listen to the people.” “Wrong is wrong even if everybody is doing it, and right is right even if nobody is doing it,” the Archbishop said. “Our sense of morality, our moral values, our sense of right and wrong is no longer as strict as it ought to be. Our conscience has become callous. But still the end does not justify the means.”
More frightening than DU30
What people hear from DU30 is often frightening enough, but what we hear from his blind followers is far more so. Although he recently apologized to the Jews for thoughtlessly comparing the 6 milion victims of the Holocaust to the victims of his drug killings—as did his ambassador-designate to the United Nations, Teddy Locsin Jr.— DU30 tends to suggest he is a Third World remake of Adolf Hitler. And the adulation he gets from his rabid followers seems to replicate the adulation that the naive Germans paid to the rising Nazi leader before the world pronounced him as a danger to humanity.
This is where the real danger lies. There is more to fear from our own naivete than from the excesses of a morally and constitutionally challenged president, said a completely apolitical pastor last Sunday.
The presidency is the first thing DU30 has changed. Although he is not the first President to exhibit authoritarian or narcissistic tendencies, he is the first who promised to kill and did kill and was wildly praised for delivering on his promise — mostly by fanatics who welcomed the killings so long as their friends or loved ones were spared. Unfortunately, international opinion has been less tolerant, and he has sailed into a storm that put him in direct confrontation with US President Barack Obama, UN secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the European Union, and the world of civilized opinion.
This has affected the value of the peso, stock market prices, the volume of foreign investments, and the esteem we enjoy in the international community. DU30 is the first President to use foul and unprintable language to deliver his key messages to foreign leaders. As a consequence of his personal resentment against 0bama, Ban Ki-moon, the EU and the purveyors of Western opinion, DU30 has announced an “independent” foreign policy, removed from our fabled “special relations” with the United States, and pivoting toward China and Russia, the country’s principal Cold War ideological adversaries.
The details of this diplomatic shift have yet to be announced. But already the DU30 government has decided to acquire military helicopters from Russia, at the same time terminate the holding of joint naval patrol of the South China Sea with the US, and any further joint military exercises under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement. Together with the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, these constitute the foundation of the security alliance between the two countries. Each of these agreements may be terminated by either party upon one year’s notice.
They do not prevent the Philippines from reaching out to Japan, Australia, China and Russia, but instead of simply broadening alliances with the US, Japan, Austrlia, China and Russia, DU30 with his zero experience in international relations, assisted by Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, with his own zero experience in diplomacy, would like to remove all the eggs inside the US security basket and put them inside the Chinese and Russian baskets. Where this will take us, no one knows. Since foreign policy is primarily a mirror reflection of domestic policy, will our alliance with the lone remaining communist giant require a communist government under DU30?
What happened in Turkey
Some DU30 supporters are worried that what happened recently to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could happen to DU30. Turkey, a strong US NATO ally, made a sudden about-face in favor of Russia. After that, a rogue faction of the military attacked the presidential palace and Parliament. The coup failed, but 238 were killed, 2,200 injured, and 18,000 detained. Erdogan, a former city mayor of Istanbul, has since named a US-based Islamic preacher (Fetulah Gulen) as the man behind the failed coup.
With close to 3 million Filipinos in North America who are more pro-American than the Jews, is a Filipino Fetulah Gulen a remote possibility?
The rule of law
The other thing that has changed almost beyond recognition is the rule of law. DU30 has become a law unto himself, and even the Supreme Court has been infected by this lack of regard for the rule of law. Lawyer Manuelito Luna points this out in his Motion for Reconsideration on the High Court’s ruling on Rizalito David’s case against the Senate Electoral Tribunal on Sen. Grace Poe’s eligibility to sit in the Senate. Associate Justice Marvic Leonen’s ponencia nixes the Constitution in favor of his personal advocacy on behalf of foundlings who are not citizens under the Constitution, but whom Leonen declares as “natural-born Filipinos.” More later.