FLUSHED with victory over the large turnout at the government-funded Luneta rally in support of its “war on drugs,” Malacañang appears to have adopted a more aggressive governing style, which includes a more intense implementation of its seven-month-old anti-narcotics campaign, a “take no prisoners” committee overhaul of the Senate, and the likely impeachment of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. It seems President Rodrigo Duterte is on a roll.
Not quite. The Cabinet may have slipped on a banana peel after members of the Commission on Appointments, a constitutional body, uncovered that DU30’s friend and foreign secretary, Perfecto Yasay, Jr., had been living as a naturalized American citizen for many years until two days before he was named to his current post. And the smoke of corruption appears to have entered certain circles close to the President.
Let us turn to these developments.
The war on drugs
After the successful pro-government rally, a number of DU30 supporters urged the President to “relaunch” his controversial ‘war’, which has already killed some 7,000 drug suspects since July 1. They apparently believed truth was on their side. Kierkegaard once said that “when truth conquers with the help of 10,000 yelling men—even supposing that that which is victorious is truth; with the forms and manner of the victory a greater untruth is victorious.” They apparently mistook the public aversion to drugs as support for the summary drug killings.
It took Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. to point out that there was no need for a relaunch, since DU30 never abandoned his campaign, but merely shifted the primary responsibility for it from the Philippine National Police (PNP) to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). Evasco’s point was well-taken, but he had no business correcting anyone like Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, DU30’s top Senate sycophant, because his job description, extremely powerful though he may be, does not include speaking for the government.
Operation Triple Barrel is expected to supersede Operation Double Barrel, official sources said, with the same objective of “neutralizing” (terminating) illegal drug personalities. As of now, the Supreme Court has issued two writs of amparo to several victims of “Operation Tokhang” in Payatas, Quezon City and in Antipolo City, and a lawyer has filed a petition before the Court questioning the constitutionality of PNP Command Memorandum Circular 16-2016, authorizing the “neutralization” of illegal drug personalities under Project Double Barrel.
These legal processes are hopefully expected to make the anti-drug enforcers more compliant with due process and the rule of law. Alfredo Lim, a former mayor and chief of police of Manila, who also used to be director of the National Bureau of Investigation, recently told the Philippine Constitution Association that it was standard practice, during his time, to file a case against any policeman who killed a criminal suspect, even during a shootout; it was then for the courts under due process to acquit him of the charges if he was innocent. But so far only one policeman is reported to have been charged in connection with the 7,000 or so killings.
The biggest drug case involves former Justice Secretary and incumbent Senator Leila de Lima who has been charged and arrested for alleged drug dealing at the New Bilibid Prisons when she was still justice secretary. But this has become a wild political game after De Lima and her supporters charged that DU30 was trying to silence her after she had exposed his alleged involvement in the Davao Death Squad when he was still mayor of Davao City. Two “self-confessed DDS killers” have tried to implicate DU30—one Edgar Matobato and another Arthur Lascañas—who have both testified before the Senate. At his first Senate committee appearance, Lascañas refused to corroborate Matobato’s testimony, but he has since changed his position and now swears against DU30.
The accusations against DU30 and his own accusations against De Lima have drawn serious reactions from here and abroad. Referring to the latter, somebody from Human Rights Watch (International) said DU30 was willing to debase Philippine governance to the level of personal vendetta. There are more poisoned arrows like this from various human rights organizations and in the media.
Won’t be impeached, but will impeach Ombudsman
But even if DU30 were guilty of any of the accusations against him, the constitutional and legal situation does not allow his prosecution now for crimes he may have committed before he became President on June 30, 2016. He can only be held accountable for crimes he has committed after that, and after he shall have been impeached and removed from office. Impeachment itself is a remote possibility because of his total control of the House of Representatives, which has the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment, and the Senate, which has the sole power to try and decide all impeachment cases.
Some human rights activists are inclined to believe their best chances lie at the International Criminal Court at The Hague if they could develop the appropriate case against DU30. A number of countries have been able to bring some despots to justice by charging them with crimes against humanity before the ICC. This is a long shot, but that’s how difficult and desperate the fight is.
In the meantime, highly reliable sources have revealed that Malacañang has given the go-ahead for the filing of an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Morales, allegedly for her failure to file the appropriate criminal charges against high officials of the Aquino administration who were involved in the manipulation of at least P149 billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds, which the Supreme Court has ruled as unconstitutional.
Like the President, the Vice President, the Members of the Supreme Court, and the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, the Ombudsman may be removed from office, on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. Lawyers were reportedly working overtime on the paperwork, but no one was talking about the grounds to be invoked. Our sources said they were working against a very tight deadline. Some analysts view the unexpected overhaul of the Senate committees as a logical part of the preparations for a Senate impeachment trial.
A Senate storm
The reshuffle took the Senate by storm. On Monday, the world boxing champion cum Senator from Mindanao Manny Pacquiao rose without warning and moved to vacate the position of Senate President Pro Tempore occupied by Liberal Party stalwart Frank Drilon. He was instantly replaced by Senator Ralph Recto, who until then had been the Minority Leader, a position now occupied by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who had accused DU30 of wanting to kill him. Sen. Bam Aquino lost his committee on education to Chiz Escudero; Sen. Kiko Pangilinan lost his agriculture committee to Sen. Cynthia Villar; and Sen. J.V. Ejercito got the committee on health. The lines have been drawn.
It now remains to be seen whether the change will produce more substantial debates, or is it really just intended to make it easy for the Senate to go through the next impeachment trial?
In the meantime, DU30 must deal with his own problems in the Cabinet. The first of these has to do with his Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Perfecto Yasay Jr. He has been exposed as a foreigner—or at least not a Filipino national of unquestioned and exclusive allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines. After DU30 proclaimed an “independent foreign policy” from the United States, blasted the US for the Bud Dajo massacre of Filipinos by American troops in southern Philippines in 1904, called Barack Obama a “son of a whore,” and threatened to separate economically and military from the US for reasons of sovereign self-respect, there is absolutely no reason for him to allow Yasay to stay in office one minute longer, after the Commission on Appointments had uncovered that he had been living as a naturalized American citizen for many years until two days before he was named to his current position.
If the President knew nothing about it—and we suspect he did not—why did he not? In any self-respecting government, the position of foreign secretary is the premier Cabinet post. It’s only here that we have reduced the foreign secretary to a glorified clerk, in favor a Cabinet Secretary who is the real clerk in other governments. What kind of due diligence did DU30 do before he named the foreigner to his position?
And now that he knows Yasay is bogus material, what is he going to do about him?
What he will do to him will show us what he will do if and when more serious problems should arise regarding the integrity of his administration, particularly of the people closest to him. Right now, unbeknownst to the President, there is a quiet game going on among friendly observers in Davao. According to my friends there, they have a nominating process going on, to determine who will emerge as the “least likely to be corrupted” among his family members and trusted officials, and who will be the richest in two years. I have been asked if I would be willing to chair this small committee; I have humbly declined, believing this honor belongs to a more qualified Mindanaoan.