Duterte’s conciliatory statement
President B.S. Aquino 3rd and Vice President Jejomar Binay must have heaved a sigh of relief upon hearing that presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte does not intend to file criminal charges against them after their term ends on June 30. Nobody expected this, after Duterte has expressed his desire to revive the death penalty in order to hang criminals. But it cannot mean very much, unless justice and the rule of law would remain in the President’s tight grip as it has these last six years.
Anyone who was widowed from the siege of Zamboanga or the massacre at Mamasapano, or anybody else, could file the charges, and if the criminal justice system had begun to function, and there was the slightest public support behind them, Duterte would be foolish to stake his political prestige in trying to quash them. This would be particularly true in the case of Aquino, whose purported crimes are still fresh in the people’s minds.
In the case of Binay, all of his supposed wrongdoings were alleged to have been committed and correspondingly dealt with when he was still city mayor of Makati; they were recycled only during the last campaign to prevent him from being elected president. They had already served their purpose; as Vice President, his only real offense was his desire to become president, and he has already paid for it.
Justice as a priority
But while jailing Aquino is not a declared priority, “not jailing” him cannot be a declared priority, either. Duterte’s first duty is to the Filipino people, to make sure that justice and the rule of law follow their normal course. Various parties that have personally borne injustice have a right on justice after Aquino.
What is the reason for Duterte’s statement?
This was probably intended to disarm or defang Aquino, who has already set in motion a plan to impeach and remove Duterte as soon as he assumes office so that he could be replaced by the Liberal Party vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo. The Independent candidate Sen. Bongbong Marcos had been leading Robredo by as much as a million votes, but was mysteriously overtaken by her in the unofficial PPCRV count after a Smartmatic operative changed the script at the transparency server. She ended with some 200,000 votes ahead of Marcos in the now assailed unofficial count.
Duterte’s removal would ensure the LP’s continued control of government, and Aquino’s extended immunity from prosecution and imprisonment for his unpunished offenses.
The just-concluded elections have made sure that even if Aquino and the LP lost the presidency, they remain in control of the two Houses of Congress, whose first ignoble act under Aquino’s presidency was to impeach and remove the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona on a “non-impeachable offense” at Aquino’s behest. Robredo is expected to play her part in this.
The tough-talking Duterte, who has threatened to hang criminals, does not have enough political allies in Congress to blunt this move. The most he can do at this point, it seems, is to preempt his enemies by making good his campaign threat to abolish Congress and establish a revolutionary government. But this is easier said than done.
What about the military?
Where will the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, not to mention the public and the dominant moral forces, go if and when that happens? Will the ousted politicians take it sitting down? Duterte’s reported offer of four Cabinet posts to the communist Left has already provoked loud grumbling inside the AFP and the PNP.
Duterte’s apparent decision to form a coalition government with the Left is not the result of a joint victory earned at the polls—Duterte ran as a candidate of the PDP—it is simply a decision Duterte unilaterally made after the polls.
So while Duterte, in order to blunt the move to rob him of his presidency, could still proclaim, if he so wills or dares, a revolutionary government in active partnership with the Left, the danger is real that that very same partnership could prompt the military and the police to wage their own counter-revolt. Military analysts are particularly wary that a general “ceasefire” between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDF under the new Commander-in-Chief could simply freeze all military activities against their armed enemies, while the latter continue to build up their forces and inflict casualties on the government.
The unseen quagmire
This is the quagmire that appears to be in the making, except that not enough people seem to see it. Some kind of secret horse-trading could be going on, to effect a workable “compromise.” We dare not speculate on its contents right now, but there are abundant signs. The reported telephone call of US President Barack Obama to officially congratulate Duterte in Davao, even before he is officially proclaimed “President-elect,” could be Big Brother’s signal to the Aquino forces to hold their horses.
This is a marked improvement upon what US Ambassador Harry Thomas did to and for Aquino in 2010. Long before the Congress finished the national canvass and proclaimed the President-elect, Thomas officially called on Aquino at his residence on Times Street, Quezon City, and congratulated him as “President-elect.” Thereafter, other members of the diplomatic community followed. Aquino then became most docile to every American initiative.
It is to be hoped that Obama’s action would help calm down the various forces that are out to rob Duterte of his presidency. The plan was apparently all in place a week before May 9; on Friday, May 6, three days before the voting, an important businessman with very close connections to the Aquinos told the members of his board at a board meeting that “Duterte was unstoppable, but that Leni won.” Notice, this was three days before the election, but he did not say, “Leni will win,” but rather that, “Leni won.”
Will Aquino and the LP be prepared to undo their well-laid out plans after one important phone call?
Regardless of the various forces at play, one decisive factor seems to be Aquino’s character. He is determined and hostile. In his bid for the presidency, he had to rely on the passive, if not active cooperation of then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in order to get his pre-determined plurality of 5 million votes over his closest rival. And he got it. But about a year later, when people started asking him about his program of government, he decided to jail Arroyo on trumped up charges to show people that he had a program. She remains in medical detention until now.
While trying to impeach and remove the late Chief Justice Corona, he made full use of the services of then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and his opposition colleagues, Senators Ramon Revilla, Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada, who voted with 17 others for Corona’s conviction and removal. But after he got rid of Corona and assumed virtual control of Congress and the Judiciary, he turned around and had Enrile, Revilla and Estrada accused of plunder and jailed without conviction or trial. Only Enrile has been allowed to post bail for reason of health and age.
What I am trying to say here is this: Assuming a compromise has been forged, or could be forged, to allow Duterte to stay as President, without risking a revolutionary government, how long will the Aquino forces honor such arrangement?