A TIME magazine online survey shows President Rodrigo Duterte as an early frontrunner in a list of 100 most influential people in the world today, leading, among others, Pope Francis, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, singer Beyonce, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates, and former Democratic Party presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders. “Influential” means having “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or behavior of someone or something” for good or bad. It is not clear in what ways non-Filipinos see DU30 as a positive influence upon their lives, but very few Filipinos doubt that if and when he says he will kill you or have you killed, you can afford to ignore it.
Such is DU30’s influence upon his lackeys in Congress that when he said he wanted the death penalty passed, they completely forgot all qualms of conscience, and the country’s treaty commitment under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its Second Optional Protocol to abolish the death sentence; and the Speaker quickly expelled from their House positions all those who invoked their consciences to uphold that commitment. These include former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was unceremoniously divested of her deputy speakership, despite her apparent closeness to the President.
But after Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano filed an impeachment complaint against DU30 over the drug killings, and the President called on his sycophants in Congress not to threaten Vice President Leni Robredo with possible impeachment, the congressmen decided, according to Secretary of Justice Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd, to proceed nevertheless, saying impeachment is a congressional prerogative, rather than the call of the President. Ironically, it took Aguirre, a member of DU30’s inside clique, to make the distinction on behalf of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. Now, DU30 says he would defer to the decision of the rubber-stamp Congress. He would let the tail wag the head.
We can’t be fooled all the time
Clearly, we are being played. For a while, I thought the President deserved to be given the benefit of the doubt, and in my column on Monday, I allowed myself to speculate that some shaft of light must have begun to break through the thick fog and darkness. But it has since become obvious that the President is having the fun of his life—at our people’s expense. Well, perhaps, it’s all our fault. Did not his spokesman warn us, after all, that three out of five statements that the President makes should be taken with lots of salt? Our mistake. My humble request then is: Do whatever you want to do, so long as you can get away with it, but please don’t take us for complete fools, Mr. President. Many of us can be fooled all the time, all of us can be fooled some of the time, but not all of us can be fooled all the time, and by the same fraudsters.
What Leni should have done
I do not carry any torch for Leni Robredo. I am a Bicolano, and for the entire duration of my Cabinet and legislative life (1969-2001), I enjoyed the unsullied trust and support of the Bicolanos. For that reason, I respect the confidence and esteem my fellow Bicolanos have for Leni Robredo. I knew her late husband Jesse much better than I know her, and I have always felt that if there was anything she could have done for him and for the country after he died in that plane crash, it was to make sure that before agreeing to run for vice president in the last election, she would demand that she be told the whole truth and nothing but the truth about his tragic death. Many believe he was killed in that “accident” and that some people knew about it and profited by it. Her failure to insist on this has somehow colored my opinion of her fitness for high office.
But DU30’s unease over Leni Robredo may be entirely different from mine. Like Ferdinand Marcos, who took the brunt of the relentless attack of the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN and Manila Chronicle while Fernando Lopez sat next to him as his Vice President, DU30 must be having the same bouts of “allergy” to and anxiety about his Vice President, as Robredo’s Liberal Party colleagues scheme on how to accelerate the presidential succession process to make her President. That is a legitimate concern. As a citizen, my concern is simple enough. I fear that should anything happen to DU30 before his term is over, certain extra-constitutional forces might be tempted to challenge Robredo’s legitimacy because of the unresolved election protest against her by former Senator Bongbong Marcos.
Poised to succeed
First in line would be the fascistic Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. who would love to use his Kilusang Pagbabago and its grassroots arm, Masa-Masid, to proclaim a revolutionary government and destroy the constitutional line of succession and the tripartite political system. This organization is led by central committee members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and has under its control the various anti-poverty agencies of government in direct contact with the masses. It seems eminently qualified to undertake this action. Next in line could be the military, under a reformed leadership. There seems to be no sign of this at this point, but it could be developed just as it happened during the Cory Aquino years.
Impeaching Robredo would be technically difficult to accomplish, unless the Constitution and the actual proceedings were thoroughly perverted and manhandled. Assuming that a full one-third of all the members of the House sign the verified complaint or the resolution of impeachment, as required by the Constitution, and the Articles of Impeachment are transmitted to the Senate for trial without any floor debate, there is no assurance that the Senate impeachment court will be the only court that would judge the proceedings.
The nation as such, and the international community, which has long weighed into the controversy, will judge not only the respondent, but also the prosecutors and the senator-judges. In the case of Estrada’s impeachment trial, the media had succeeded in creating a very strong bias against the respondent. In a Robredo impeachment trial, the bias could be in favor of the respondent. The trial would be electrically charged several times than the Estrada and Corona trials were.
What crime, what motive?
First of all, what would be the grounds for impeachment? Culpable violation of the Constitution? Treason? Bribery? Graft and corruption? Other high crimes? Betrayal of public trust? The prosecution could submit any number of articles of impeachment just to initiate trial, then whittle them down to the barest minimum for lack of evidence, as happened during the Corona impeachment trial.
In that trial, the prosecution began with eight articles, then withdrew five for lack of evidence, then ended with only one article which, strictly speaking, did not constitute an “impeachable offense.” But Corona had been sufficiently scandalized by the propaganda in the media that it became no longer relevant that under the law an official who had failed to file the correct statement of assets, liabilities and net worth was required to correct his errors or misstatements, without being accused of having committed a crime.
So far, Robredo’s “biggest crime” is her highly critical statements on the drug killings, as contained in that short video she sent to the 60th annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria. Assuming that everything she said there was in error, even maliciously so, it cannot possibly constitute an impeachable offense, as defined by the Constitution.
Her prosecutors will have to dig deeper for something that could scandalize the Senate and the nation. So far, they have found nothing. Should she be impeached and tried over nothing, DU30’s Congress allies could be provoking a potential unrest greater than they have ever imagined. It is quite obvious therefore that Robredo’s impeachment is not the solution to DU30’s perceived problems about his succession.
The only solution, in my view, is for the Marcos protest at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) to move and be resolved as quickly as possible. Should Marcos prevail, DU30 would have found a Vice President who is fundamentally an ally, without any links to the “yellows” who represent the biggest trouble for his administration. Should Robredo on the other hand prevail, DU30 may have to seriously consider what until now he has spoken of lightly—that is to say, asking for her hand in marriage, with the consent of his children by his former wife and Leni’s children and congressman-boyfriend, thereby keeping the line of succession within the DU30 family.
Robredo is a widow, and DU3O’s marriage has been annulled. He has hinted at this more than once, and with his recent conciliatory words on the Catholic Church, they could even have a Catholic wedding, with all the bishops in attendance. All’s well that ends well.
Shooting all the messengers
But before we go, we have to dispose of one small thing. What to do with The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, Time, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg, the whole caboodle of international media that has gotten into DU30’s hair? These are the bearers of the bad news, and it seems the government’s decision is to shoot all of them. Even the government’s own messengers have joined the melee and are not just proclaiming DU30’s good news, but also shooting down everybody else.
I have personally seen all this, having been in charge of the government’s information work from 1969 (three years before martial law) until 1980, when I left the Marcos government. The government and the media will always be adversaries, but government must exert its very best effort to enlarge the area of understanding and mutual respect between officials and media practitioners. It doesn’t pay to accuse media of destabilizing government even when there seems to be some nascent signs of it. A constitutional and democratic government that can be destabilized by mere news reports, which it says have no basis, may not really be worth having or quarreling about.