“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President (or Vice President or Acting President) of the Philippines, preserve and defend the Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. So help me God” (In case of affirmation, last sentence will be omitted.)”
— Oath of President of the Philippines or Vice President or Acting President under Section 5, Article VII of the Philippine Constitution
JUNE 30 is the first day of the Duterte presidency. He takes his oath of office before 600 guests—special friends, favored leaders, selected members of the diplomatic corps and others in Malacañang. His special message to the people—don’t go to Malacañang; just watch the proceedings on your television set.
This is the projected installation of the man who garnered an unprecedented electoral vote in the history of this country’s presidential election. So the 16 million voters are getting what they deserve—a sideshow at their respective residences. No Luneta oath-taking—that is too pedestrian for the taste of the man of the people. Does this not sound contradictory? There seems to be a very wide gap between theory and practice and it is only the first day.
Symbolism and perception
The presidential advisers should have paid particular attention to this little detail that would have tremendous impact on perception and symbolism. What is the symbolism of having an oath-taking in the tiny and palatial confines of a palace that is Malacañang? Simple—it means elitism and a smirk at the maddening crowd. There is no room in the palace for the people. Isn’t this what it means? This is the indelible perception. Is the man to be installed truly a man of the people? If he were, he should have himself installed at the Luneta, where everyone has access, without the need of special invitation.
But the advisers probably think differently. They are men captured by the elite in the mind and in the purse. So they think differently. They have to protect their investment. They have to secure the hen that lays the golden egg because the Luneta is open ground for many imponderables.
I thought their leader is a man of unlimited courage—the bravest man in town. So what is the bravest man doing? Why the installation in the restricted confines of Malacañang? There is a big leap between lips and action. Inevitably, the President will be judged not on theory but by practice. So the presidential advisers should take this into very serious consideration.
It was one of the finest Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, in the United States of America, who said that “if a man does not know how to be President on the first day of office, he will never learn till the end of his term.” The rationale is simple—the President has numerous problems on the first day of office. If he cannot solve the problems with the speed by which the problems arise, he will never get to solve them till the end of his term. So it is good to take this thing seriously at the beginning of anybody’s presidential term.
A President should know the governing parameters of his office. In the specific case of President Duterte these are the parameters that should guide his performance in office: first, he ran in the May 9 elections under the Philippine Constitution and its operative laws; second, he got a resounding endorsement of the voters in the polls on a dual plank—the eradication of the problems of graft and corruption as well as the termination of the drug and criminal infestation within a timeline of six months; third, the voters who cast 16 million votes for him represent the people, within the context of our established laws and institutions; fourth, having run under the Constitution and our existing laws, he must abide by our Constitution and our laws; and fifth, he must faithfully and conscientiously perform his bounded duties as defined in his oath of office under Section 5, Article VII of the Constitution.
The presidential Constitutional duties
The President should learn these duties: first, he must fulfill his duties faithfully and conscientiously; second, he must preserve and defend the Constitution; third, he must execute the laws of the country; fourth, he must do justice to every man; and fifth, he must consecrate himself to the service of the nation.
These are not easy duties to fulfill. The President must be knowledgeable. He must have discipline and integrity. He must be committed to the country. He must be a man of conscience and principles. He must be a man who should demonstrate civility and a high degree of education and finesse.
Of what I have heard and seen in the campaign trail and after his election as President, I am afraid he has missed out on a number of these traits, and the acquisition of these presidential virtues does not seem promising on the strength of a number of age-old observations like an old dog never learns new tricks and birds of a feather flock together. Remember, the President is no longer a spring chicken and some of the birds he has chosen in his inner circle are certainly no angels plus the criminals who have rushed to his new political party in the House of Representatives and in various areas of local government.
Of course, these are general rules and the new President could be an exception, considering his exceptional performance in the polls.
The promised metamorphosis
Probably echoing the promise of his spinners, the new President, before his assumption of office, promised that there will be a metamorphosis in the person and probably in the language and style of the President. It is a quantum leap from mayor of a city to President of a country. The city maybe a micro of the macro that is the country but the playing field is bigger on the macro level. There are nuances in the rules that are not too easy to grasp. The forces maybe easy to identify but their methodologies may sometimes escape even expert detection.
I am looking forward to the metamorphosis—hopefully from a pupa to a butterfly, not an azkal to a sigben. This is not too much to ask. Maybe, this time, not a big village bully but a stylistically refined emerging statesman—worthy of presiding over the fate and destiny of 100 million Filipinos.
The first sign of this promised metamorphosis is the inaugural speech on June 30 before many of the elite and a sprinkling of lesser mortals on the national level. I look forward to it with a lot of hope but also with grudging reservation. But who knows—life is full of surprises. If I got surprised—that would be the day, considering that after traversing many national administrations, nothing surprises me anymore.
I was exercising this morning full of hope and promise, walking under the rain as if I had tears in my eyes, reminded of these lines from one of my favorite poets, Oscar de Zuñiga: “And I walk the streets rutted with mud holes underneath a sky suffused with graying clouds and I feel I’m coming to a house which only my heart knows.”
An anti-climactic question comes—“Does it?”