President-elect Rodrigo Duterte assumes office at high noon tomorrow (June 30) as the 16th President of the Philippines. The former mayor of Davao is the first ever from Mindanao and the second local mayor in a hundred years, after the former mayor of Cavite Viejo, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, to reach the presidency. His popular support is undiminished, but by no means is it unanimous; not a few doubt that some of the more spectacular features of his promised change merit their enthusiastic support.
These include the proposed constitutional change to fast-track federalism and the right of foreigners to own land and public utilities and exploit natural resources; restoration of the death sentence; a raise in the value-added tax; and more punitive and draconian methods of population control. The eagerness with which many people want to say goodbye to B.S. Aquino 3rd is clearly matched by their eagerness to see Du30 render irrelevant the last six years of malevolent governance. But this has failed to arrest fears that the country could be headed for uncharted waters, in many areas of its political, economic and social life.
National security, for one, remains a paramount concern. The lingering communist and Moro secessionist insurgencies, the maritime tension with China because of our maritime territorial dispute in the Spratlys and our archipelagic hosting of United States military forces in support of its “pivot to Asia,” and the arrogant threat by unnamed drug lords to assassinate the incoming President—-all these have to be resolved in favor of our overriding national interest; and in the case of the last, in favor of the personal security and safety of the President.
But extreme care must be taken to make sure that no fundamental freedoms and human rights are violated, and no honored traditions of civility and social conduct are sacrificed in the name of national security. Much will depend on the government’s conduct of public diplomacy, which lies primarily in the hands of the presidency. This begins on the day of the inaugural, with the packaging and presentation of the inaugural itself.
Nobody is likely to quibble with the statement of the incoming Communications Secretary Martin Andanar that the simple inaugural ceremonies planned for tomorrow are intended to jump-start the real change promised by Du30. There is no reason for us to imitate the American practice of a ten-day inaugural celebration—-five days before the swearing-in, and five days after. But after the big street parties in Davao and Cebu, some people are wondering why the Malacanang inaugural, which is President Du30’s first public event, should be limited to 500 guests, and should be so spartan.
Is the need for “simplicity” the only reason for moving the inaugural indoors and excluding the public, by limiting it to 500 guests? I believe Malacañang should be more forthright. The paramount duty of the State is to protect itself from physical harm, and it cannot be imprudent or amiss for government to admit that it had to move the ceremony from the traditional venue of the Quirino Grandstand to the Rizal ceremonial hall inside the Palace, for security reasons. The drug lords are reported to have raised a P1-billion bounty on the head of the President, and there is absolutely no reason in the world to take any unnecessary risks. The most sophisticated and highly secured countries would probably have done it.
In the US, the honored tradition is to swear in the President-elect outside the Capitol Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., from where he is conducted by carriage or limousine (or walks as in the case of President Jimmy Carter in 1977) on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. But until James Monroe’s inaugural in 1817, the practice had been to hold the inaugural indoors. Thus George Washington took his oath as first US president on April 30, 1789 before Robert Livingston, Chancellor of the State of New York at the Federal Hall of NY. On his second inaugural, he took his oath in Congress Hall in Philadelphia. In the War of 1812 and during World War II, the presidential oath-taking was held in various other indoor locations in Washington, D.C.
Monroe was the first US president to take his oath and hold his inaugural outdoors (in front of the Old Brick Capitol). But Franklin Delano Roosevelt, partly because of his physical condition, held his inaugural inside the White House on his fourth and last term. And in 1985, on Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural, the ceremony was moved indoors because of extremely cold weather (7 Degrees Fahrenheit).
Why the White House is not used
Even under normal conditions, there is one very good obvious reason why the US President-elect is not sworn in at the White House. This is because until he formally becomes the President he cannot legally take possession of the White House. In the case of a reelected President, he is already in possession of the White House and can only relinquish it to his successor, namely himself. This appears to be the same reason why before tomorrow’s event, and outside of Marcos during the stormy days of 1986, no Filipino president-elect had ever used Malacañang for his or her oath-taking and inaugural.
Another good reason is precisely because the inaugural is a public event, and the public has every right to be present there, to witness the outgoing and the incoming presidents ride together, and to listen to the President-elect recite the solemn words of his oath of office. In the history of the US presidency only three incumbent presidents failed to accompany the President-elect to the inaugural—-John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson. In tomorrow’s event, it would be superfluous for Aquino to accompany Du30 from Malacañang to Malacañang, and of course the public will not be part of the specially handpicked 500 guests.
What past presidents did
Most of our presidents took their oath at the Quirino Grandstand (formerly Independence Grandstand) at Rizal Park. From there, they were conducted to Malacañang after their inaugural address. These include Elpidio Quirino, in 1949; Ramon Magsaysay, in 1953; Carlos P. Garcia, in 1957; Diosdado Macapagal, in 1961; Ferdinand Marcos in 1965, 1969, and 1981; Fidel V. Ramos, in 1992; and B. S. Aquino 3rd in 2010.
Joseph Estrada took his oath in 1998 at Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan, where Emilio Aguinaldo took his oath in 1899 as the president of the First Philippine Republic. Cory Aquino took her oath in 1986 at Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan, upon the ouster of Marcos, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took her oath in 2001, upon the ouster of Estrada, outside EDSA Shrine, and at the Cebu Provincial Capitol after her controversial election in 2004.
In 1935, Manuel L. Quezon took his oath as President of the Commonwealth in front of the Legislative building; and then inside the Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor Island during the Japanese invasion in 1941; and finally in Washington, D.C. before US Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1943, shortly before he died.
In 1944, Sergio Osmena took his oath before US Associate Justice Robert Jackson in Washington, D.C. upon Quezon’s death. Even Jose P. Laurel, as president of the wartime Japanese puppet government, took his oath before Supreme Court Chief Justice Justice Jose Yulo outside the Legislative Building on Oct. 14, 1943. Manuel Roxas took his oath outside the Legislative Building in 1946.
In 1957, Vice President Garcia took his oath as President inside Malacañang’s Council of State room upon Magsaysay’s death. However there were no inaugural formalities. (That same year after he was elected president, he took his oath at the Quirino Grandstand.) Marcos alone had his 3rd presidential inaugural inside Malacañang at the height of the EDSA revolt following the controversial snap elections of February 1986. Some fengshui enthusiasts, who abound in every regime, seem anxious about the possible occult implications of this fortuitous inaugural to tomorrow’s event.
What to feed the guests
A lot of trivia, rather than substantive stuff, has come out in the media about tomorrow’s event. Front-page stories about the adobo, durian, maruya and buko juice that would be served the guests have replaced any hint of what President Du30 might say to the nation on this historic occasion. No credentialed Du30 watcher or analyst has offered any preview of what to expect from the incoming President. Nor is there any indication of what language he will use and how long he will speak.
Not that this is a matter of great significance. But at first Du30 said he would speak for not more than five minutes; then he chided the media for failing to recognize an obvious joke. George Washington on his second inaugural delivered the shortest US inaugural speech—135 words—-but scholars remember it; while William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the US, who died after only a month in office, delivered the longest inaugural speech—8,495 words—-but rare is the scholar who remembers anything of it.
Now, Aquino the son was the first president to address the nation in Filipino (Tagalog). Will Du30, who is fluent in both Filipino and English, surprise the nation and all his foreign guests by speaking in Cebuano (Bisaya)?
The defining message
But what will be his central message by means of which he will try to define his presidency for the next six years? How will it be like for the rest of us?
Throughout the campaign until now, Du30 has tried to hold the nation breathless over what Toots Ople, in her charming maiden column on The Manila Times on Monday, calls a “million curses.” I have never really believed that Du30 was using all those obscenities and profanities, cursing the Pope and the Church and the “sons of bitches” in the media and the thousands of criminals who deserved to be killed without trial just because it was his trip or his nature. My deepest suspicion was that he was playing a game which nobody else was bold enough to play.
It had its roots in Machiavelli who says a prince should rule not by love but by fear. In Sandra Bullock’s low-grade movie, “Our brand is crisis,” a mean-hearted S.O.B. running for President in Bolivia is turned into a fearsome character just because no cosmetic effort could make him more pleasant and more lovable than he is. I watched this movie out of curiosity a couple of nights ago, and I thought, well, this was the playbook used in the Du30 campaign. They tried to make him look and sound more fearsome than he actually is, and he’s doing his best to play his part.
I would like to believe Du30 is not half as fiendish as he has tried to picture himself to be, and now that the election is over, and he will be taking his oath of office and talking to the nation as its President, he could lay down all his cards, and begin a real heart-to-heart talk with the Filipino people. Would he be laughed off as a buffoon and his reputation and popular support collapse if he were to confess that he had thoroughly overstated his case when he bragged about killing hundreds of criminals and violating the modesty of so many innocent and virtuous women? I doubt it very much.