THE Duterte administration has mobilized all its political and legal forces to crush its perceived “enemies” in several fronts, but this may have simply created the perception that it is a regime in a state of siege. The more it unleashes its excessive political force on its “enemies” the more it appears to be on its last legs. It tends to diminish itself by the very weapons it has decided to use against its “enemies.” It is likely to end up deeply wounded, even if it should succeed in bringing down its targets. Filipinos enjoy watching a good fight, but I doubt they have any stomach for this.
DU30 vs the UN
This is what we are seeing in the government’s response to the Jordanian Prince and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who suggested that President Rodrigo Duterte undergo a “psychiatric evaluation” after he was quoted as telling the Philippine National Police not to cooperate with UN officials who would ask questions about the summary drug killings and human rights.
DU30 had earlier sought the exclusion of Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, from any UN fact-finding mission to the Philippines, for talking too much about the killings. At the same time the Department of Justice has petitioned a regional trial court in Manila to declare Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a “terrorist,” along with 600 others allegedly affiliated with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed group, the New People’s Army. DU30 was most recently quoted as telling the police to feed the UN human rights workers to the crocs.
The exchange between DU30 and Zeid has launched the Malacañang spokesman into a spirited defense of the indefensible and an attack on the UN official, whom he demanded to be more respectful of a foul-mouthed but “democratically elected president.” He considered the UN official’s remark—which was a mere response to DU30’s provocative slur against the UN and its human rights workers—as an offense to all countries, “with a democratically elected president.” No other government has weighed in on the ongoing exchange.
DU30 vs Sereno
This is also what we are seeing in the government’s response to Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s stern refusal to vacate her post despite the organized official effort to drive her out of office, in the face of an impeachment bid which appears to have little prospect of removing her, even if it should mature into an impeachment trial in the Senate. DU30 cannot possibly count on 16 votes out of the 24 senators to convict the respondent. Sereno is an appointee of B. S. Aquino 3rd, but although Aquino is now out of office, many of the 19 senator-judges whom Aquino had bribed in 2011-2012 to convict and remove Chief Justice Renato Corona are still in the Senate.
Solicitor General Jose Calida has filed a “quo warranto” petition against Sereno in the Supreme Court, where she is currently on “wellness leave.” This petition seeks to ask her “by what warrant” she sits as Chief Justice, and her 14 other peers are expected to sit in judgment over her fitness. But there is no precedent for this. No one knows whether the court can unseat its own chief, without provoking a constitutional crisis.
Under the Constitution, Supreme Court justices may be removed from office only on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust, not any lesser crimes. In the last few weeks, Sereno has been accused of many non-impeachable crimes. Some psychiatrists have testified that her poor psychological performance when she was being vetted for the job did not justify her eventual appointment. Others rated better in the psychiatric tests, the experts said.
Now, the inferior judges and judicial employees around the country are being mobilized to demand that Sereno oust herself. This is the first time the entire judicial branch is being manipulated by the Executive Department to get involved in inter-department politics. This is bound to destroy the independence and non-political character of the judiciary, and create a dangerous precedent which could be used against DU30 himself and any of his political favorites. Whoever is/are behind this move may not have to wait long to regret it.
Power vs the critical press
We are seeing the same excessive use of power on the online news platform Rappler and its executive editor Maria Ressa who have been critical of DU30, and whom the government has accused not only of violating the 100 percent Filipino citizenship requirement for all mass media but most recently, of tax evasion. No one thinks of Rappler and Ressa as top money makers, but they are accused of having failed to pay some P133 million in taxes. I do not know how the Bureau of Internal Review hopes to proceed against the respondents, knowing that until now it has not been able to collect the P2.2 billion Sen. Manny Pacquiao owes the government in taxes from his last fight in Las Vegas where he was paid $28 million.
Under B.S. Aquino 3rd, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares filed 492 tax evasion cases, without a single conviction when she left office. Is the new BIR commissioner going to set a new record?
Where Roque erred
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque tried to attack the Jordanian prince for his remark, saying he had no business criticizing the “democratically elected” president of a “democratic country,” since he isn’t the citizen of one himself. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a sovereign Arab state, which does not claim to be a democracy; but it is a friend of the Philippine government, and during the last Iraq war, it played a significant role in the evacuation of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the conflict area through Amman. Against this monarchy, the Philippines has nothing to brag about; it is a flawed democracy, about to be overrun by DU30’s authoritarian presidency.
However, Zeid was speaking not on behalf of the Kingdom of Jordan or of his own royal personality, but on behalf of the UN body, which he heads. His statement reflected the universal concern of the UN, nothing more, nothing less. As a lawyer with some international exposure, Roque should have recognized this. But he spoke beyond his pay grade when he attacked Zeid on a personal level as though they were arguing in an LGBT watering hole.
UN head ill-informed
To be sure, Zeid was completely ill-informed and misspoke when he said DU30 needed to have a “psychiatric evaluation” by a capable shrink. Unbeknownst to many, DU30 already had one psychiatric evaluation before he became President, with disconcerting results, except that no one raised the issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. And to this day, some people would rather talk about the alleged autism and bipolar condition of former President B. S. Aquino 3rd than of DU30’s egocentricity and related tendencies.
On October 3, 1998, Dr. Natividad Dayan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist of Dayan’s Psychological Clinic, released the results of tests showing DU30 to be psychologically incapacitated, suffering from a serious and incurable narcissistic personality disorder with antecedents, and which became the basis of the declaration of nullity of his marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman on January 4, 2004, by Judge Pablito of the Regional Trial Court, National Capital Judicial Region, Branch 70, in Pasig.
There is nothing to show that Dayan’s findings were ever contested. It was therefore completely unwise and imprudent for DU30’s apologists to try to make capital out of Sereno’s or B. S. Aquino’s unverified psychiatric record, knowing that DU30’s record is not any better than either, and is now part of the uncontested official ruling of a local court. DU30’s apologists must now recognize and examine this record and ask themselves whether it does affect DU30’s “right” and “fitness” to be president.
Given DU30’s tendency to use profane language, I am not inclined to assign literal value to his statement that the UN human rights workers should be fed to the crocs. It is a local hyperbole which we usually hear in daily speech, within a particular context. If I had my way, I would not even quote it as part of the President’s official speech. I’m sure that Zeid, for all his sophistication, understands it as such.
For that same reason, I am not inclined to give literal value either to Zeid’s reaction to DU30’s put-down of Callamard and other UN human rights workers, that he should go and see a shrink. It’s the kind of remark we hear even from a friend who cannot accept what we’re saying. It’s an expression of disdain or disgust over a particular situation, but not to be given a literal interpretation. I have no doubt Zeid did not intend to give it a literal meaning. So much for this.
But I see the real danger coming from the effort to turn the entire judicial branch into a lynch mob against the Chief Justice. First of all, no lynching can ever be justified. Sereno is an impeachable public official; an impeachment complaint has been filed against her; the House should impeach her if it can, and the Senate should try her, regardless of its risks and prospects. Otherwise, she should be allowed to go back to the Court after her “wellness leave” and see for herself if she could survive the altered environment, where everyone has turned hostile to her.
Let her then step down on her own, because she can no longer work in harmony with the members of the institution she heads, but never because they have made a law of what they want as a mob.
Is the military next?
Whether or not the lynch mob succeeds, if they are encouraged to hound the beleaguered Chief Justice until she breaks, they would have set a precedent for the entire nation to follow should they ever want to demand, for valid reasons, the resignation of the President. Having pushed the politically neutral judicial branch to take an active political position against its head, what is to prevent the politically neutral Armed Forces of the Philippines from demanding, for valid reasons, the resignation of their own Commander in Chief?