PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte made history last Thursday by delivering the shortest inaugural speech of any Filipino President in 14 minutes, without uttering a single cuss word, which until then had punctuated all his public utterances. This leads many to ask, can he not fight corruption, criminality, dangerous drugs, and the breakdown of law and order without resorting to extra-judicial killing or the death sentence?
The speech, in English, did not contain everything we needed to hear. But it was nonetheless a class act—a tour de force, if you like. It was well written and well delivered, stamped with his personal conviction and style, with no doublespeak on any issue. He said what he wanted to say in exactly the way he wanted to say it, no unnecessary verbiage.
The Archbishop of Davao and vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Most Reverend Romulo Valles, prayed that God bless and protect the President “with the wisdom from Heaven,” so that he could speak for those who cannot speak, and protect the rights of the poor. Keep harm away from him, he implored.
Earlier, on the front page of The Manila Times, Most Reverend Fernando Capalla, Archbishop Emeritus of Davao, prayed for national healing so that the Filipinos could finally move forward in truth, justice and peace.
Faithful to the Constitution
Vice President Maria Leonor (Leni) Robredo took her oath in a separate venue, three hours before the VP’s office fell vacant. In contrast, DU30 took his oath at exactly 12 high noon of June 30, in strict obedience to the Constitution.
This small detail served to reassure many that DU30 would be faithful to the rule of law, despite their earlier fears to the contrary.
His effort to reduce the inaugural into a casual affair seemed to go well with the crowd, even though some European diplomats seemed to react in the same way their predecessors had reacted when they saw Mahatma Gandhi in his loincloth meeting with the royally garbed King George V.
With the President junking the Malacañang dress code, everyone else had a reason to feel slightly overdressed. Will the diplomatic corps now be advised to avoid formal or business attire in favor of jeans and shirtsleeves in any future meeting with the President?
What DU30 said
This was a curious point. But in the end, what DU30 said and how the nation reacted was the only thing that counted.
Duterte’s first words were to thank former President Fidel V. Ramos for “making him President” while also greeting former President (now Manila Mayor) Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the leaders of the two Houses of Congress and the judiciary, the Papal Nuncio as dean of the diplomatic corps. He also acknowledged the Supreme Court Chief Justice, even though he had asked his fraternity brother from San Beda Law College, Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, to swear him into office.
In 2010, when President B.S. Aquino 3rd was sworn into office by Associate Justice (now Ombudsman) Conchita Carpio-Morales, he refused to recognize then-Chief Justice Renato Corona’s mere presence among the guests. Later, Aquino bribed the members of Congress to have Corona impeached and removed. He passed away on April 29, 2016.
In his speech, DU30 described four problems that needed to be addressed urgently, namely, corruption, criminality, rampant sale of illegal drugs, and breakdown of law and order. But these were “mere symptoms of a virulent social disease that cuts into the moral fiber of Philippine society,” he said. “I sense a problem deeper and more serious than any of those mentioned or all of them put together. But, of course, it is not to say that we will ignore them because they have to be stopped by all means that the law allows,” he added.
“Erosion of faith and trust in government—that is the real problem that confronts us. Resulting therefrom, I see the erosion of the people’s trust in our country’s leaders; the erosion of faith in our judicial system; the erosion of confidence in the capacity of public servants to make the people’s lives better, safer and healthier.”
There is nothing here anyone can quarrel with. The ills we see are indeed “mere symptoms of a virulent social disease…” We must, therefore, address not just the symptoms, but the disease itself. Erosion of faith in government is but a manifestation of the disease; it is not the disease itself. Why is there such an erosion of faith? The correct answer to that question will identify the real disease.
The President should not have stopped in the middle of his analysis. He should have pursued it to its very end. That alone will allow him to define the disease and effectively deal with it. It is not unknowable nor is it any great secret. Volumes have been written about it; the teachings of the Christian faith have long expanded on it; in our modest capacity, we have written extensively and delivered extended lectures on it.
On Aug. 27, 2014, the Lipa Declaration issued by the National Transformation Council said our real crisis is that “we have lost our sense of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust, legal and illegal, which has put our people, especially the poor, at the mercy of those who have the power to dictate the course and conduct of our development for their own ends.” This has been repeated in various assemblies in various parts of the country through 2016.
Indeed, we have lost allegiance to nearly everything higher than our self-interests; replaced the rightness or wrongness of human acts (and especially of political and economic acts) with “what works for me, and what I can get away with.” We have lost the sense of sin and the sense of God.
That is our real crisis.
Effects, not causes
Corrupt and criminal government and the people’s loss of trust and confidence in their elected and appointed leaders are not causes but effects. Thus, corruption, crime, dangerous drugs, and other evils will never be vanquished unless their causes are removed. The most draconian measures against offenders will not do it; they will only worsen it. For the elimination of corruption, criminality, dangerous drugs and other evils presupposes the humanization of society, yet the mechanical killing even of the guilty will only brutalize it.
“I know,” said President DU30, “that there are those who do not approve of my methods of fighting criminality, the sale of drugs and corruption. They say that my methods are unorthodox and verge on the illegal. In response let me say this:
“I have seen how corruption bled the government of funds, which are allocated for the use in uplifting the poor from the mire they are in.
“I have seen how illegal drugs destroyed individuals and ruined family relationships.
“I have seen how criminality, by means all foul, snatched from the innocent and the unsuspecting, the years and years of accumulated savings. Years of toil, and then suddenly, they are back to where they started.
“Look at this from that perspective, and tell me that I am wrong.”
Has the law ever been tried?
Indeed, these premises cannot leave you untouched. But they are precisely why the law exists. Have we ever tried using the law the way it was meant to be used? Or, have we concluded the law doesn’t work because we have decided to take a shortcut?
DU30’s inauguration is a fresh start for our democratic and republican State. With Aquino gone, we need to end his totalitarian captivity of the two other coequal branches of government. Nothing could end such captivity more quickly than a firm recognition of the limits of power in a democratic state. The Constitution defines those limits; but prior to the Constitution, there are things that are always wrong and things that are always right; things that precede any majority vote.
One such thing involves the sanctity of human life. No one has the right to kill the innocent. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that where someone’s guilt of a grave crime has been fully determined, the death penalty may be imposed, if it is the only possible way of effectively defending the innocent from such transgressor. If, however, sufficient non-lethal means exist to defend and protect the innocent from the aggressor, then such means should be used.
The totalitarian descent
Given the President’s enormous popularity, it will not be easy to disagree with anything he says. Many will routinely agree with him not because they are convinced he is right but because they do not want any trouble from his cheering squad. But we could easily descend into a totalitarianism, which repudiates reason, justice, and all transcendental values, and allows no appeal from our idol’s caprice. The authority of the state must yield to a higher authority—the authority of God; otherwise it can declare anything it likes to be law, and only its actual power to give force to its will could limit its arbitrariness, the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner writes.
Not a few people were a little disturbed when the President said, “You mind your work, and I will mind mine.” It sounded like an imperial diktat against checks and balances.
We need to make it clear that the President can expect our full cooperation and support whenever he is right, but it will be our solemn duty to say No, and a thousand times No, whenever he is wrong. Richard Nixon told David Frost in an interview that “when the President does it, that means it isn’t illegal.” But Nixon was dead wrong.
The need for an opposition
For this reason, we need a genuine opposition to the new government. This must emerge. Given the massive migration of political opportunists from everywhere to the President’s PDP-Laban camp, this role may have to be performed by a citizen statesman rather than a sitting, or also-ran, politician.
Despite earlier fears about DU30’s policy directions being heavily influenced, if not controlled, by the CPP/NPA/NDF, the President surprised DU30 watchers with the three quotes he used during his speech. They must have been music to the ears of the Right, and particularly the US.
The Right ascendant
The first quote was attributed to the National Artist F. Sionil Jose. Many have said that “we have become our worst enemy,” but DU30 copyrighted the statement to our old friend Frankie, whose politics is the exact opposite of the Left’s.
The second quote is from Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The test of government is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide for those who have little.”
The third is from Lincoln: “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the poor by discouraging the rest; you cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer; you cannot further the brotherhood by inciting class hatred among men.”
Lincoln and FDR are two of the greatest American Presidents, who have nothing to do with the Left. But DU30 said, “my economic and financial, political policies are contained in those quotations, though couched in general terms.”
So, who is winning? The Right or the Left? Or is DU30 playing both ends against the middle?
Against the Left’s three major Cabinet members, FVR alone has three fellow Protestant churchmen in the Cabinet, outside of the Defense Secretary, the National Security Adviser and the National Intelligence Chief who are all his “boys.” Big business has also its own people, appointed to head agencies that regulate the businesses they used to run. The regulated have now become the regulators. How then is the public interest to be protected and served?
This is what the President should tell us next.