He came. He cursed. He conquered ? The Congress.
Whatever Duterte wants, Duterte gets. The dull and duly elected Philippine Senators and Congresspersons are behaving as the Romans did, who were in awe of Julius Caesar’s successful military campaigns to keep the empire intact. That’s a cautionary tale, however, as some of those same senators did to him in an extrajudicial killing, leading to that classic line, “Et tu, Brutus?”
Of course, Du30 has no empire to preserve, except perhaps the empire of his ambitions. One could argue that whatever real estate we have this man has slowly been ceding to the People’s Republic of China. When Beijing says Boo! the president hops to it and makes sure Beijing gets what it wishes. For all his bluster, he’s been anything but strong when it comes to Beijing’s claims to Philippine territory.
What a difference from the time, during the presidential campaign of 2016, when the former mayor of Davao City promised to get on a jet ski and plant the Philippine flag on one of the country’s islands in the West Philippine Sea that the Chinese were laying their hands on.
The House of Representatives and the Senate present no obstacle for Duterte to pursue his goal of a society completely under his control. The vast majority of the solons are in thrall to the president, to such an extent that they, knowingly or unknowingly, abet the executive branch’s disregard for the 1987 Constitution regarding the legal basis for declaring martial law, that there be an actual rebellion.
By a vote of 240 to 27, they have given the go-signal for Duterte to extend martial law in Mindanao for a full year. But where is the actual rebellion? Nowhere. Marawi has been recaptured and Duterte claimed total victory.
The government says that some of the jihadists, foreign and local, managed to slip out of the city and thus continue to be a threat. Of course, there is a threat. There are always threats. By this faulty logic, martial law could be declared for the whole country, due to the nationwide presence of the NPA that has now been deemed a terrorist group. An opening act, which is what Mindanao is. There are however enough legal remedies to deal with incipient threats to the republic sans martial law.
In effect the Congress has been transformed into a congregation of “hollow men,” in T.S. Eliot’s words. The solons willingly violate the separation of the three supposedly co-equal branches of the government, running to impeach Chief Justice Sereno, whose primary accuser has said he has no personal knowledge of the material that could substantiate the charges against her. In other words, the fellow is engaging in malicious hearsay.
In his take-no-prisoners stance against his critics, Congress has been complicit. Highly critical of the war on drugs that is really a war on the poor, Senator Leila De Lima is a prisoner at Camp Crame. Ombudsman Carpio-Morales has been threatened with impeachment. So too with the chair of the Commission on Human Rights. And Du30 responds to any criticism of his encouragement of the slayings of even suspected—not proven—drug dealers and users with vitriol and threats. Not to mention disturbing statements, that he will pardon police officers convicted of EJKs.
And as has been pointed in my column and elsewhere in the media, the man admires the late tyrant Ferdinand Marcos, allowing the burial of the corpse at the National Heroes Cemetery. (Wouldn’t a more fitting place for the late dictator’s entombment be the mothballed nuclear power plant in Bataan?
Perhaps two toxic bodies would cancel each other out.) He has also expressed his desire of having Bongbong Marcos serve as his vice-president, rather than the current one, Leni Robredo.
Disturbing as all these signs are, perhaps the most disturbing one has been his avowed intent to declare a revolutionary government if he perceives that a nationwide state of instability exists. It’s an absurd premise: to establish such a government, he needs to unseat himself!
Taken together, all these steps point to one inescapable conclusion: The greatest threat to a fragile democratic Republic of the Philippines, it seems, is the president himself.