POSTSCRIPT / June 18, 2017 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

Share This

I had a dream… of Rody and Leni

IT MAY have been because of his long absence from the public scene and of people’s anxiety over his health that I dreamed the other night of President Rodrigo Duterte speaking in a snap program at Malacañang.

In my dream, Mr. Duterte announced he was going on indefinite leave, on doctor’s advice, and was entrusting the reins of government to Vice President Leni Robredo. He did not say it categorically, but the drift I got was that he was not well and needed some rest.

Vice President Robredo stood beside the President when he disclosed, in my dream, his decision to go on vacation. Judging from her composure, apparently, she had been told in advance that she was to take over.

She was wearing what looked like her embroidered barong getup at the Luneta flag-raising last Independence Day. The President, looking tired, wore a partly unbuttoned shirt topped by a light brown jacket. His cheeks were full.

The occasion had a formal air to it, but I found the setting stark and the hall a bit dark. There was no clapping and those present just sat there listening. There were no foreign guests, such as ambassadors, and a number of those in the front row were military top brass.

Only President Duterte spoke, briefly, in his usual Taglish with a Bisayan accent. To his left stood the Vice President with a hint of a smile.

After Mr. Duterte told the crowd at the end of his remarks “Leni here will be the Acting President,” I woke up. I checked quickly the TV news, Twitter and Google, wondering if my dream might be an alert of something that had just happened. Found nothing.

• Where’s the President? How’s he?

THE PRESIDENT’S absence from major events the last few days and his silence about lives and property being lost while government troops battled terrorists in Marawi City has fueled speculation about his whereabouts.

The more his spokesman and aides insist that the 72-year-old President is in fine shape the more they raise concern about his state of health – considering antecedent reports, rumors actually, of alleged secret medical treatment.

There is nothing wrong with an overworked President’s not feeling well at times (even Superman, the man of steel, has to contend with kryptonite) and occasionally sneaking off for private time with his family.

His constituents, however, seem to feel they are entitled 24/7 to know how and where he is. Whether the populist Rodrigo Roa Duterte likes it or not, he is no longer a private person. Having become a kind of rock star to his followers, he is now public property.

Most Filipinos, especially plain folk scattered over our 7,000-plus islands, want their leader visible and audible. They bask in the experience of seeing in the flesh the celebrities and public figures they idolize.

Social media now bristle with the question “Nasaan na’ng Pangulo?” (Where’s the President?) Their “Where’s…?” sounds more like “How’s he?”

If he needs rest, President Duterte does not have to quit or step aside for good, if that is what his followers and partymates are worried about. He can just go on temporary leave, let constitutional succession dictate the flow of events, and return to work when he feels like.

Under this constitutional option, Ms Robredo will not sit as the President but only as an Acting President, ready to return to the No. 2 post when Mr. Duterte comes back from vacation to resume performing his duties as the elected President.

This is a less bumpy road for everybody on whatever political vehicle — and for the country.

• Tell the people if President is ill

TO PROLONG his rule in the 1970s, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his coterie hid the fact of his being terminally ill – propping him up in rigged TV film clips and recycling old photographs showing a fine physique.

Medical specialists who were pressed to nurse back his failing internal organs were sworn to secrecy. Those suspected of leaking out details in their patient’s chart reportedly paid very dearly for it.

To avoid a repetition of that grievous error and to follow the principle that the president’s medical condition is of national concern, the framers of the current Constitution inserted Section 12 in Article VII saying:

“In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health. The members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall not be denied access to the President during such illness.”

This section is now being invoked by quarters demanding information on the physical condition of President Duterte. But with partisan emotions running high, such queries, although legitimate, are being shot down as malicious and divisive.

It does not help any that — unlike in the United States where the President and the Vice President are elected as a working pair from the same party – President Duterte (PDP-Laban) and Vice President Robredo (Liberal Party) come from opposing political parties.

His body language and remarks in unguarded moments tell us, however, that Mr. Duterte does not seem to have serious objections to Ms Robredo’s pitching in if he has to step aside temporarily for health or whatever valid reason.

Fortunately, from her side, Ms Robredo strikes us as being decent enough to ensure a smooth transition, eschew vindictiveness and carry on whatever Mr. Duterte has started to do that can contribute to national unity, just peace and inclusive prosperity.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 18, 2017)

Share your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published.