POSTSCRIPT / October 9, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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The daily question: Who is in charge?

DON’T you sometimes get that eerie feeling that nobody’s running the country, that dear Philippines, with more than 100-million Filipinos aboard, has been left largely on auto-pilot?

Only the traffic officers on EDSA, the transaction clerks at City Hall, the motorcycle cops escorting tinted official SUVs, the early campaign tarps of politicos, and such negative indications tell us that there must be a government somewhere under the heap.

The common tao dealing mostly among themselves and with the informal market where no official receipts are issued manage to survive from day to day with the least government intervention.

So when reader Atty Hanandas Garcia Estrogen lll, @mredsleftleg, asked yesterday on Twitter “So who is in charge now?” we replied as if by conditioned reflex: “NOBODY.”

‏What about President Duterte?, somebody behind us asked. Yes, maybe, but we don’t know where he is. We hope he is well and resting, but his own people cannot even agree where he was over the weekend.

It’s stressful scouring the internet almost every hour just to check who is running the country. And also to monitor the peso-dollar exchange rate, the price of fuel and food, and who in the neighborhood just got killed by police raiders.

The President himself has announced that he is sick and is being treated for some ailments, which we pray are not life-threatening. But will somebody as authoritative as his physicians — not the patient himself — please tell us in clear language his true medical condition?

Or at least tell the people truthfully where their President is, if only to ease the feeling that we have been left adrift.

Public information abhors a vacuum. When the people and the media lose track of their ailing President, speculations rush into the information low-pressure area and threaten to intensify into a communication storm.

Saying perfunctorily that President Duterte was resting at home in Davao, as presidential spokesman Harry Roque (now on leave) did before the weekend, would pass if no contrary report comes in.

But there was presidential aide Bong Go suddenly reporting — with his usual selfies to prove it (and to boost his senatorial bid) — that the President was in Hong Kong spending quality time with his common-law wife Honeylet and their teen daughter Kitty.

Roque’s credibility as spokesman and his viability as a possible administration senatorial candidate, dropped with his false report, but that is another story.

The big story is in why the medically-challenged President was in Hong Kong for two days at the doorstep of China.

The information vacuum principle comes in. Since Malacañang did not have a ready air-tight story, the space thickened with such rumors as Duterte being there for treatment, to receive/deposit money, to shop since Hong Kong inflation rate is much lower than in Manila….

 Orderly constitutional succession crucial

NEWS of the President’s unannounced trip set off the usual question of who would take over should anything untoward happen to him while abroad or while undergoing a delicate procedure at some hospital.

We are not talking here of death or total disability, in which extreme case constitutional succession will be set in motion, but only of a temporary inability or a voluntary brief delegation of powers.

In his official visits to Israel and Jordan last month, the President designated Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra as officer-in-charge. His exact duties and powers as OIC were not detailed to the public, but we survived that one week.

In the “who’s in charge” brainstorm that ensued, we floated on Twitter the idea that Vice President Leni Robredo be designated by the President as OIC whenever he sees the need for it, like when he wants to go on R&R (rest and recreation) or go abroad.

To set her up as possible OIC, we continued, Robredo could be appointed Social Welfare and Development Secretary, restoring her status as a Cabinet member.

As expected, there rained objections from the usual quarters, including Duterte diehards and followers of ex-senator Bongbong Marcos who is still protesting before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal the Vice President’s election in 2016.

We see the urgent need for more amicable relations between the two top Executive officials to avoid a disorderly and disruptive transition in the event – although unlikely now – that Duterte is no longer able to function as president.

Of immediate concern is the possibility that the test tissue taken from Duterte turns out to be malignant, indicating possible cancer, a most treacherous disease. The other medical concerns mentioned in earlier announcements are not as worrisome.

We understand that the biopsy was performed Wednesday or Thursday, so the results should be known by now. A medical bulletin, not a mere briefing by a Malacañang functionary or by the President himself, should be issued by the proper doctor(s).

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops, including those who may have been offended by Duterte’s harsh remarks about God and priests in general, may want to gather the faithful and pray earnestly for Duterte’s recovery and healing.

The President’s friend, former archbishop of Davao Romulo Valles who is now president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, can open the prayers.

The rest of us who just want to lead peaceful lives while enjoying our fair share of whatever economic bounty there is can join wishing the President well. Partisans of the contending camps can temper their rhetoric for a while and concentrate on coexistence within the law.

We assume that President Duterte and his family want some rest. The past two years have seen a bruised and divided nation – never mind muna who or what caused the sad state of affairs. We all deserve a respite from the turmoil.

May a refreshed President Duterte emerge from this crucible and take charge – guided by goodwill to all and strengthened by the rule of law.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 9, 2018)

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