POSTSCRIPT / December 15, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Addiction to ‘Kape’ takes toll on Duterte

PRESIDENT Duterte is showing signs of addiction to “Kape,” the heady mix of “Kapangyarihan at Pera” — of power and wealth – which is more deadly than fentanyl, an opioid he has been taking that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

The tired President is suddenly talking about considering a Revolutionary Government to solve the problems bedeviling his shaky administration. It is unfortunate he can no longer see that it is not so much the system as the people in it that spells success or failure.

Installing a Revolutionary Government is not an option open to the President under the Constitution. That Duterte is toying with the idea of scrapping the very Constitution he had solemnly sworn to “preserve and defend” is disturbing.

More than 33 years after Ferdinand Marcos tried ruling from his sickbed, Duterte appears to be laying the basis for similarly overstaying, or having his powerful presence linger, after his constitutionally limited term.

He must be looking for a way to stay in the Palace or to retain enough clout and wealth to ensure protection for himself and his families. Marcos had 20 years to consolidate, while Duterte, an intellectual pygmy beside the former, has been up there less than four years.

Marcos was forbidden from staying beyond 1973, the end of his second four-year term. The brilliant lawyer, however, had a ready solution: He declared martial law in 1972, scrapped the 1935 Constitution, and wrote a self-serving replacement Charter.

To justify what was described as a coup from the center, Marcos unreeled the narrative that the oligarchs on the right were conspiring with the communists on the left to consolidate power and further entrench themselves. Oligarchs have been favorite straw men of autocrats.

Using the martial law powers of the Commander-in-Chief, he moved to save the Republic! It was probably incidental that he stood to benefit from the extension of his tenure.

He marketed his “New Society” brand and moved to drill discipline (control) in the minds of a nation taken by surprise. He took foreign loans to fund an infrastructure-building frenzy – this sounds familiar — to show that only by the resort to emergency powers can Filipinos enjoy a more comfortable life.

Marcos saw to it he had a legal basis for whatever he wanted to do. He did not adopt a RevGov – unlike Emilio Aguinaldo and Cory Aquino who had reason and a duty to react to a revolutionary situation at the time — also unlike Duterte still groping for justifications for the RevGov in his mind.

Setting up a revolutionary setup will deviate somewhat from the path taken by Marcos in September 1972 when he imposed martial rule. Martial law is constitutionally defensible if all its factual bases are present, but a RevGov is not.

Before Duterte blunders into declaring a RevGov, he should be reminded of how similar misadventures in history had devoured their own children.

If that is too complicated to absorb, he can reread the limerick we mentioned here last Nov. 28 about the lady of Niger who smiled as she rode the tiger, and then coming back from the ride with the lady inside and the smile on the face of the tiger.

There is no revolution in the air, unless he dignifies as a revolution the insurgency led by a cabal that includes his professor Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, who demands power-sharing before they consider laying down their arms.

(It is intriguing that Duterte is sending Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, one of the communists he had absorbed in his Cabinet, to reopen “peace talks” with Sison who has been plotting and directing an insurgency from the safety and comfort of the Netherlands.)

The ticking of the clock is getting louder, adding pressure for the 74-year-old Duterte to perform a miracle in the remaining two years of his term — at least to deliver on his promise to stop crime, corruption and the drug menace in six months from July 2016.

Soon it will be time to play the end-game. Is Duterte ready? Things have been piling up, raising the scary question of how he could protect himself and his multiple families from the Fates lurking in the dark fringes.

It is a long shot, but there is also the option of revising the Constitution, thereby resetting the system for a fresh start. His loyal supermajority in the House of Representatives is suddenly excited about Charter Change via a constituent assembly. Who gave them the signal?

This is the same dead horse that politicians — except for senators whose chamber is threatened with abolition and their terms cut from six to five years — kick now and then to see if it could be resuscitated.

But while Duterte pretends to rule out martial law, he threatens to send soldiers to take over public utilities and the water concessions serving Metro Manila. Blinded by his loathing and envy for the old (meaning not his) oligarchy, he wants to wreck their empire.

He has forgotten how his soldiers — with emphasis on “his” to highlight his proprietary attitude toward the armed forces (and also the national police) – made a mess of Customs and the Bilibid national prisons.

Indeed, addiction to “Kape” is worse than dependence on fentanyl.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 15, 2019)

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