POSTSCRIPT / November 28, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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How will Duterte dismount the tiger?

HAS President Duterte been having intimations of mortality lately? His body language tells us that such worrisome hints have been creeping through his 74-year-old frame since his biorhythm started acting up.

Duterte has said often enough that he is tired and wants some rest – except that duty or something compelling calls for him to stay. Unless he wants to plod on till the last day of his term, he may have to cobble up an exit strategy soon.

His situation reminds us of this limerick in high school that many of us in the back row attributed to the prolific @Anon:

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

While it may look macho taming a tiger and riding it, dismounting could be quite tricky – especially for one who has been blamed, rightly or wrongly, for the dead bodies littering his trail in the narcotics jungle.

Duterte’s endgame could be messy. because of the extrajudicial excesses that have marked his turbulent ride, as well as the unkept promises, such as his pledge to end crime and corruption, and to make life more comfortable.

Power is addictive, but sliding down the second half of his term, a worn-out Duterte is hard pressed to salvage what is left of his administration and to put together an exit strategy.

Even now, one can already see shifting loyalties and hear discordant notes, which is normal in this middling country where My-Survival is the first rule of conduct.

How many of Duterte’s supposed loyalists would stick with him when they see the road signs leading to the cliff? He knows too well that traditional politicians (“trapo” or rag) swim or drift with the current to save themselves.

Unless he is able to force a rewriting of the Constitution or totally get rid of it in the next two years, his own post-2022 survival will depend on who or what group will be on top after his exit.

Toward the endgame, the post of Vice President becomes pivotal, it being the “spare tire” reserved by the Constitution if there arises a need for it.

Duterte’s best guarantee for a soft landing — if his regime’s scaffolding crashes — is former senator Bongbong Marcos’ winning his protest against Vice President Robredo. The Marcoses will protect him as well as they had helped him win the presidency in 2016.

The problem is that Marcos’ winning at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal is uncertain despite his family’s resources and connections.

Most of those we have asked on both sides of the fence scoffed at this idea, but we think Duterte should try forging a modus vivendi with Robredo – if only to enable himself to go on an extended leave to seek medical attention and prolong his life.

Assuming the President may consider such an arrangement, it is doubtful if the people around him would welcome it. They would rather keep Duterte to themselves to protect their own interests.

We were disappointed hearing the presidential spokesman say that Robredo “blew it” when she “taunted” Duterte into dismissing her as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs.

We think it was the administration that blew it, not Robredo who even earned propaganda points with her being fired as she was on a roll. Duterte could have tried working with her and possibly using her to deodorize the stink of his bloody war on drugs.

With her holistic approach emphasizing rehabilitation rather than execution of suspects, she could have succeeded in giving Duterte’s savage war a more humane facelift and diverted international attention from the gore.

With Robredo set up as high-profile head of a reprogrammed anti-narcotics campaign, the Philippines could have persuaded United Nations agencies to slow down their investigating the EJKs associated with the war on drugs.

It is a dream scenario, but (1) Would Duterte’s coterie allow it to dilute their influence?, (2) What if Duterte is hiding some ugly “state secrets,” or protecting big operators close to him? and (3) Would Robredo agree?

 Bongbong unlikely reliever of Duterte

WE doubt if Bongbong Marcos would win his protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal in spite of its being dominated by Supreme Court justices sympathetic to him.

The main obstacles to a Marcos victory are time and due process. The protest before the PET/SC has only a little over two years left to wrap up. Duterte better not wait for him to become Vice President.

Even if the Vice President (Robredo) is physically eliminated, Marcos will not become the VP. His protest was filed after she was already proclaimed winner, so her removal will not install the runner-up as replacement.

The Constitution says in Section 9, Article VII: “Whenever there is a vacancy in the Office of the Vice President during the term for which he was elected, the President shall nominate a Vice President from among the Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives who shall assume office upon confirmation by a majority vote of all the Members of both Houses of the Congress, voting separately.”

After Marcos lost the recount in the three pilot provinces he had picked to show probable cause, the PET allowed him to go to Mindanao to fish for evidence in three other provinces whose poll records are to be subjected to technical examination.

But before that, Marcos and Robredo still have to submit their comments on the recount in his first three provinces.

The tech exam that Marcos wants in Mindanao will easily take one-and-a-half years. After that, the two parties will submit memoranda. Any decision on the tech exam will be subject to motions for reconsideration.

After that exchange, it will be Robredo’s turn to go through the same long process because she also filed a counter-protest covering 18 provinces. The new recount will start with her three pilot provinces (she is now the protestant) applying the same Rule 65 that the PET had ignored.

By the time the protest is nearing conclusion, the term of a fatigued Duterte might also be near its end.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 28, 2019)

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