POSTSCRIPT / December 16, 2021 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte looks tired facing his end game

ONE test of the presidency is that of endurance. Now running on his sixth year in office, President Duterte is showing signs of fatigue, of wear and tear. The 76-year-old “mayor” does not only look worn-out, but also a bit confused.

With time and options running out, Duterte appears to be having a hard time deciding how to wind down and close his political career. How he would play the end game is not yet clear – we suspect, even to him.

In the normal course of heading for the exit, a lame-duck president should now be spending his time not counting the fortune he has amassed but consolidating whatever points of historical and political value he may have gained.

Barred by the Constitution from running for any reelection, Duterte announced in August his running for vice president in the 2022 national elections, ostensibly to continue enjoying immunity from expected lawsuits.

Of particular concern was the filing with the International Criminal Court in The Hague of information against him for supposed crimes against humanity. The complaint, alleging extrajudicial killings among other abuses, is now being processed.

As neither his theory of continued immunity nor the Philippines’ breaking away from the 1998 Rome Statute that founded the ICC would save him from prosecution even if he got elected vice president, he dropped in October his plan to run for VP.

He announced that he would just retire from politics after his term ends on June 30 next year. After persuading his long-time aide Bong Go, now a senator, to run for president, Duterte was back into running, but this time for senator.

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UNTIL then, Duterte was a moving target as he continually changed his mind on whether or not to run and for what position. Was he just trying to confuse the enemy or was he himself getting confused? We think it was more of the latter.

We noticed a caring remark of Bong Go when he also dropped, with obvious relief, his own candidacy for president so, according to him, he could devote more time looking after “tatay (father) Digong” who he said was “tumatanda na” (getting old).

Many times, Duterte himself hinted at a desire to slow down and ease the pressure of duty. In his already reduced public functions and appearances, people cannot help noticing his halting speech, unsteady gait and tendency to fall, his being assisted into and out of his chair.

One time while witnessing the arrival of vaccines from the US, Duterte expressed a desire to go to Washington to thank the American people for the vaccines they have sent through the COVAX arrangement of the World Health Organization.

He sounded like he was longing to take time off and be free to travel abroad, perhaps with his family members?, while he was still strong enough for such outings.

Apparently even his daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, did not know he was withdrawing Tuesday from the Senate race. Just hours before that, she endorsed his senatorial candidacy.

Btw, no substitution for Duterte is allowed. Since he backed out after the Nov. 15 deadline, no member of the Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan, the party he used, may now take his vacated slot.

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IS DUTERTE’S withdrawing his candidacy for senator the final twist in his confusing and confused end game? There could be more interesting turns down the road.

…like whom will he now endorse or support among these presidential aspirants: ex-senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Isko Moreno Domagoso, VP Leni Robredo, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, and Sen. Ping Lacson?

If/when he makes his choice, will there be any deal or at least an understanding, particularly as regards the incoming president’s protecting him from charges that his foes and victims are expected to heap on him?

As for the ICC charges based mainly on extrajudicial killings committed under his watch, he now appears to have softened his initial stiff stand that the ICC will never have jurisdiction over his person, something like saying “over my dead body”.

On Monday, he instructed Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to prepare a report on the alleged EJKs related to the government’s war against illegal drugs for possible presentation to the ICC so it would understand the enormity of the problem and the administration’s moves against it.

Is Duterte suddenly entertaining the possibility of his mounting a formal defense before the world court? What or who convinced him to consider making a formal reply?

Are we seeing an apparent mellowing of the harsh-talking Duterte, who just the other day was cursing on TV Sen. Dick Gordon, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee looking into alleged anomalous procurement of health supplies from a foreign firm linked to persons close to Duterte?

The other Friday, at the virtual “Summit for Democracy” organized by US President Biden, we noticed also Duterte’s pledging to ensure peaceful and credible elections in 2022 and to “turn over the reins of power to my successor knowing that I did my best to serve the Filipino nation.”

He seemed to have passed Biden’s summit test as no major sustained untoward reactions in the US to his participation and pro-democracy claims were recorded.

In our neighborhood, how is President Xi Jinping taking these developments? Is the Asian giant’s paramount leader still a major factor for Duterte to consider as he plots his moves for the end game?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 16, 2021)

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