OP ED COLUMN: OPINION ON PAGE ONE- Is the end imminent? – By Francisco S. Tatad

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

DESPITE the disturbing presidential admissions in the last few days, most Filipinos, I believe, continue to hope that President Rodrigo Duterte would serve his full term until 2022, without any incident. But for some, the next three years will be a toss-up between his physical health and his political health. Will he ultimately fall because of failing health or will he be ousted by the CPP/NPA/NDF? This question can no longer be avoided.

An endoscopy and colonoscopy recently performed on DU30 have shown a “growth,” which doctors are still trying to determine whether malignant or benign. The complete reading is not yet known, but DU30 told the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association on October 4, “if it’s cancer, it’s cancer. And if it’s third stage, no more treatment. I will not prolong my agony in office or anywhere.”

The physical vs the political
While DU30 is battling such serious health issue, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has claimed that the CPP/NPA/NDF plans to oust DU30 soon, and that 18 universities and colleges had become the hub of its destabilization effort. We have not seen anything remotely resembling the storm that raged inside the universities during the Marcos years, but if DU30 believes they had become the hotbed of an oust-DU30 movement, then the relevant “facts” will not be slow in rising to the surface. University authorities and students have already denounced the government’s allegation as baseless.

Both threats to the President deserve an objective, cold-blooded look. What are the real prospects of each? First, let us consider DU30’s physical health.

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Since the 73-year-old DU30 assumed office on June 30, 2016, he has been bothered by various maladies. His recurring and unexplained disappearances from official public functions have been blamed on these ailments. He has complained of continuous migraine, Barrett’s esophagus, Buerger’s disease, and some spinal injury sustained during an early motorcycle riding accident. He was recently reported to have suffered severe coughing and vomiting spells, before and after his July state of the nation address.

An endoscopy is an examination of the esophagus, stomach and small intestine, using a tube with lighting and camera at the end. It is usually performed on patients who are complaining of dyspepsia or heartburn, constant bleeding or vomiting. A colonoscopy on the other hand is an examination where the doctor inserts a colonoscope from the anus up to the hole of the large intestine. Both procedures have been performed on the President. Some doctors, however, point out that if the patient’s problem is the throat, this would require a separate examination; it is not known whether the President needs such an examination or that he has had it.

What’s serious illness?
DU30’s own revelation has triggered a demand for more information about his actual state of health. Section 12 of Article VII of the Constitution provides that “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.”

Section 11 of the same article provides that “whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.”

Likewise, “whenever a majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House…a written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

No enabling law has been enacted to define what “serious illness” means. Who decides when the President is seriously ill? Is cancer, whether treatable or not, considered a serious illness that should instantly trigger the implementation of the constitutional provision? Who can compel the release of the President’s medical records if he decides not to release them? Does the President have to order or authorize the issuance of regular medical bulletins? Who can authorize such bulletins if the President refuses to have them?

Roque in the dark
No complaint has been heard from the Foreign Secretary, the Defense Secretary, the National Security Adviser or the AFP Chief of Staff that they have been denied access to the President at this time, but the presidential spokesman Harry Roque has complained that he has been kept in the dark about DU30’s endoscopy and has threatened to resign. Roque has made known his desire to run for the Senate in the May 2019 elections, but DU30 has said he has no way of winning because the armed forces, who are supposed to be politically neutral in any election, are not inclined to support him.

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DU30’s medical condition has triggered instant discussions about his possible successor, but his gratuitous remarks about Vice President Leni Robredo have provoked speculations about the possibility of an extra-constitutional process. However the President goes, the choice of his successor is defined by the Constitution, not by anybody else. The line of succession begins with the Vice President, down to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. Vice President Leni Robredo’s election is under protest from former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., but if the presidency falls vacant now, Robredo automatically assumes the office.

Bongbong Marcos will have no claim to it, and Robredo’s right to succeed will not be affected by DU30’s opinion that she lacks his murderous qualities to become president. Neither will the military be obliged to listen to DU30’s musings about a military junta, unless perhaps a military conspiracy or a foreign invasion threatens to overrun the government and the military decides to act as the constitutional protector of the people and the state.

The communist threat
This brings us to the second question: What are the chances of DU30 being overthrown by the communists?

It is safe to presume that the CPP/NPA/NDF considers the university classroom or campus a fertile ground for recruiting new members. Even foreign intelligence and corporate “headhunters” look to them as possible sources of fresh recruits. But the government cannot just assume “it is highly likely” that communist recruitment is going on; it must show it is indeed happening there, and build up its case against the suspects. This is best done through police investigative work, not simply by making a blanket accusation against the universities and colleges.

Irresponsible and dangerous
The statement, coming from the AFP, is regrettably so unintelligent, irresponsible and dangerous. It tars all the academic institutions, makes every student and faculty member in those institutions suspect, and threatens a military crackdown that will make the slightest tinge of academic freedom a thing of the past. Far from preserving the university classroom and campus as places where the young can explore new ideas, it turns them into places where they could build and throw bombs instead. It creates the very situation which academic learning is supposed to prevent.

Under Marcos, the “university belt” became the seat of the student protest movement. University of the Philippines President Salvador P. Lopez, a nationalist patriot who wrote the last words (“Bataan has fallen”) for the Filipino wartime defenders of Bataan against the savage Japanese onslaught, and who long after the war served as one of the nation’s more consequential Secretary of Foreign Affairs, led the student marches from Diliman to Malacañang in an effort to showcase the nationalist character of their protest.

But there were no clear dividing lines between the nationalists and the communists. Their common objective was to remove Marcos, even though Joma Sison and Commander Dante alone had a concrete plan of setting up a Maoist dictatorship.

Irony of ironies, Marcos virtually broke the back of the communist movement by capturing and jailing Sison and other top communist leaders during Martial Law, only to fall in a civilian-supported military putsch in 1986. Then Cory Aquino, his revolutionary successor, released and amnestied all the dissidents. When the Soviet empire disintegrated and the Cold War ended in 1991, Sison and his companions remained the only communist holdouts in Europe, specifically in Utrecht.

Was DU30 ever anti-Red?
In 2016, DU30 began his presidency with an express desire to forge a coalition government with the communists. His most notable Cabinet appointees were members of the CPP central committee, without the benefit of any peace agreement. He pursued his peace talks with the communists in a farcical dance between NDF-1 and NDF-2, driven by his previous personal association with Sison as his professor in college. Then the talks broke down on a bed of personal insults. Most of his communist appointees failed to hurdle the confirmation process, but he kept his top communist aide, rebel ex-priest and NDF vice chairman Leoncio Evasco Jr., who continues to run the Office of the President.

If DU30 is determined to go after the alleged communist recruits in the universities, what will he do to his communist partners and subordinates in government? Given his relationship with the Communist Party of China, which now feeds into the broad conduct of his national security and international relations, is it unthinkable for DU30 to accelerate his original plan of building a coalition government with Evasco’s communists, while abrogating his ties with the Sisonite forces, who accuse him of running a “brutal, corrupt and mendacious” dictatorship? His revelations on “Red October” and on his precarious state of health may have compelled various political forces to come out of the woodwork, but they have not necessarily put DU30 entirely on the defensive.

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fstatad@gmail.com

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