ON the eve of President Rodrigo Duterte’s July 23rd state of the nation address (SONA) a young man came to me and said, “I find it hard to imagine that our nation could still survive another year of this.” In this one line he was able to convey his anger, his disgust, his boredom, his weariness, his languor, his frustration, his desire for something more relevant and meaningful. He spoke with the knowledge and conviction that he was talking not just for himself, but for so many others.
I tried to run a survey among young people, to find out how many of them would be watching and listening, and what they would like to hear from the President. Not enough seemed interested in watching or listening: the “maybes” seemed to dominate; three out of 10 decidedly said, no, they will not watch; not a single one said yes. They have other things to do—an errand to do, a family movie to catch, etc. What can DU30 possibly say, said one, which we have not heard before?
I thought this was a bit cross. We know what DU30 has done and failed to do; but we do not know what he intends to do in the next 12 months or so. Nor exactly what he will say today. DU30 has never given a speech in which he did not attack anybody, so it is fair to ask, who will he attack today?
Will he attack God again?
He has already attacked God and the Church, agreed to a “moratorium” on those attacks on July 9, broke the “moratorium” after 24 hours, then said “Sorry, God” after meeting with a friendly Protestant televangelist. But given the July 9 pastoral exhortation of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (“Rejoice and Be Glad!”), which was read in all churches on July 15, and anything he might have heard during the five-day Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization on July 18-22, he may have something new to say to or about the Catholic Church today.
Some people are betting he would launch into a new diatribe against God and the Church, just to distract the nation from its real problems. I do not share that prognosis. I believe he knows he has already lost so much political capital by needlessly attacking God and the Church, that even without fighting the Church, which his own allies say is a fight he can never win, he has already more than enough on his plate. He does not need to add anything more.
The overall picture
The moral, constitutional, political and economic order is a wreck. The relentless search for naked and non-accountable power has replaced the desire to see the nation governed well, the governor’s pleasure has replaced what the governed need and demand, the strength of the law has been vaporized by the law of the strong. The vulgar has become the vocabulary of men in high office, there is no high-minded discussion and debate on fundamental issues.
Jobs and incomes are down; a tax reform law intended to help salaried workers has produced the opposite result and sent prices shooting past the roof; the peso is down; exports are down; investors’ confidence is down; public services are down; only the unsolved murders of drug suspects, priests, and others are up. For all these ills, DU3O’s popularity, according to our crooked pollsters, is up too.
Are we going to hear any of these from the President this afternoon? I will not predict anything. He could try to paint a rosy picture of everything, but reality will be an enormous barrier. On my GNN show on Sunday evening, replayed on the same channel this morning, my co-host Ariel Ayala of the Catholic Media Network pointed out that DU30’s build build build flagship program has failed to make any significant progress from lack of political will.
Under Secretary Arthur Tugade, the Department of Transportation was able to utilize only four percent of its funds for capital expenditure. Out of 156 projects identified for implementation, only three were submitted for public bidding. It spent hundreds of millions of pesos paying its high officials and employees for doing nothing.
Under Secretary Mark Villar, the Department of Public Works and Highways was able to utilize only 37 percent of its funds for capital expenditure. Villar has other achievements that have attracted public attention.
The DILG has zero productivity, and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), which had chalked up quite a record under Lilia de Lima, who won a well-deserved Magsaysay Award in 2017 for her work there, lost 50 percent of its previous investments.
It will be particularly hard for DU30 to speak of any economic “achievements.” He could perhaps talk of his strong economic ties with China, but although an oversupply of Chinese “workers” has come in, not enough Chinese “projects” have been started to accommodate all those “workers.” Their mere presence alone, in such great numbers, has raised serious immigration and security concerns.
So much for the economy.
Bloodied like Christ
Because of DU30’s uninterrupted violations of the Constitution, and his unprovoked attacks on human rights, the Catholic Church and God himself, the people’s previous high regard for him has gone south, and when they look at the country like my young friend, they tend to equate its condition with that of the suffering Christ, struggling to keep moving forward, after stumbling thrice from the whips and scourges and the weight of his ignominious cross. They, like my young friend, end up asking, how long can this nation last?
As DU3O addresses the joint session of the two Houses of Congress, many are praying he would say something constructive for a change; that he would say something to unite rather than divide his countrymen; propose some new positive steps for the nation to take. Could he, for instance, assure the nation that he would now begin to deal with China as a sovereign equal by asking it to demilitarize and vacate the disputed islands, islets, reefs and shoals, and return them to their previous condition, before their current militarization? Would this be asking for the moon? It is the least DU30 can do to assure the Filipino people that he has not sold out to Xi Jinping.
The constitutional government he leads is a limited government, but it is the only one to which he has been elected, and within the limits of that government, there are many good things he can do, if he has the will, the intelligence and the courage to pursue any such initiative. Can he refrain from embarking on any adventure which the Constitution does not permit, like proposing a federal system of government for a unitary state?
To repeat, the proposal is not only illegitimate and illegal because he does not have the constitutional right, or duty or power to propose it. It is also absurd because the plan to fragment or splinter the unitary state into 18 regions contradicts the very essence and meaning of a “federalist republic.” It is further unwise because at least 15 of the 18 regions do not have the necessary wherewithal to support themselves as autonomous units. The only justification for the proposal is that DU30 wants it, and he will not listen to anything said against it. But that does not make it constitutional, non-self-contradictory, or economically sustainable and wise.
Assuming DU30 could ride roughshod over the constitutional constraints without any dire political consequences, his extremely loyal Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia has already warned against the unaffordable costs of his federal experiment. So also has his similarly loyal Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno warned against unmanageable fiscal deficits, and an immediate international credit rating downgrade if he rams through his federal project. So also, we hear, has his finance secretary, Carlos Dominguez warned about its international complications should it ever push through. So far no one has said anything about how the general population might react, assuming they will wake up from their deep sleep soon enough. It might not be a yawn, it could be catastrophic.
As if these problems were not enough, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has thrown in his own constitutional mischief, with his proposal for a people’s “initiative” to cancel the 2019 elections in order to allow the puppet Congress to devote undivided attention to DU30’s unconstitutional federal project. Cancellation of the 2019 elections would extend the term of all the sitting members of Congress, in violation of the Constitution, which defines their term of office, and of the basic principle which prohibits legislators from legislating for their own direct and immediate benefit.
Under the Constitution, amendments thereto may be proposed by the people upon a petition of at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three percent of the registered voters therein. The language is clear: it is a people’s initiative, which involves the people alone, without Congress or any of its officers. So, Alvarez’s proposal is null and void from the very beginning. Yet some mainstream broadsheets have found the courage to run the story as a banner headline.
In the course of his SONA or even before that, DU30 if he is so minded could sack his Cabinet members who do not agree with his proposed federal experiment. That will not make his unconstitutional act any more constitutional, nor make his federal project any less absurd, and conceptually defensible or economically sustainable. Of course, a presidential tantrum or a bout of madness cannot be discounted; at the heat of the moment, DU30 could decide to sack the skeptical Cabinet members. These guys are not at all indispensable, but very few capable professionals may be willing to board the Titanic at this point, so replacing them could become a serious problem.
DU30’s federalist project has serious consequences on all aspects of life for Filipinos. Thus, trying to bulldoze it through Congress, in defiance of the Constitution and common sense, could risk the active intervention of the Church. The Church is not a political party, and does not have any “armed divisions,” as Stalin had long noted in relation to the power of the Pope, but its moral authority is undisputed, and the unsolved killings of drug suspects, priests and others, and the unprovoked attack on God and the Catholic Church may have moved even nominal Catholics to get involved.
In the most moving homily delivered at Mass during the new evangelization conference last week, Caloocan bishop and CBCP vice-president Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David showed how two murders occurring hours and streets apart in a village within his diocese on Wednesday night, brought home the reality that he, as shepherd, “failed to protect the lives of his flock from the wolves prowling the streets and alleys of Caloocan, Malabon and Navotas.”
The norm has changed
In my view, this personal witness of this young bishop, who has become one of the strongest voices against the extrajudicial drug killings, has changed the nature and quality of resistance to the killings and the blasphemous attacks on God by those in power. This could motivate the ordinary Catholic to stand up for their faith not with the force of arms, which they do not have, but with the only weapon they have—their very own lives. If this perception is correct, then every single Catholic faithful has become a force to reckon with. This means God’s battle is on, with or without a formal declaration of war.
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