PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s misguided tongue may have become the most potent threat to his presidency after he confessed this week that he was tired of being president, while continuing his rant against the Catholic Church, the clergy and the religious.
A mindless speech
In a loose-cannon speech in Malacañang on Tuesday night, he said he could quit before his term ends in 2022, except that he does not believe his constitutionally designated successor, Vice President Leni Robredo, is prepared to handle the job. He would rather have either former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who is formally protesting Robredo’s election before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, or Sen. Francis Escudero, who also ran for vice president and lost — or he would settle for a military junta, if one could be arranged.
It is the Constitution, not the sitting President, that defines the line of presidential succession: after the Vice President, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House follow, in that order. Neither Bongbong Marcos nor Chiz Escudero is part of it.
Should DU30 vacate for any reason whatsoever, Robredo will have to succeed him, like it or not, unless the PET overturns her election in favor of Marcos. She needs no further qualification in order to succeed.
A military junta comes into play only if a military coup overthrows the duly elected constitutional government. We cannot therefore take DU30’s political musings seriously, unless he envisions following Erap Estrada’s lamented path.
In 2000, as the political attacks on Estrada mounted, leading to Speaker Manny Villar’s railroading of the impeachment complaint against him in the House of Representatives, the President began talking about how tired and how ready he was to give up his post. This gave his confidantes the go-ahead to start negotiating with the anti-Estrada forces the terms of his leaving office.
The end finally came after the House prosecutors walked out of the Senate impeachment trial, because they could not get what they wanted, and then Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., who had presided over the botched trial, swore in then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as President before a small crowd at EDSA, attended by the SC justices, members of the Cabinet, and the military top brass.
As far as we can see, there are no forces similar to those against Estrada, which are massing against DU30 at this point. But if the talk of giving up the presidency comes from DU30 himself, it won’t be long before those forces begin to surface. And they would not be wrong to proclaim they are merely responding to DU30’s own initiative.
Up to this point, some of his minions in the intelligence community have been trying very hard to fabricate the story that there is an “Oust Duterte Movement” spearheaded by the Liberal Party, with Catholic bishops, including dead ones, and some Catholic laymen, including this independent columnist, trying to mobilize the public against the President. They are evidently trying to create the basis for a massive witch-hunt against DU30’s critics and perceived enemies.
DU30’s confession of being tired of the mounting and unsolved corruption in his own government merely succeeds in pulling the rug from under the feet of those trying to create the platform for draconian and totalitarian solutions which they themselves may want to propose. Indeed, it was a serious mistake for DU30 to talk of any recurring temptation to quit, even if he did not actually mean what he said, and even if none of those listening to him actually believed it.
For as long as he is in office, no matter how unpopular he has become, he cannot afford to show that he is overwhelmed by the burdens he has to bear. Rather than merely admit his state of tiredness, ennui, and impotence in the face of the most formidable challenges, he should find the courage to bite the bullet and capitulate. Merely talking about it is a serious mistake.
This was DU30’s first error in his Tuesday speech.
New rant vs the Church
His second error involves his latest rant against the Catholic Church. He called the Church “the most hypocritical institution in the Philippines,” threatened to “kick the ass” of any bishop around, and mocked poor farmers who believed in a patron saint. But he assigned authorship of the anti-Church quote to his Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., a defrocked Catholic priest and confirmed communist with the rank of vice chairman of the National Democratic Front. For no apparent reason, he quipped, “Is there any bishop here? I want to kick your ass!”
He may have spoken like a goon purely for political effect, but people who heard him thought he was unquestionably and seriously sick. After listening to his speech, an elderly gentleman told his friends, “even sick people defecate through their anus; how can anyone do it through their mouth?”
Had this happened to a private person anywhere, his family and friends would have promptly reached out for medical help. But different rules apparently apply to sitting presidents. So only someone as reckless as this columnist has the nerve to ask: Is the subject cracked or what? And if he is, what can anybody do about it?
Absent a majority of the entire Cabinet exercising their constitutional duty to transmit a written declaration to the leaders of Congress informing them that, for reasons of poor mental health, the President is no longer able to exercise the powers and duties of his office, who would have the power or the duty to do anything about it?
Last July 10, 2018, after a 15-minute one-sided conversation between DU30 and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which took the place of a supposed “dialogue” between the two on Church-State issues, Malacañang announced a “moratorium” on attacks against the Church. It was a unilateral Palace announcement, which did not apologize for the attacks and the killing of three secular priests, nor promise to end them. It simply announced a “moratorium.”
“Moratorium” means a temporary prohibition of a particular activity. In banking and finance, it means a legal authorization to debtors to postpone payment. Thus, DU30’s “moratorium” on his attacks on the Church, the religious, the clergy and God himself, whom he had called stupid, did not mean he would completely cease and desist from his mounting attacks; it only meant he would pause for a short while until he feels like doing it all over again without the prior consent of, or previous notification, to the Church.
So, after 24 hours, he broke the “moratorium,” and said, “Sorry God,” only after one Protestant televangelist, with a senator-son who happens to be his political ally, convinced him to apologize for the sudden backslide. On Tuesday evening, he was back at his old attack mode, without any justifiable provocation.
Since it was only a “moratorium,” he could end it anytime he wanted to, and resume his anti-Church offensive without advance notice. This makes him a real danger to the Church and its institutions, even though they pose no danger to the State or to him at all. So large is the contagion emanating from him though that it is capable of spreading, and has in fact spread, to various levels and levers of government and political power.
I have earlier mentioned its effect on the intelligence operatives who seem determined to portray DU30’s critics as “political enemies” in order to provide DU30 a platform for going after them. Although this effort has apparently been compromised by DU30’s doubts about his ability to hold on, he has succeeded in infecting the constituency loyal to him with his anti-Catholic world view.
Apart from ignorance, which is the biggest source of opposition to Church teaching and the doctrine of the Faith, it is not clear what feeds DU30’s biases against the Church, and even God himself.
New teaching vs death sentence
But some observers predict that DU30’s animus against the Church is likely to intensify after Pope Francis announced a change in Catholic teaching, which declares capital punishment “inadmissible” in all circumstances. The country abolished the penalty in 2006, but since DU30 came into power some 27,800 drug suspects are said to have been killed by police and vigilantes in his so-called war on drugs.
Priests and bishops have become the biggest campaigners against extrajudicial killings. The new teaching against capital punishment is expected to further strengthen the Church opposition to the extrajudicial killings.
By attacking the Church, the clergy and the religious, DU30 probably believes he is responding in advance to what the Church will say and do, given the new circumstances. But he is, in fact, creating a provocation, which Catholics will not find easy to ignore.
In fairness to DU30, he does not lack supporters who will damn the torpedoes just to follow him. This is not limited to religious matters. On his federalism project alone, he is supported by highly educated and pedigreed individuals whose only problem is their inability to distinguish constitutional from unconstitutional, legal from illegal, right from wrong. They sit in a consultative committee created by DU30 to draft a federal constitution which they want Congress to deliberate on.
A blind elite
But they cannot see that the Constitution excludes the President from any role in proposing constitutional amendments, and that DU30’s proposing a shift to the federal system is illegal, his creation of the consultative committee is illegal, the ConCom’s draft constitution is illegal, the information campaign on federalism, etc. is illegal, and all the efforts to push DU30’s project are illegal.
The only thing worth listening to is the warning coming from DU30’s economic managers that the project will wreck the economy, if it pushes through.
A committee member has asked DU30 to sack the Cabinet members. While they are in the Cabinet, the member said, they have no business contradicting the President. This is technically correct: they should have resigned. But since they did not, they should be fired — “immediately, if not sooner!” But sacking may be just too good for these “rebels.” Shouldn’t they be drawn, quartered and fed to the sharks — for expressing their outlandish views and opposing the President? What do you think?