AS this is written, President Rodrigo Duterte is about to address the nation in a live TV broadcast. Malacañang has given no indication what exactly he intends to talk about. He arrived last Saturday from a week-long arms-shopping trip to Israel and Jordan, which did not bear much fruit. The news cycle has since been dominated by his controversial attempt to revoke a 2010 presidential amnesty granted by then President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, with the full concurrence of Congress, to former Navy lieutenant-turned-senator Antonio Trillanes 4th for his participation in three destabilization efforts in 2003, 2006 and 2007 against the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo government.
This is now the subject of a raging debate, and no one has accused DU30 of winning it.
It is not for me or anybody else to tell him what to talk about. But he has a vast field to cover if he wants to be informative and forthright. He could begin by talking about his Israeli and Jordanian trips: what happened in those visits? He traveled with a planeload of 400 people, according to the news reports; the taxpayers would like to know if they were all freeloaders who may be part of the reasons why we now have Southeast Asia’s highest inflation rate of 6.4 percent.
What happened in Israel
In Jerusalem, a number of good things happened. DU30 discovered the God of Abraham is real, all-wise and all-powerful, and not in the least “stupid”; that Hitler was absolutely insane for ordering the Holocaust which killed 6 million Jews; and that he owed former US President Barack Obama (who is incidentally not a Jew) an apology for calling him a “son of a whore” in 2016. It would be good to hear DU30 say something about all these. But more importantly, it would be good for him to tell us what happened to his well-announced plan to acquire the most modern military arms and equipment from the Jewish state.
By this, he had intended to show his “independence” from the US, the country’s historic ally, which he accused of giving the Philippines only hand-me-down arms and equipment. Since then, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have written DU30, presumably on behalf of President Donald Trump, a letter offering the Philippines a range of modern military equipment. Is it true Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed no interest whatsoever in selling DU30 any Israeli arms and equipment?
What happened in Jordan
It was in Amman, Jordan where DU30 finally got some discussions on military purchases going. Jordan agreed to transfer two refurbished Bell A-HI Cobra attack helicopters to the DU30 government by July. Unless I am completely mistaken, these are slightly used US-made helicopters. But the more interesting question about the Jordanian visit was that it was cut short by one day without any official explanation for it. Was there anything Malacañang failed to tell us? Perhaps there was.
Earlier in March, DU30 had a lively exchange with Jordanian Prince Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2014 to 2018, who once played a central role in organizing the International Criminal Court at the Hague, where a private party has brought allegations of crimes against humanity against DU30.
Zeid said DU30 needed to be psychiatrically evaluated after he threatened to go after Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who has been trying to inquire into the drug killings in the Philippines. DU30 said Zeid, coming from a monarchy, was unfamiliar with the ways of constitutional government. Having apologized to Obama while he was in Israel, people expected DU30 to apologize to Zeid, a blood relative of King Abdullah 2nd, before or during his visit to Amman. But he did not, so people are asking whether that had anything to do with his decision to shorten his four-day visit. It would be good to hear from DU30 on this.
The Trillanes amnesty
Or he could explain more comprehensively his attempt to cancel Aquino’s final and irrevocable amnesty in favor of Trillanes. This has been lengthily discussed in the press, but his latest statement seems to provide a definitive proof of how he completely misunderstands the constitutional powers and prerogatives of the President. He says his attempt to cancel Aquino’s Proclamation 75 of November 24, 2010 by his own Proclamation 572 on August 31, 2018 is an exercise of “presidential prerogative.”
This is a complete misreading of the Constitution. The president’s power and prerogative, under Article VII, Section 19 of the Constitution is “to grant amnesty with the concurrence of a majority of all the members of the Congress.” It is not the opposite. The Constitution does not grant the president the power to revoke or cancel any amnesty previously granted by another president under the same provision, even with the concurrence of all the members of Congress.
Least of all does it grant him the power to revoke any such amnesty without the concurrence of any member of Congress. Some propagandists have tried to advance the view that while the consent of Congress is necessary and essential to give validity to the president’s amnesty, it does not share the president’s power to issue such amnesty. This is probably the last word in sophistry, but you don’t need to have studied Aristotelian logic to show this is bunk. The power to grant amnesty is defined by the Constitution as a shared power of the president and the Congress.
The only pro-government argument that seems worth exploring is the one advanced by the most unlikely source, the presidential counsel Salvador Panelo, which claims that the official who granted Trillanes and company their amnesty was not Aquino himself but only his Secretary of National Defense, Voltaire Gazmin, who had no constitutional authority to do so. Since Aquino could not delegate his power to Gazmin, if it were shown beyond doubt that the amnesty was granted by Gazmin rather than Aquino, then it would be void ab initio.
But was that, in fact, the case?
It appears there is no dispute on the authenticity of Aquino’s signature on Proclamation 75; Gazmin intervened solely as processing officer, pursuant to the rules of procedure in the processing of amnesty applications. His participation could not invalidate the amnesty unless it was shown that he, rather than Aquino, granted amnesty to the applicants without legitimate constitutional authority. If DU30 can show this to have been the case, then he could question not Trillanes’s amnesty alone, but that of 38 other officers and 53 enlisted men as well. But can he?
This is also a good time for the President to talk with some coherence about his claim that certain groups are out to oust him in October. He has identified three groups, but Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has confirmed the alleged threat from only one group — the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front. The communists reportedly started planning their move against DU30 in 2016, then finalized it in 2018. As an old student of Philippine politics, I have serious reservations about it. Most, if not all, of DU30’s problems are self-inflicted.
But assuming Lorenzana is correct, DU30 should have been the first one to know about it. Why then did he have to appoint seasoned members of the CPP/NPA/NDF to the Cabinet, give imprimatur to the idea of a coalition government, and allow his Cabinet secretary, the rebel ex-priest and vice chairman of the NDF, Leon Evasco Jr., to conduct his grassroots campaign for the development of a Philippine socialist state?
Why did he make a big show of separating economically and militarily from the US and aligning himself with China and Russia against the world? And how does this explain his latest public statements that the CIA is out to kill him? Will he care to tell the nation whether he sees an active alliance between the CIA and the communists? Or will he care to remind the nation that he had long warned us that only two out of his five statements are to be taken seriously?
The economic crisis
Did DU30 decide to speak to the nation because the looming economic crisis threatens to go out of control? If so, it will not be enough to blame Donald Trump’s “tariffs” for the skyrocketing consumer prices that have given us the highest inflation rate of 6.4 percent nationwide (9 percent in Bicol) in all of Southeast Asia. The people must have enough food on their table and must not be made to choose between “rice with bukbok” (weevils) and “bukbok with some rice,” and imported galunggong.
Faced with the massive complaints against all the negative effects of the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) Law, DU30 should decide whether the problem could be solved by scrapping the said law, or simply by renaming it TRABAHO (for Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-quality Opportunities). Propaganda allows the government to tell the starving masses how much they are enjoying the bounties of good government.
DU30 will have to decide whether Davao should carve the biggest share of the national budget while the other regions get nothing. He will also have to decide whether the family of his special assistant Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, whom he had long described as a “billionaire,” should have all the infrastructure contracts denied to more deserving competitors. Finally, he will have to decide whether or not to keep the large number of incompetent and corrupt officials who have become an albatross around the neck of his administration.
I do not expect DU30 to have the courage to fire any of these scoundrels right now, but never before have I felt any desire to be wrong about this ex-mayor of Davao.
IN MEMORIAM. It is with the deepest sorrow that I share with friends and readers the news about the passing of Ambassador Jose V. Romero Jr., 84, in Baltimore, Maryland. The information is sketchy, but everything is being done by his bereaved family to make sure his remains are brought to Manila as soon as possible. Joe served as Philippine ambassador to Rome, and as permanent representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Until his passing, he chaired the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations, and was a professorial lecturer in political economy at the University of Asia and the Pacific, where he earned a doctorate in development management. A product of Trinity College, Cambridge, he took graduate studies in economics at Georgetown University later. One of his enduring causes was to fight for the coconut farmers. A mutual friend Charlie Avila was able to pay him his last respects before he passed. “Finish the fight,” he told Charlie before he expired.
Joe contributed occasional pieces of substance to the Manila Times. He had a passion for excellence and he lived the life of a devoted Catholic Christian gentleman. I ask the pious reader to offer a prayer for the repose of his soul.