– Federico D. Pascual Jr.
President Duterte said he did not sneak out on an air ambulance for medical treatment in Singapore over the weekend, but was just in Davao in what his spokesman called “perpetual isolation” with his second family.
For someone said to be ailing, the 75-year-old Duterte was unusually forceful in snapping “wala kayong pakialam!” (none of your business) at detractors in his pre-recorded Monday Night Live show.
Duterte pointed out that like every citizen, he has the right to travel. He added that if he has to go on a private trip, he would spend for it and not draw from public funds, for that would be graft.
“Stop this nonsense about my going to Singapore,” he said. “Wala kayong pakialam, kung gusto kong umalis (It’s none of your business if I want to travel).”
We don’t know if he has succeeded in distracting attention from the reports of his supposed medical flight to his legal and financial capacity to travel.
Duterte went on to address hypothetical situations of him going abroad and such frequently asked questions as to who would run the government in his absence.
He said that in some situations, the Deputy Prime Minister (in a parliamentary setup, which we do not have) or the Vice President (who is the No. 2 executive official that we have in the person of Vice President Leni Robredo) would run the government.
But he said he was not inclined to ask the Vice President to temporarily take over – which was exactly what happened during the 21 foreign trips he has made since 2016.
In case of his prolonged absence, he said, he could go on leave but keep control of the government electronically – not in the hands of the Vice President as provided for in the Constitution in specified situations.
He mentioned another scenario “when things are not quite good” or when the situation becomes “topsy-turvy”, in which case he said he could entrust the reins to some persons (who we did not recognize as among those in the line of presidential succession).
We could not make out clearly the names he mentioned, but one sounded like “Bingbong” and another one like “Guevarra”. He did not explain why or how these individuals would play key roles in a critical situation.
He mentioned a worst-case scenario, such as the possibility of a military junta running the government, although he did not use the term “junta” as they do in some military-led takeovers in other countries.
Such a military cover, he said, could be led by the Secretary of National Defense, who is at the moment retired general Delfin Lorenzana. We assume that Duterte has told Lorenzana of this possibility, placing the defense chief on some kind of leash.
Such variations in the configuration of a power group taking over from the President – like if he is forced into exile or to go on medical leave but tries to govern by remote control – are extra-constitutional.
We are discussing them here, superficially, only because Duterte himself without any apparent good reason raised their possibly occurring outside the line of succession defined in the Constitution.
Traced in its broad lines, presidential succession is taken up in, among other places in the Charter, Section 8 of Article VII which says:
“Section 8. In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President, the Vice President shall become the President to serve the unexpired term. In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of both the President and Vice President, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall then act as President until the President or Vice President shall have been elected and qualified.”
• Duterte needs a total anti-COVID plan
With the President implying that he does not need treatment abroad, we hope he will now answer the question of how he plans to rout COVID-19 that has killed more than 2,685 of the 170,000 Filipinos it has infected – with the figures still surging.
While at it, he might also want to share with the hungry and jobless millions what he plans to do quickly to stimulate economic activity without putting their health at risk.
Duterte has bared repeatedly his reliance on mass vaccination to stop the COVID onslaught, but failed to outline what his military-dominated policy and compliance teams have in mind aside from enforcing the quarantine rules and waiting for vaccines to drop from heaven.
The dearth of information on the President’s activities adds to the anxiety. As we often say, public information abhors a vacuum. Say/do nothing and the public will speculate or imagine things and stir up a PR tempest.
After his TV show Monday, not a few observers wondered aloud why, for instance, he did not say a word, as if he was totally unaware, about the arrest three days earlier of Anduljihad Indang Susukan, a notorious Abu Sayyaf terrorist leader in Duterte’s own home ground.
This security matter deserved an extended statement or a flurry of directives from the Commander-in-Chief, especially with the involvement of Moro leader Nur Misuari, his special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Was Duterte asleep, or was he elsewhere, while Misuari and Susukan escorted by their heavily armed fighters moved around Davao like the Mayor had given them the key to the city?
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