A visiting foreign journalist asked me the other day if it was necessary for President Rodrigo Duterte to choose the Speaker of the House of Representatives on behalf of its newly elected members. The question did not have to come from a foreign journalist; we should all be asking it—of Malacañang and of Congress. Choosing the Speaker is the sole prerogative of the House, without any prompting or interference from the Executive or the Judiciary, pursuant to separation of powers between and among the three co-equal, coordinate, and interdependent branches of government.

What happened here can happen only in a dictatorship, said the journalist. But assuming the Philippines has decided to become a dictatorship, is it necessary to make a grand spectacle of it?

In the real world, it is not possible for the President not to get involved in choosing the leaders of Congress. He is, after all, the most important leader of the tripartite system of government. But there is a world of difference between the President “vetting” or even “anointing” certain interested parties and taking over the actual selection process.  Even if the President were able to “dictate” his choice, a more robust respect for the Constitution would demand staying at arm’s length from the choosing process.

In 2016, DU30 chose two fellow Mindanaoans to lead the two Houses of Congress—Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao as Speaker and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd of Cagayan de Oro as Senate president. But somehow the PDP-Laban political party was able to present the two officials as its legitimate choices for the leadership of Congress rather than as DU30’s personal choices. This time, DU30 announced a term-sharing arrangement between Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano of Taguig and Rep. Lord Allan Velasco of Marinduque, after excluding the earlier favorite Martin Romualdez of Leyte, without the visible participation of the members of Congress.

Congress, or at least one-half of it, (hopefully without the Senate,) will now be taken over by the Executive. With the House leadership under its thumb, Malacañang will now have uninhibited control over the House’s “power of the purse,” and its exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment. The President will be free to cruise around the world, with any number of freeloaders on board, and he will be free to threaten impeachable officers with impeachment, should they cross any red lines, while he remains immune from impeachment, no matter how many impeachable crimes he commits.

He does not have to threaten, as he recently did, to shoot anyone who might want to file an impeachment complaint against him, because no matter how many such complaints are filed, they will all be thrown out by the House committee on justice. However he may have to restrain some of his sycophants who are reportedly already planning to impeach Vice President Leni Robredo in order to clear the way for the appointment of one of his newly elected Mindanao senators as Vice President.

The President is already in control of the Supreme Court (SC), having succeeded in removing the unwanted SC Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, not through impeachment as provided by the Constitution, but through a quo warranto proceeding perpetrated by the SC justices. His control of the House, through the Speakership, puts him effectively in control of the three branches of government, without any compulsion to treat the Constitution and the rule of law with more respect than one would accord a scrap of paper.

When DU30 said he would allow Chinese fishermen to fish inside the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said this would violate Paragraph Two, Section 2 of Article XII of the Constitution, which provides, “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.” Carpio raised a serious constitutional issue, but DU30 cut short the conversation by dismissing the magistrate as “STUPID,” without showing why he or the Constitution is so.

He further claimed he had a “verbal agreement” with Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow Chinese fishermen to fish inside Philippine waters, while Filipino fishermen fish inside Chinese waters—which gave our petulant Foreign Secretary Teddyboy Locsin the opportunity to point out that without any written text one could not validly invoke any such agreement.

Since July 12, 2016, when he distanced himself from the ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which upheld the Philippine position vis-a-vis China’s nine-dash line in the disputed maritime areas, DU30 found it easier to bow to China’s island-building and militarization of the maritime features in the South China Sea. He found China’s economic and military superiority an apparently compelling reason to not even diplomatically protest China’s illegal actions within the Philippine EEZ.

This has created unease among the Philippines’ major allies like the US, Japan, Australia, Britain and France. But recently, DU30 challenged the US to fire “the first shot” if it wants to stop China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea. The US and the Philippines are treaty allies in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty; an external attack on the Philippine armed forces, public vehicles or aircraft in the Pacific would obligate the US “to act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

On June 9, when a Chinese vessel rammed a Philippine fishing boat (Gem-Ver 1) with 22 Filipino fishermen on board on Recto Bank, wrecking the boat and throwing the fishermen into the sea to fight for their lives until the Vietnamese rescue vessel came, the initial sense of some people was to invoke the MDT. Nothing came of this because the ramming appeared to be clearly an accident, rather than a planned attack, and no public vessel was involved, only a privately owned fishing boat.

Even so, DU30 could not act swiftly enough to demand an apology and indemnity from the Chinese. Nor could he order an investigation into the incident before Beijing proposed a joint probe with his government. DU30 has been quicker to act against his critics than against any foreign threat to his country’s territorial integrity and sovereign interests. In the days ahead, he will be asking the Congress to amend the Constitution to change the form of government; indeed, Congress has the right to propose constitutional amendments, but the President on his own does not have the right or the duty or the power to ask Congress to propose any amendment.