On Nov. 12, Malacañang announced President Rodrigo Duterte would take “three days” off from his “punishing schedule” to catch up on his sleep at home in Davao City, where recent earthquakes and their aftershocks have not helped many people sleep. This was not a leave of absence and had nothing to do with the President’s health, said the spokesman Salvador Panelo: Mr. DU30 “is in the green of health, he just needs a little rest.” They find no contradiction in that statement, it is the new Malacañang Newspeak.
Malacañang has become the world’s laughing stock for talking like this, and Filipinos have become the world’s laughing stock for allowing Malacañang to do so. There is nothing embarrassing or disgraceful in a 74-year-old president getting under the weather, especially after he has admitted to a number of uncommon ailments, and fallen off a slow-moving three-legged motor bike. Superman himself may have to take a short break after he’s been exposed to Kryptonite.
To his credit, the myth-making is not coming from DU30 himself but from Panelo and Sen. Christopher Go, who seems more anxious to remain as DU30’s personal valet than assume his duties in the Senate. Panelo’s and Go’s misrepresentation of DU30’s reputed invincibility to the public is not without its risks. It could encourage certain interested parties to suggest that by stepping out of Malacañang “to rest,” DU30 has actually vacated his office.
This theory is not found in the Constitution. The Constitution requires a written notice to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives that the President is no longer able to perform his constitutional duties before the Vice President takes over as President. But in the case of President Joseph Estrada, then Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno invented the doctrine of “constructive resignation” to claim that mere physical absence from the presidency, even when caused by extreme duress, creates a permanent vacancy which should immediately be filled. That’s how Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became President in 2001.
So far, no one has tried to make this claim against DU30. But supposing someone finally did? Will Panelo’s and Go’s claim that DU30 remains in the “green of health” nullify Puno’s fanciful theory that the President’s leaving Malacañang creates a vacancy that should instantly be filled? As of now, DU30 has named Vice President Leni Robredo co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD). Everything about this designation is tricky, but does it not argue that DU30 is no longer able to perform some of his most important duties? The drug war with all its killings was the only program DU30 ever pursued with full vigor when he came into office in 2016. Now he has passed it on to the Vice President.
Robredo is doing everything she can within her competence, and so far she has not strayed. She wants an anti-drug war without any killings, and the incompetent and irresponsible media continue to refer to her as the anti-drug czar, even though she is but the co-chair of an inter-agency committee whose chair is still very much in place. In the beginning, DU30 said Leni’s designation carried with it “Cabinet rank.” At this writing, however, he has taken that back and said she is not a member of the Cabinet.
Whatever the real score is, DU30 must clarify what Robredo can and cannot do. This is the only way to prevent any overlapping of functions between Robredo and ICAD chair Aaron Aquino. And avoid a repeat of what then-President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, did to Leni’s husband, the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo. PNoy had put the late husband theoretically in charge of the entire department of interior and local governments (DILG), but withheld from him actual supervision of the police, which he put under his target-shooting buddy, then Undersecretary Rico Puno. He gave Robredo fictional control of the local government units, which already enjoyed autonomy under the law.
DU30 has warned he would sack Robredo, should she reveal any “state secrets” to foreign parties who do not approve of his killings. Of course, that goes without saying. Getting fired is the least that should happen to anyone who betrays any state secrets. But what secrets are these? Is the actual number of drug casualties since 2016 one of those secrets? Is the real identity of top drug lords hiding behind their positions as anti-drug enforcers, like the recently cashiered former PNP chief, another of those dark secrets?
But DU30’s latest statement rescinding Robredo’s Cabinet rank leads us to believe she does not have to betray any secrets to get DU30’s goat. Having a good press everyday, without doing much to earn it, seems sufficient for Robredo to get it.