Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, says Rodrigo Roa Duterte “is not a president people can respect.” He said this after Duterte vilified the Senate for inquiring into the Executive’s suspicious handling of billions of pesos in anti-Covid-19 funds, and the highly inflated pricing of various medical supplies purchased by government from one obscure company for the pandemic.
Not a few Filipinos share Gordon’s dismay. But Duterte may not care much about it. From his first day in office, Duterte has tried to elicit shock, awe, and fear and trembling by ordering the killing of thousands of drug suspects, and by hurling insults and cuss words on unsuspecting foreign dignitaries. Some alleged surveys made him the most popular man in town for doing the very things that everyone else hated, but he never really ached for “respect.”
He obviously learned it from Machiavelli who says in The Prince, “It is much safer to be feared than loved…because love is preserved by links of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage, but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.” Duterte has obviously taken it to heart, and damn the consequences.
Looking unkempt and dishevelled, spouting undisciplined and punctured prose, and heaving a bellyful of profanities and invectives, Duterte talks like a thug, acts like a thug, threatens to kill like a thug, and does not mind looking like the caricature of a president in some silly spoof rather than a real president. An obviously distressed young housewife recently asked me, Do you think the President ever read Robert Fulghum’s “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten”? Or, has he ever sat in a class in “Good Manners and Right Conduct”? This question left me speechless.
In a country where 85 percent of the population, and presumably the voters, are Catholic, Duterte did not mind calling God “stupid,” asking Catholics to rob their bishops and priests in broad daylight, and bragging of wanting to destroy the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church. For a head of state who is expected to respect the religious belief of all his people, this shows an extreme lack of sensibility and an abysmal ignorance of the line that separates Church from State.
In our monogamous society, public officials, unless Muslim who may take several wives, try to make a show of their being strictly monogamous. Our people demand and expect it. From a religious point of view, the family is a sacred institution, patterned after the holy family in Nazareth; from a constitutional point of view, it is the foundation of the nation, founded in turn on marriage. But Duterte tends to believe himself polyamorous, exempt from all marital constraints. And he likes to flaunt it.
In utter contempt of established convention and international state protocol, Duterte has called UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, US President Barack Obama and US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg “sons of a whore,” for expressing an official interest in his drug killings. For the same reason, he has also threatened to arrest Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extra judicial killings, and Fatou Bensouda, then- chief prosecutor of The International Criminal Court at The Hague, should they ever come to the Philippines. This is a serious breach of the rules of international comity that govern our relationship with other states and peoples.
After some parties went up to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague and accused Duterte of crimes against humanity for the death of some 30,000 drug suspects, he withdrew Philippine membership from the Statute of Rome that created the ICC. He wanted to avoid the criminal jurisdiction of the court. It is conduct unbecoming of a sovereign head that subscribes to the rule of international law. However the ICC affirmed its jurisdiction over crimes committed when the Philippines was still a member of the ICC. So Duterte is not yet off the hook.
The absence of a militant free press and an organized political opposition, among other things, has encouraged Duterte to cross many red lines, putting himself above the Constitution and the rule of law, and significantly weakening the body politic. In violation of the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances among the three co-equal branches of government, Duterte assumed control of the two other branches, imposing his own choice of their respective heads outside of the normal choosing process.
In the Supreme Court, he had Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno removed without going through the constitutionally-mandated impeachment process, but simply by having Solicitor General Jose Calida file a quo warranto (by what warrant) petition against her, which the other Supreme Court justices quickly acted upon to declare her appointment null and void ab initio. After the unconstitutional position Sereno took on the Reproductive Health Law, I honestly thought she was an embarrassment as a chief justice, but I found the process of removing her simply outrageous.
Declaring Sereno’s appointment null and void ab initio would seem to indicate that not only was she not qualified to fill her former position, but that President B. S. Aquino 3rd, who had appointed her to that position, had no authority to do so. This seems to be a new concept in judicial jurisprudence, but this ruling has not been subjected to a thorough judicial review.
Given Duterte’s problems with the Constitution, he should have earned at least one impeachment complaint for culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and other high crimes. We have more than enough lawyers reading the Constitution and the law. But given the peculiar disposition of political forces in the House, it is impossible to hope that the House committee on justice would ever act in favor of any complaint against Duterte.
This has emboldened Duterte to do whatever he fancies. His latest political stunt, with dire constitutional consequences, is to run for Vice-President in the May 9, 2022 elections, (should they actually push through), with his own presidential candidate. He seems confident that neither the Supreme Court nor the Commission on Elections will find the Constitution stronger than Duterte, and dare to invalidate his bid.
This means that as vice presidential candidate, Duterte would be free to use his current position to get himself and his teammate elected. He would do exactly what the Constitution did not want to happen when it barred a sitting president from seeking a second term. If elected vice-president, Duterte could quickly become president again, as though he had never been barred from a second term. The new president need not die, get incapacitated or removed for Duterte to take over. Having put the same president in office, Duterte could prevail upon him to step down when he asks him to.
This is not at all a distant and remote scenario, but it should never come to pass.