[OPINION] Part 2 | De Lima on the wreckage of the Duterte years and how to emerge from it

Duterte Cabinet, military, and the United States

Bello: Not all people in the Cabinet are dangerous clowns or Duterte puppets. There are honorable people like Liling Briones and Bebot Bello. Some people say, however, that they are risking the good reputations they built up by sticking with Duterte and can't understand why they continue to provide him moral cover.  What is your advice to them?

De Lima: I will not attempt to fathom the motivations of these people to serve Duterte. Maybe they think they can still do some good even under a Duterte administration. Maybe they can. Maybe they are indeed doing some good even under the circumstances of serving an unstable leader and a megalomaniac, and they see no conflict and contradiction in doing so without giving up their principles and values. People have such capacity to rationalize their judgments, even if such judgment goes against their core values. The fact that they serve Duterte shows their indifference to his policy of extrajudicial killings, and this does not reflect well on their innermost morality.

Bello: The President says the reason he's appointing so many military people to the Cabinet is because they "deliver." What do you think of that rationale? Or do you think he's trying to bribe the generals so they won't move against him?

De Lima: Some may be competent and deserve to be appointed. But largely it's because he wants to protect himself from a coup d'état. This strategy of appointing retired generals is for keeping them in line because they still have influence in the AFP. For active generals, there's the billions of pesos in OP intel funds which can be distributed to the generals largely at Duterte's discretion, without any auditing requirements. Like any tyrant afraid of the military suddenly cutting off his head in the middle of the night, Duterte has learned to buy the military top brass and keep them in his pocket, thereby making them accomplices to his own corruption.

Bello: Why do you think the President has harsh words for the United States but gives the Americans a free hand in their military movements in this country? Is this a case of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde split personality? Or is he scared of what the military would do if he moves against the Americans by, say, terminating the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA)?

De Lima: Most of the military top brass are already in Duterte's pockets. This is where his billions of intel funds go, to bribe the AFP and PNP generals. So Duterte is already safe insofar as the AFP is concerned. Not so the US. He is still afraid of what the US might do in case he goes too far in countering US interests in the region, especially its military interests. Duterte will continue to let the US frolic in our backyard as an insurance that the US will not move against him, or will not intervene in putting in place a more reliable Filipino leader. So in the mind of Duterte, the threat to his reign is not so much the AFP anymore, but a disgruntled US who may one day consider him to have taken one step too far in putting US security interests in the region in danger.

Public complicit in Duterte's crimes?

Bello: The President has an 81% approval rating, despite all the EJKs and his going back on his key promises. Do you think most Filipinos have outsourced their politics to the President, so that he and his buddies can do anything they like? Do you think the people are complicit in Duterte's EJKs? Is it a question of being ill-informed or of people not wanting to be informed and to think? Daniel Goldhagen in his book Hitler's Willing Executioners said ordinary Germans were complicit in Hitler's crimes because they knew and approve of them. Do you see a parallel in the Philippines?

De Lima: This kind of reaction of the public is due to the slow pace of progress and equalization of economic opportunities under the liberal democratic regime of the post-EDSA governments. People have had enough of trickle-down development and want instant progress. They think a messiah can deliver this, especially one with an iron hand. I think they are starting to learn that no messiah can save them, and that progress takes time.

But at the same time, the opposition should take stock of the kind of liberal democratic regime that it wants to continue, either in its puristic form or an adjusted one in keeping with the "selective change" principle postulated by Jared Diamond in his latest book Upheaval. The alternative to Dutertismo is yet to be born. Until then the people will continue to hold on to Dutertismo's illusion of change because they still do not see any alternative. But at the same time, they are starting to realize that the same ills that characterized the post-EDSA liberal regime are only being accelerated under Dutertismo, which has introduced a rapacious kind of corruption probably even exceeding that of the GMA years. This tolerance won't last long, especially not in the last 3 years of this regime.

What the people choose next to replace Dutertismo depends upon the alternatives that would be presented as we move forward to 2022. But it is clear that whatever this alternative is, it cannot be the same business-as-usual liberal democracy that has frustrated the people since the 1990s.

Faeldon and his bosses

Bello: What do you think about the GCTA controversy? Is Nicanor Faeldon, the sacked BuCor chief, the guilty party or is he a fall guy for his higher-ups?

De Lima: What probably started as a business practice in the BuCor, i.e., "GCTA for sale," has been exposed because those being released are high-profile inmates like Mayor Sanchez. If not for this, this business would have gone on unnoticed. There is no doubt about Faeldon's role in this. If it goes higher is no longer a matter of conjecture. Duterte himself has extended privileges to drug lords and other criminals in exchange for testifying against me. This is just another kind of "GCTA for sale." I would not wonder if most of these convicts would be released, either via clemency or pardon, as soon as I am convicted based on their testimonies.

If the President himself has resorted to this kind of granting privileges to unreformed notorious convicts in exchange for their perjured testimonies, then what would prevent those under him from engaging in the same kind of business in exchange for money? Faeldon was just following Duterte's example, albeit for a different kind of consideration.

Bello: The Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) that you as secretary of justice and then-DILG secretary Roxas crafted during the Aquino administration are said to have created the conditions for abuse by not explicitly excluding those convicted of heinous crimes from being eligible for GCTA. You, in fact, have been quoted as saying those convicted of such crimes should not be excluded in order to respect the "restorative" intent of the law, meaning the desire to reform the offender. Can you comment on this?

De Lima: As head of one of the departments tasked with preparing the implementing rules, my job was to ensure that the intent of the law is carried out and that we do not go beyond the letter of the law. The law does not exclude per se those convicted of heinous crimes from qualifying for GCTA. For the IRR to introduce such an exclusion would be ultra vires. An IRR cannot change the law. The Revised Penal Code itself, before the enactment of RA No. 10592, did not exclude those convicted of heinous crimes from entitlement to GCTA; neither did the amended provisions afterwards.

I challenge those who accuse me of making the IRR intentionally vague in favor of those heinous crimes PDLs to show what in the IRR goes against RA No. 10592. The IRR reflected the law. Any problem relating to its interpretation is traced back to the law, not the IRR. As a result, neither our version of the IRR, nor the Uniform Manual promulgated under this administration, placed such exclusion against PDLs convicted of heinous crimes.

That the law is abused now was not foreseen by our Congress, otherwise, they would have placed more safety nets and not leave it up to the IRR. We did our best to provide a certain level of protection against abuse when we created the Management, Screening, and Evaluation Committee (MSEC), to ensure that only those who truly have clean prison records or exhibit good conduct and exemplary behavior may qualify for release. Regardless of the nature of the crime, the most determinative factor is "good conduct." However, it appears that the said committee failed its mandate. Faeldon did poor enough to show how the law can be abused to the hilt.

Endgame for the opposition?

Bello: You and so many others have been implicated in the Bikoy case. Only the most fanatical Duterte supporters would think the government has a case. Why do you think the administration is so intent on pursuing it when most of the evidence is obviously fabricated and the whole thing is a joke? Is the intent pure harassment of the opposition?

De Lima: The objective is to crush any kind of opposition before 2022. One of the operations of Malacañang is also for the SC/PET to proclaim Bongbong Marcos as vice president and remove VP Leni Robredo as successor in the event Duterte croaks before 2022 or, lay the groundwork for VP Leni's impeachment. This is why the persecution of opposition figures will not stop, no matter how absurd and ridiculous the cases are. It is all about consolidating power in 2022 and beyond.

Bello: How come the prosecution in your case is proceeding so slowly and so many judges are inhibiting themselves from hearing the cases against you?  Do you think the administration really wants to prosecute you or simply wants to keep you in jail indefinitely? Do you think you will end up like Edmond Dantes, the hero of the Count of Monte Cristo? Forgotten by the people and in jail till kingdom come?

De Lima: Definitely Duterte wants a conviction and to see me in jail for the rest of my life. There is no longer any doubt about that. I just hope I do not suffer the fate he wants me to.

The prosecution is proceeding slowly because they are still having problems with the convict witnesses. Maybe they are still rehearsing and reconciling their testimonies for the courts while they are segregated either at the ISAFP or the Marines' facility.

There is also the matter of their qualification as state witnesses that we are questioning before the trial and appellate courts. Criminal convicts are disqualified from becoming state witnesses. Under the law, they are disqualified from testifying in my cases. The trial courts cannot ignore this law. If they do, we will raise the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

– Rappler.com

Walden Bello is a former member of the House of Representatives and author of the recently published Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right (London: 2019) and Paper Dragons: China and the Next Crash (London: 2019).