[OPINION] How much longer? A year-and-a-half of Duterte

Polarization

The Duterte administration’s frustration with its inability to have its way is driving it to attack its imagined enemies more and more. Other than the SC chief justice, the Ombudsman is also being targeted for impeachment. More and more cases are being filed against Aquino administration people. They are actually doing a favor to the Liberal Party because easy identification of critics as “Yellowtards” is driving more and more people to the party.

There are no organized “destabilization” plots that I know of. But the administration is so unsure of itself that it sees “destabilization” behind every criticism. It’s not the Liberal Party, or the Church hierarchy, or the Ombudsman, or the Commission on Human Rights which stand in the way of Duterte’s plans. If I were him, I would worry that his strongest critics – Senators Leila de Lima and Risa Hontiveros, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Omsbudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Vice President Leni Robredo –  are all women.

To avoid these critics, to get rid of these obstacles, Duterte and his people have two projects: federalism/charter change and “revolutionary government”. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Koko Pimentel have reportedly agreed to convene the two houses of Congress into a constituent assembly as early as January 2018. The PDP has submitted a set of proposed amendments which are supposed  to guide the process.

Paradoxically, the proposals for shifting from a unitary to a federal form of government, the core of the Duterte and Pimentel advocacy for years, is unclear. What is laid out in detail is a proposal for a presidential/parliamentary form of government. The president would retain a lot of power – Duterte’s French model? The Senate becomes a weak second house. The center of gravity will be a powerful “federal assembly”.

Presumably to secure the support of the existing House of Representatives, all single member districts, and political clan-controlled party-list groups will be retained, the latter through a system of proportional representation at the regional level. The Prime Minister and a majority of cabinet ministers will be members, all the easier then to negotiate pork barrel. And no Senate to compete with.

Since this proposal is unlikely to get the required three-fourths vote in the Senate, they will try to get the Supreme Court to rule that the House and Senate should vote in joint session. Thus the need to impeach CJ Sereno. If this fails, then “revolutionary government”! Duterte will abolish Congress and the Supreme Court, all pesky media, and rule by decree. With one minor condition, he will need the military to enable him to rule as dictator, Marcos-style.

In a pointed political message, the Secretary of National Defense and the AFP chief-of-staff said they are opposed to a “revolutionary government”. More pointed still, they said it in a press conference together with Vice President Leni Robredo. By the time Duterte and his people had organized nationwide demonstrations in support of a “revolutionary government”, Duterte himself had already been forced to retreat and say he does not really support the idea.

Four-and-a-half more years of Duterte is an interminable, insufferable length of time. His regime is wreaking havoc on many political institutions, especially the weakest of our 3 branches of government, the judicial system. The legal contortions that the solicitor general and the justice secretary are going through to keep Senator De Lima in jail is making it hard for law schools. How do you teach law when the top law officers of the regime do not respect it?

The circus in the House justice committee on the Sereno impeachment is undermining the Supreme Court. I am not a lawyer, but I have not heard anything that sounds like “culpable violation of the Constitution”. What is happening is that petty jealousies among justices and disagreements on administrative matters are being dragged before the public eye, taking away the majesty and power that secret deliberations enforce.  

Filipinos are used to terrible political conditions. It takes a long time (14 years of Marcos!) and a lot of converging events before we say “Tama Na, Sobra Na” (Enough Already). The analyst in me says “get used to four-and-a-half more years”. But can you blame me for wishful thinking? – Rappler.com

Joel Rocamora is a political analyst and a seasoned civil society leader. An activist-scholar, he finished his PhD in Politics, Asian Studies, and International Relations in Cornell University, and had been the head of the Institute for Popular Democracy, the Transnational Institute, the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party, and member to a number of non-governmental organizations. From the parliament of the streets, he crossed over to the government and joined Aquino's Cabinet as the Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.