by Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR
As elections draw near, the possibility of Rodrigo Duterte becoming president has become imminent barring last minute extraordinary developments or “miraculous events” that would derail his candidacy – the latest of which is the allegation of hidden wealth.
If the surveys are to be believed, and his supporters refuses to believe all the allegations against him, he is assured of getting at least 33% of the votes.
The question now is what could happen when he becomes president. Will he be able to carry out what he promised and intends to do? Will he be able to fulfill the expectations of his followers?
This is an attempt at presenting a scenario analysis based on what Duterte promised to do as reported in the media and the possible consequences should he carry these out.
What Duterte Promised and Intends to Do
What attracted many voters to Duterte is the promise of change. “Pagbabago, Disiplina.” This has been his battle-cry. This is reminiscent of Marcos’ battle-cry when he declared Martial Law and promised to create a New Society (Bagong Lipunan) with discipline as one of the pre-requisites (“sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan”). To many his of followers, Duterte is the last hope of the country, the only one who can save the country — the Messiah.
At the core of his agenda is to stamp out criminality and corruption by all means necessary. This include extrajudicial killings, ignoring the rule of law and basic human rights of suspects which he regard as a Western concept. As Mayor of Davao, he was accused of inspiring and supporting the Davao Death Squad which has murdered 1,424 victims from 1998-2015. This earned him the name of “the Punisher.” He boasted that if elected, it will be bloody – the 1,000 will become 100,000. He said that the fish in Manila bay will grow fat. There won’t be any need to build prisons, just more funeral parlors. This would imply multiplying and unleashing the death squads nation-wide. The targets are mainly suspected criminals. But in a speech to the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), he warned them not to strike during his term of office – otherwise he will also kill them.
In carrying this out, he will not brook any opposition. He warned congress, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Ombudsman not to resist this campaign. Otherwise, he will close down or abolish congress if it starts impeachment proceedings against him.
In his latest speech in April 28, 2016 during the release of the military man held prisoner by the NPA, Duterte reiterated the following:
Since the present setup and constitution is not enough to effect change, he will abolish congress and the constitution and form a revolutionary government. He will start a revolution from within – (similar to Marcos’ idea of a revolution from the center).
He will declare a ceasefire with the NPA and resume the peace process and quickly reach a peace agreement.
Earlier he had expressed his desire to enter into a coalition government with the communists. He promised to give them cabinet positions. In a speech he told the NPA, that if he becomes president, the NPA will have one foot in Malacanang. He declared that he will be the first leftist president of the Philippines. While denying that he is a communist, he affirmed that he is a socialist. Based on his pronouncements, the form of government that Duterte will try to adopt can be labeled as autocratic-socialist in coalition with the communists and moving towards a parliamentary-federal form of government. Marcos way of governing is Duterte’ model. Duterte promised to give Marcos a hero’s burial. The only difference between Duterte and Marcos is that Marcos was not a leftist and the communists were the targets of repression and extrajudicial killings. Under a Duterte government, the communists will be partners and they can help in eliminating suspected criminals. After all, the first batch of the Davao Death Squads were composed of former communists/Sparrow units hit-men.
In various interviews, especially with Vice Ganda, Duterte declared his support for gay marriage and divorce. So these would be some of the changes that he would introduce especially with a new constitution. With a new constitution, term limits can be abolished. So he can reign for as long as he wishes.
Many things can happen under a Duterte Presidency. What I will present is the worst-case scenario if he carries through what he promised and intended to do. I hope this will not happen. None of this will happen if he just sits back, relax and bask in his power and glory and does very little to change society or if he plays his cards very well.
After his inauguration, President Duterte is expected to immediately launch his anti-criminality drive. He has given himself 3-6 months to stamp out criminality or he will resign. If he follows the rule of law and due process six years is not enough to do this. The PNP will have to engage in intelligence gathering or search their data base. They will then have to do case build up, find evidence, and file the case in court. Since the judicial system is very weak the cases will drag in court for many years.
So shortcuts have to be made, like what happened in Davao. This means organizing and multiplying the death squads all over the country– franchise style. Training will be rapidly conducted while barangay units are required submit the names of the notorious drug users, pushers, petty thieves, etc. There will be police officers who will handle the death squads. Other police officers will be emboldened to carry out extrajudicial killings on their own as they are encourage to take the law into their hands with impunity. This will require a huge budget which can be taken from the intelligence fund. If a peace agreement is immediately reached with the CPP, he may request the NPA to also form their own death squads to go after the suspected criminals.
The bodies will pile up unless the death squads concentrate on a few high-profile targets or the big criminals (crime bosses, drug lords). It is easier to eliminate the juvenile delinquents and the small fries. Fighting against drug lords will be more difficult especially through extrajudicial killings. To protect themselves, these criminal syndicates could build up their armed components and engage the death squads and there will be war in the streets – a la Mexico. Violence could escalate.
The bigger problem is that there are many police personnel and politicians who are also involved in criminality – many are big time criminals. This could be complicated if they are targeted by the death squads. As the spiral of violence continues and the killing spree escalates, there are two possible reaction:
The first is silence or even applause. The majority will support the killings and not raise an outcry. They think that those suspects deserve to be killed. This is the price to be paid if they want to walk at night without fear.
The other response is civil society including the leaders of the Church could speak out and demand investigation and accountability. The Commission on Human Rights will act and there will be demand for congressional hearing.
If the government fails to address the killings, there will be groups that will raise the issue at the international level. A case could be filed in the International Criminal Court. If he is successfully prosecuted, he could be isolated internationally and sanctions could be imposed on the country like what happened to Syria and Iran.
Meanwhile, as the six months deadline expires and he is not able to stamp out criminality, Duterte will be pressured to keep his word and resign from the presidency.
The possibility of resigning is remote since he has been known to renege on his promises. He is also afraid that if he resigns, he is vulnerable to lawsuits and could end up in prison.
Impeachment proceedings could be filed in congress and the trial will be conducted by the senate. He will be most vulnerable because he has very few allies among senators and representatives. Unlike previous presidents who had the power to release pork barrel to representatives and senators and therefore attracted turn-coats, this power has been taken away by the Supreme Court due to its unconstitutionality. So Duterte will be unable to control congress and senate.
There could be two grounds for his impeachment: corruption (hidden wealth, failure to declare in SALN his assets – ala CJ Corona) and human right violations (extrajudicial killings). This could happen within the first six months.
If as he promised, he will abolish congress and form a revolutionary government if he is impeached, he will find it impossible. The constitution does not give him such power so this would be an unconstitutional and illegal act. To carry this out successfully he has to operate outside the law. He needs the support of the police, the military, the political parties. He also needs the support of the citizenry who can go out to the streets and form as his people power that will defend him. He is assured of one third of the adult population that supported him and voted for him although how many are willing to fight it out in the streets remains to be seen. He can rely on the support of Pastor Quiboloy – the appointed son of God – and his followers. He can also rely on the Iglesia ni Cristo. But there could also be many supporters who would likely turn against him once the issue of corruption is proven (like what happened to Erap).
If during the early period of his presidency, he is able to make peace with the communists and enter into an alliance with them, he can count on their support to establish a revolutionary government. He could have at his disposal their legal organization, the mass bases and the armed component – the NPA. This is an opportunity for them to later dominate the government and eventually seize state power which is their ultimate objective.
The PDP-LABAN is a hollow party with few members in the senate and congress, so it cannot provide substantial support to Duterte in the halls of congress especially if an impeachment proceeding is initiated.
Since he does not have any legal basis for dissolving congress and form a revolutionary government, Duterte cannot rely on the police and military to support him. If they hold on to their professionalism, they will not follow illegal orders. Besides, many in the military have branded him as a traitor for his alliance with the CPP/NPA. So his order to close down congress could be ignored as the impeachment proceedings continue.
There will be turmoil in the streets as civil society and the Church mobilize rallies against him and his supporters face them off. There could be clashes in the streets.
As this is happening, due to uncertainty, the economy will suffer. The capital flight that has started even before the elections will continue. This will be worsened with his coalition with the communists and the clashes in the streets. There could be an economic crisis if the uncertainty and instability continue and if he tries to impose a nationalist and socialist economy. If he is true to his socialist ideology, this could mean introducing a socialist economy which usually includes state control of the means of production and the nationalization of major industries (this type of socialism has already been abandoned by former socialist countries like Russia, China and Vietnam).
With his anti-US stance and perceived pro-China sentiments, and with his alliance with the Communists, the US would probably make sure that he does not stay in power for long since he is perceived as a threat to their long term interest – which is the dominance in Asia and the South-China/West Philippine Sea. It would not be surprising if the CIA is already very busy.
There could be sections within the military that will be organizing for a possible coup or for withdrawing their support (like what happened during EDSA II that toppled Estrada in 2000). A revolutionary coalition government with the Communists will provoke counter-revolution.
What happens next will depend on who will be the vice-president and how far Duterte is able to carry out his intention in abolishing congress and installing a revolutionary government in coalition with the Communists.
If the vice-president is Bongbong Marcos, he could take over as president if Duterte is impeached or is forced to resign. However, civil society and the Church won’t be enthusiastic to carry out another people power if it means handing over to Bongbong the presidency. It will be the return of another Marcos to Malacanang. If Lenny Robredo is the vice-president, that will be another story. There will be more vigorous effort to oust Duterte.
There are other alternative scenarios beside what has been discussed above. One of the risks that Duterte faces is an assassination attempt. This could come from the CIA , the military, or crime lords he is wants to eliminate extrajudicially. The other uncertainty is his health. He is already 71 years old and suffering from several diseases that will continue to worsen (Buerger’s disease – the disease causes inflammation and thrombosis in small and medium-sized blood vessels, typically in the legs and leading to gangrene. It has been associated with smoking. Another is “Barret’s esophagus” that leads to cancer). In an interview, he once said that he could be the first president to die in Malacanang.
Thus, it is not certain if he can complete his term of office or hold on to power. Duterte has been projected as a superhero or a messiah who can save the Philippines. There is a tendency to liken him to Mussolini and Hitler. But Mussolini had his National Fascist Party and Blackshirts and Hitler had his National Socialist Party and SS. Both dictators had strong political parties and organized movements backing them. Duterte has none of this except his DDS, a moribund PDP-Laban and possible support of the CPP/NDF/NPA which may not be enough. Being commander in chief does not guarantee loyalty and support from the AFP if he operates outside the constitution and is perceived by them as a traitor for his connection with the CPP/NPA. Although he promised to double their salaries, that is not enough to buy their loyalty. In a Rappler interview, he hinted about a purge within the military for those who will not cooperate and talked about the Manila Bay as wide enough for them (his comment about the fish in Manila Bay getting fat is not only for criminals). Hyperbole? If he does this, this could even endanger him more.
What is most doubtful is if he really can get things done and bring about genuine and meaningful change or will he lead our country to ruin. He may have the political will but he lacks the political machinery and the other leadership skills like vision, compassion, integrity and emotional intelligence necessary to effect genuine change. It is doubtful if he can effectively and single-handedly eliminate criminality and corruption. He himself has been accused of being a criminal and as corrupt as other politicians with the extrajudicial killings and allegations of hidden wealth. His power is limited. The presidency is just one branch of government. Congress is not like the city council that he can easily dominate, dictate upon or abolish. He doesn’t have control of the Supreme Court. There are independent institutions that can hound him if he commits any abuse of power such as the Ombudsman and the Commission of Human Rights. He cannot do anything he wants to get his own way no matter how much he may curse or bully his way through. The whole country is not a city like Davao.
His other option is to just sit back and relax and enjoy his remaining years in Malacanang and try to survive the next six years, doing very little. But the specter of impeachment will always be there due to allegations of hidden wealth which is not reflected in his SALN. One thing is sure – those who voted him will be disappointed. But this always happens because Filipinos always expect too much from their presidents without realizing that the president’s power is limited – he cannot be the Messiah or the Savior of the country. They fail to realize that change begins within each one, and together they can change Philippine society.
A legacy that a Duterte presidency could leave behind is that of government officials, police officers and military personnel that have gotten used to extra-judicial killings, who think of themselves as above the law and act as judge and executioner, thereby weakening instead of reforming and strengthening the judicial and law enforcement system. Another legacy could be that of imposing an autocratic rule that had been rejected by People Power 30 years ago. The worst legacy is a people who have lost their conscience – of knowing what is right and wrong – fully supporting mass murder and the violation of human rights and disregarding the rule of law and due process, who think that there is nothing wrong with cursing, committing adultery, lying and stealing. It is a people who have lost their soul and freely embraced their dark side.
Let us pray to God that we will be spared from this catastrophe.
photo: screen grabbed from youtube.