‘His word is law’: A list of Duterte’s verbal-only orders

Pia Ranada
‘His word is law’: A list of Duterte’s verbal-only orders
Aside from his order to stop PCSO games, President Rodrigo Duterte has made at least 6 other policy pronouncements that were not followed up by written documents defining their parameters and legal bases

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s late-night order to stop operations of all Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office games is only the most recent example of a presidential directive issued only verbally, with no written order to formalize it and define its parameters.

Until the morning of Tuesday, July 30, or 3 days after Duterte said his order was to be effective, Malacañang is yet to release any written document, whether an executive order or memorandum order.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said the verbal instructions are enough. The PCSO itself said it will abide by the directive even without any written document.

By now, Duterte’s penchant for making shocking policy pronouncements without following through with documents has become evident. It’s part of his governance style.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t bode well for accountability and transparency. 

Written orders are crucial because they help citizens hold officials accountable for their actions and also serve as a check on their power.

“Written orders make the decisions official. If not written, it is easy to deny that he gave orders,” said Professor Ela Atienza, head of the political science department of the University of the Philippines.

“It’s as if he is still a mayor. He sometimes forgets that he is a president who needs to be accountable and there is a need for a paper trail,” she added.

Written orders like executive orders also cite the laws and legal frameworks that give an official the legal mandate to make such orders. This legal basis is necessary as a safeguard against abuse. Though there are many instances, such as during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, when written issuances were used to circumvent the law.

Still, a written order would also give agencies tasked with implementing it a document to look back upon as basis for their actions. Without such a document, an order is open to different interpretations, and possibly, abuse.

Here are major policy pronouncements that Duterte made without a written document:

1. Anti-tambay order

On the strength of a presidential utterance, police arrested some 3,000 loiterers who allegedly violated local ordinances. It was their way of legally implementing Duterte’s vague June 2018 verbal order to tell “tambays” (loiterers) to go home and bring them to a government office. The order included instructions to tie up the loiterers and throw them somewhere.

A group of friends who were mistakenly arrested for loitering in Makati claims the arresting cops never informed them what law they were violating and merely showed them a video of Duterte giving the verbal order. “Basta sinabi ng Pangulo, batas ‘yun,” (As long as the President says it, it is the law.) one of the cops supposedly said.

2. Boracay closure

The closure of a world-famous island for half a year, affecting the livelihood of hundreds of thousands and making a dent on the country’s tourism sector, was also implemented on the basis of a mere verbal order. (READ: INSIDE STORY: How Duterte decided on Boracay closure)

After calling Boracay a “cesspool” which he would “shut down,” Duterte called a Cabinet meeting where officials finalized an action plan for the island’s rehabilitation. But no written order on the closure itself was ever issued by the Palace. On the day Boracay was closed, Duterte signed only a proclamation declaring a state of calamity in 3 barangays on the island. An executive order creating a task force was signed, but only two weeks after the island was closed. 

3. Threat to arrest of Kapa Community Ministry leaders 

After Duterte said leaders of the Kapa Community Ministry should be arrested during a June 8 television interview, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the arrest can be done even without a warrant. But rules of criminal procedure clearly outline specific conditions when a warrantless arrest can be done: when the person commits the crime in the presence of the officer, when there is probable cause to believe a crime has just been committed, or if it is a prisoner escaping from jail.

At the time, no charge had been filed against Kapa officers in court, thus no arrest warrant had been issued against any of them. Yet after Duterte’s verbal instruction, the government was ready to make the arrest even without a warrant.

4. Arrest of WellMed owner

Outraged by payments made by government health insurance provider PhilHealth to a private dialysis center for kidney treatments of “ghost patients,” Duterte ordered the arrest of the center’s owner on June 8. Only two days later, the National Bureau of Investigation complied, despite having no arrest warrant.  

5. China fishing deal

Even diplomatic arrangements with staggering implications on the country’s sovereign rights and food security are not spared from Duterte’s penchant for verbal-only orders. Duterte claimed in July that he had struck a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping that now made it necessary for him to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine waters, even if the Constitution does not allow it.

But it remains to be seen if government agencies will comply with this arrangement, since it also violated the Fisheries Code and contradicts the 2016 Hague ruling. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr said the Coast Guard would still stop Chinese fishermen from fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone, if they are able. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said the deal cannot be enforced. Defense Secretary Deflin Lorenzana also said no formal fishing agreement with China is being drafted despite Duterte’s remarks.

But the President’s public statements continue to make an impact – dismaying Filipino fishermen who now think they have to compete with the Chinese for resources that should have been reserved for them.

6. Rappler coverage ban

Rappler reporters have been banned from covering Duterte’s events for a year and 5 months now yet the Palace has not produced any written order stating the parameters of the ban and its legal basis. The ban is being implemented purely on the might of Duterte’s verbal order to Malacañang staff and the Presidential Security Group.

To justify the ban, Duterte and his spokesmen have accused Rappler of bias and spreading fake news or of being an “illegitimate” news organization. But they have so far not cited any legal grounds. Rappler reporters have asked the Supreme Court to lift the ban, saying it is unconstitutional and arbitrary. Their petition was supported by over 40 other journalists. 

– Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.