[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: When Duterte is backed into a corner
We had wondered in the past several days how any more unpresidential President Rodrigo Duterte could get. And we are not talking about his potty mouth or his compulsion to tell lies. We seem to all agree he has so far done the worst on these fronts.
We refer to the extent to which he would abuse his position to have his way and protect his interests.
On September 27, we reported that the Office of the Ombudsman had acquired copies of Duterte’s bank records that the Anti-Money Laundering Council was looking into. They showed transactions that amounted to around P1 billion over several years.
"More or less," according to Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang, the records that AMLC had were similar to what opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV submitted to the Ombudsman when he sought an investigation. In May 2016, the lawmaker filed a complaint, alleging that Duterte, as Davao City mayor, had P2.4-billion worth of deposits in his accounts, and they could have come from an alleged scheme of paying ghost employees.
On the same day the report came out, Duterte taped an interview, where he vowed to have Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales investigated for her supposed "partiality.” He had long accused Morales of dispensing “selective justice,” although her office had probed and indicted government officials of various stripes. He also conveniently forgot that Morales had inhibited herself from cases involving the Dutertes. The Ombudsman is the aunt of Duterte’s son-in-law, lawyer Manases Carpio.
On September 29, Morales had a message for Duterte: “Sorry, Mr President, but this office shall not be intimidated.” She’s standing by the documents that her office got regarding Duterte’s bank transactions. Using the familiar line that Duterte loved to invoke whenever he casually accused people of links to illegal drugs, Morales said: “If the President has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear.”
Wait, Duterte thought he had a better idea. On October 1, he challenged Morales to resign with him. Oh, he said, since the Ombudsman's issue with me is my undeclared assets when I was mayor, let’s also ask for the resignation of that Chief Justice, whom a committee in my rubber-stamp House of Representative believes should be impeached for some taxes she reportedly didn’t declare as a private lawyer.
No, thanks, the Ombudsman said, I’d rather finish my fixed term and do my duty, under the Constitution and the Ombudsman Act, to act promptly on complaints filed against any government official.
But you don’t ignore a grandstanding man in power, do you? On October 4, the President announced that “we” – referring to his government – would file an impeachment case against Morales for practicing “selective justice” and for using “falsified documents” instead of letting the investigation run its course and providing proof that those bank documents are indeed falsified.
Then on October 5, the President announced the creation of an anti-corruption commission that could, on its own, investigate presidential appointees, "including those outside the Executive Branch of government.”
Just as quickly, opposition Senator Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, reminded the President that there’s such as thing as independence of the 3 branches of government from each other. The Constitution clearly says that. So, no, the Ombudsman is beyond the reach of Malacañang's arm.
Because, maybe, he knows by now that fewer Filipinos believe him.
On Sunday, October 8, the Social Weather Stations released the results of its latest survey. Duterte’s approval and trust ratings had dropped by double digits in just 3 months. The Class D and E respondents, who make up the bulk of those 16 million whom Duterte’s defenders love to invoke every time he is criticized, expressed the most disappointment.
We were told that Malacañang or some other supporter had commissioned a survey around the same time as the SWS poll. And it reportedly captured the same sentiment: the public’s approval of, and trust in, the President have hit record lows by his own standards.
Now we understand why President Duterte is being a bigger bully than he ever was, seemingly intent on destroying institutions that check abuses and excesses in the executive. His buttons are being pushed from several directions. He is in panic.
He realizes that losing public approval and trust means lesser leeway and maneuvering room to push his agenda. He wakes up to the reality that he is running an entire country – not a mere city – where processes are much more complex.
And the best he can do is act like an entitled child, throwing tantrums in the hope he appears brave and still in control. – Rappler.com