Duterte’s decision-making unpredictable

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

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Duterte’s decision-making unpredictable

Alecs Ongcal

In choosing Leni Robredo to be part of his Cabinet, the President shows he can yield to public pressure

It took a chance encounter between President Rody Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo at the Armed Forces change-of-command ceremony to thaw the ice. Soon after, a formal, one-on-one meeting in Malacañang Palace, dubbed a “courtesy call”, took place.

Little did we know that, in a matter of a few days, Robredo would be part of the Cabinet. This, after more than a month of being given the cold shoulder by the President, from rejecting the idea of a Cabinet post for her to the ultimate snub of refusing to have a joint inauguration.

This is a clear example of what to expect from the new president’s style of decision-making: his positions can shift through various gradations or swing from one extreme to another. His friends call him “unorthodox”. To this, we add unpredictable: the element of surprise always lurks somewhere.

Personal relations, public pressure

In the Robredo case, what changed? Two things apparently dented Duterte’s outwardly antagonistic stance toward the Vice President.

First, the personal factor, described by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre as a “warming up” between the two top officials.

The President brought his guard down after personally meeting with Robredo who showed no rancor. She assured him of her support and he asked for her help in leading the nation.

Personal relations are important to Duterte, as clearly seen in most of his key appointments to government. They are his classmates and fraternity brothers at the San Beda Law School, high school classmates from the Ateneo de Davao, and long-time friends.

Second was public pressure. Duterte himself said he was on the receiving end of incessant questions from the media about what post the Vice President would hold in his Cabinet.

To stress the point, he talked to Robredo on the telephone and asked her to head the Housing and Urban Development Council in reply to a question by a reporter on whether the President was considering a Cabinet post for her. This happened during a televised interview on state-run PTV 4. (READ the transcript of the conversation here: Hello, Leni? How Duterte made the Cabinet offer to VP Robredo)

An earlier example of Duterte yielding to public pressure was when he took out Sal Panelo as his spokesperson and moved him laterally to the office of the chief presidential legal counsel. Media organizations had protested Panelo’s links to the Ampatuans – he was their lawyer – who were behind the 2009 massacre of 58 people, including journalists.

Caveat: Marcos connection

However, we cannot expect Duterte to steer clear of defeated vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. Their friendship will continue and he may even give Marcos moral support in his election protest case.

Before Duterte and Robredo met, we gathered from sources close to the President that he was convinced Marcos was cheated in the elections. That explained his initial hardline stance, emphatically saying on national TV in one of his first press conferences that he was not keen on giving a Cabinet post to the Vice President because it would hurt the feelings of Bongbong Marcos. That was his way of showing solidarity with Marcos and, implicitly, not recognizing Robredo as the legitimate vice president.

After all, as Duterte took pains to explain, his ties with the Marcoses go a long way back, when his father served as Cabinet secretary of then President Marcos.

Moreover, he was grateful to the Marcos siblings, Imee and Bongbong, because they delivered for him in Ilocos, handily winning the race there. In contrast, he pointed out, he lost in Bicol, Robredo’s vote-rich turf. 

Loyalties to opposing parties

It seems that Duterte is comfortable with carrying loyalties to opposing parties. On a public plane, this emerged in the campaign when, in Ilocos Norte, Duterte said he would turn over the presidency to Bongbong Marcos if he is unable to reduce criminality in 3 months. His running mate, Alan Peter Cayetano, was not with him in this sortie. (Marcos, for his part, was running with Miriam Defensor Santiago as president.)

It came to a point when Duterte-Marcos supporters joined a few of the sorties, openly campaigning for their vice-presidential candidate in the presence of Cayetano. It was not clear if Duterte was aware of this.

In his private life, Duterte has been known to have extra-marital relationships, causing the annulment of his marriage.

Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia once described Duterte as a “black swan”, referring to his surprising victory and his “unorthodox” ways. But what is important in the next 6 years is how the new president balances his unpredictability with achieving his administration’s core goals. –


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Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.