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When the President calls you out

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

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When the President calls you out
Am I comfortable with our nocturnal Chief Executive reading out names like he has done so twice already? Frankly, I am.

Way past midnight, the President, known for his choice of the nocturnal, read out a list of names, and it obviously pained him to mention some names, as there were friends on that list.  

But he said – sounding like he was convincing himself as much as his listeners – that he would either read all or none at all! And Rodrigo’s List included judges, mayors, members of congress, police officers and others who now quake in their boots for fear of Bato, the Avenging Angel of the President. 

But that’s what sets Digong apart: He will name friend and foe alike, sparing none, exonerating none even before charges are filed!

So, what kind of a legal creature is that list? Is it even legal at all? There has been mention of defamation and an entitlement to damages because of besmirched reputations, in the same breath that there is a recollection of the immunity that a sitting President enjoys.

Rodrigo’s List

Actually, there is nothing new about suspects being mentioned as suspects. We have had announcements in the past of persons supposedly associated with criminal activity. Senate and House hearings often regaled – and shocked –national audiences with the mention of the names of the famous and the influential in connection with irregularities into which Congress was looking. 

But what makes this particular calling out ominous is that it is Rodrigo’s List – and Rodrigo is known to be short on patience for those he considers obstacles to his vision of social order!

Chief Justice Meilou Sereno was right in advising judges against surrendering. Judges are of course not immune from prosecution, and they can be arrested and indicted like all other citizens of this Republic, but to insulate the judiciary from the political branches of government – and the importuning of opportunists – the Constitution so wisely vests in the Supreme Court exclusively disciplinary authority over judges.

MARCHING ORDERS. In this file photo, President Duterte delivers his first SONA on July 25, 2016. Malacañang photo release

Digong’s announcement is not a warrant of arrest. There is therefore no legal basis for the fear of those so named that they may be arrested – worse, shot – on sight unless they surrender. There is likewise no legal basis for law enforcers to attempt to arrest, much less detain them. And most certainly, there can be no legal warrant at all for any “shoot-to-kill” order. 

What the President was in fact saying was that reports, which he protested were well-founded and that he had doubly checked, had reached him that the personalities he was calling out were associated with suspicious if not criminal activity. With police officers, the President indeed has the authority to order their relief from whatever position it is that they may occupy, but he cannot terminate them from the service outright.  

Similarly, in respect to mayors and local chief executives, he may order their preventive suspension – something the Secretary of the Interior and Local Governments can do – but not their dismissal from office, not until after administrative proceedings establish their culpability.

Am I comfortable with our nocturnal Chief Executive reading out names like he has done so twice already? Frankly, I am, and that is how terribly upset I am about the pandemic that the drug problem has become, and how angry I am over patrons, benefactors and coddlers in high places.  

But it does not serve the President well that the reports that reach him, and on which he relies, turn out to be faulty: judges who have been stripped of official office by the Supreme Court, suspects identified as legislators who never were, persons called out who have been called out of this life earlier – all these snafus compromise the credibility of Rodrigo’s List.

But now familiar with the ways of Digong, I am sure he will make short work of whoever it was who embarrassed him by submitting an unintelligent intelligence report! – Rappler.com


The author is Dean, Graduate School of Law, San Beda College and professor at Cagayan State University.


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