[OPINION | NEWSPOINT] Arroyo's the feature, Duterte’s just the trailer

For all the airiness he had shown whenever the prospect of his losing the Speakership came up, Pantaleon Alvarez still became unnerved when the coup was finally sprung on him, by way of a manifesto signed by a decisive majority (63%) of the House of Representatives.

Its timing was unkind, to be sure, coming as it did moments before he and his senatorial counterpart were to welcome the President to Congress, in joint session, for his State of the Nation Address, a once-a-year affair. (Further hurt was caused him by remarks that he had to be punished as well for degrading the formal national shirt – the barong: the one he wore to the occasion was embroidered so gaudily it constituted, I tend to agree, corpus delicti of murder by couture.)

At any rate, upon being told his time was up, Alvarez, as the story goes, had the House's sound system shut off and the Speaker's mace spirited away. He did return, with both sound and mace, an hour or so later, after being allowed to play one last time the ritualistic role of bringing the gavel down before saying hello and again before saying goodbye to the President.

It's not as if he had not been served enough notice that he could be going anytime. The plotter, Gloria Arroyo, had hovered over him all the time he was speaker, lest he precisely get the wrong idea.

Oh, and did he! He threw not only his weight around, itself considerable enough, but also the President's, and that might be the reason Arroyo's ascendancy provoked far less outrage than it deserved – at first blush, anyway. But Alvarez couldn’t have done enough wrong by Duterte to ever deserve to be canned. Both of them, rather, may have become too smug, and, apparently in Duterte's case, also too tired, if not too sick. I'd say also too deluded. 

The reality is – if I may adapt a line from an originally fondly intended song: Arroyo's the feature, Duterte's just the trailer. 

If he had been up to it, Duterte might have been able to stay Arroyo's restive hand; he had done it before. This time, though, his inability has to do more with Arroyo's cunning than with his own default. Duterte's daughter and crowned dynastic heiress, Sara, who has herself obviously fallen under Arroyo's spell, is an even easier putty in her consummate hands. 

Gloria Arroyo has been through some of the toughest trials during her long and bumptious, though quite fortuitous, political ride. She was the longest-serving President – nearly 10 years (not counting Ferdinand Marcos's 14-year dictatorship). She served the remaining term of President Joseph Estrada after he was forced out in midterm by mass street protests for plunder. She remained President for a full 6-year term on a rigged vote, an issue that went away quickly after she came out on television and said sorry to a nation well known to be easy to forgive and forget. After her presidency, she was voted to Congress, taking over from a son, to represent her provincial home district. She was arrested for plunder and had to continue serving her term from detention until her acquittal by a Supreme Court dominated by her own appointees.

Talk that she was richly invested in Duterte, that she was, for instance, a major contributor (along with the Marcoses) to his electoral campaign, began to gain credibility as soon as he assumed the presidency. He adopted some of her top lieutenants, among them General Hermogenes Esperon (retired), now his top security adviser. Esperon had been the military electoral overseer under whose nose the vote was rigged for Arroyo. She subsequently made him armed forces chief.

It must have been Arroyo too who put Duterte and China’s leaders together. She was the original connection; her plunder case in fact arose from her dealings with China. Those dealings are now being recycled at a treasonous bargain: Duterte has effectively ceded control over our waters in the West Philippine Sea to the Chinese.

Any residual doubts about Arroyo’s special place in the hierarchy of power in the Duterte regime should be dispelled by her accession to the Speakership. And she couldn’t have come to the position at a more opportune time. She’s no longer eligible to run for reelection in May, having by then reached her limit of 3 successive terms, but, as Speaker, she gets a new lease on power and finds just the perfect self-serving use for it – constitutional change. 

She pushed for the same thing when she was President, as had Fidel Ramos before her, but they were both swamped into retreat by popular protest. The sentiment has not changed; in fact, this time it goes against both constitutional change and the excuse for it – federalism. But except for the small window of opportunity to operate within – between now and the electoral season  –  the circumstances have never been so advantageous to her. For one thing, a new constitution already has been drafted. 

Where no less than the nation’s future is at issue, as is certainly the case with constitutional change, delegates are elected at large and convened to debate the issue and write the draft to be put to a referendum. But that arrangement takes far more time than Arroyo has, and it's not easy to manipulate. 

It’s the same with the arrangement that she proposed in her time, which never got off – a shift to parliamentary system, in which she could, after her presidency and without missing a beat, preside as Prime Minister for as long as she had the ruling-party vote. 

It's simpler and quicker, indeed, for Congress to hijack the process and appropriate the task. If the Senate, in one of those self-interested assertions of independence, refuses to go along, the Supreme Court, whose majority were appointed by Arroyo and Duterte and have proved subservient to their most egregious bidding, can declare the Senate in default and allow the House to go it alone and ram the damn thing through. 

Forthwith Arroyo shepherds it through a national vote, as she did her own fraudulent presidential election in 2004. And Voila! A constitution providing refuge for official murderers and plunderers through an open-ended transition regime!

What federalism? Forget it! – Rappler.com