Rodrigo Duterte

[Newspoint] Hangover from power

Vergel O. Santos

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[Newspoint] Hangover from power
Six years of autocratic rule gave Rodrigo Duterte and family a hangover from power. President Marcos Jr. can set things right by addressing two of Duterte's major atrocities.

Rodrigo Duterte’s six years in the presidency that allowed him to co-opt Congress, the courts, and the military and to rule autocratically, more or less, apparently gave him and his family a hangover from power so bad it blinds them to the sheerest signs that their time is past. And that might explain why they continue to try to hold the nation to their gangland standards.

Their remaining prospect for a return to power lies with Rodrigo’s daughter Sara, who as vice president is first in the line of presidential succession – theoretically, at any rate, or by some workable deal, if any, with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his family, themselves anxious to keep power for as long as they can for protection from being hounded for a litany of wrongdoing going back to Ferdinand Sr.’s dictatorial regime (1972-1986).

But that prospect is evaporating as well. When the House denied Sara the P650-million confidential fund she keenly coveted, the signal was plain: she was not getting her hands on any public money she could use to advance her political ambition.

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The rejection brought her father out of retirement fuming. He may have correctly sensed that his daughter was being eased out of electoral contention by the Speaker, Martin Romualdez, who happens to be first cousin to President Marcos.

In his own facetious way, Duterte’s son Paolo, who represents their dynastic enclave, Davao City, in Congress chimed in. Not to be seen as neglectful while the family closed ranks, he went after France Castro, the party-list representative of schoolteachers who had led the most vocal opposition to his sister’s bid for the confidential fund. Castro had sued their father for threatening to kill her or have her killed.

Paolo said Castro was too “thin-skinned” to deserve her seat in Congress, a criticism only too funny to hear from someone who himself could not even hack it as mere vice mayor of his city; he quit in midterm. At any rate, to call one thin-skinned for seriously taking that kind of threat from a certified harbinger of death is to ridicule one in the worst way. After all, when Rodrigo Duterte said “kill,” people did die. In fact, he himself boasted at least three kills by his own hand. Surely, Castro has every reason to fear that the threat goes beyond dermal, that it makes her definitely far more mortal than she normally can be.

Actually, if Rodrigo Duterte had not been too provincial and narcissistic to be savvily observant, he would have noticed that Marcos had much earlier begun consolidating power without him. Its increasingly open and vigorous pushback on his foreign partners, the Chinese, is telltale.

Marcos has pivoted the nation back to the United States diplomatically and now counts on it for military help in putting the Chinese in their place in the West Philippine Sea, a strategic waterway and mineral-rich territorial resource Duterte handed over to them for control. Marcos has also scrapped the deal for the Chinese to build a commuter railway from Manila to the Clark Freeport Zone, in Pampanga, and suspended their reclamation work in Manila Bay; these were two of the biggest projects they had cornered on exploitative terms.

That back pivot definitely struck at the heart of the alliance that flourished in Duterte’s time, an alliance that also included another former President, Gloria Arroyo, who actually had put Duterte onto China. For now, probably to cut her own losses, she has kept out of Duterte’s trouble with Marcos. In fact, she may have reconciled herself to her diminished role in the Marcos presidency when Romualdez became Speaker, the position she had precisely aspired to.

The question is how far Marcos will go in order to feel secure from them. Sorting Duterte’s mess would seem appealing all around, but limiting the intents of his plots to personal advantage just won’t do. China is doubtless a popular target, but there’s more to Duterte’s mess than China.

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Injustice and murder are the Duterte legacies Marcos needs to undo for him to gain any serious credibility. And to be able to begin to earn that, he has to address the two atrocities that define the notoriety of that regime:

One, the incarceration of Leila de Lima for nearly seven years now on charges manufactured to satisfy Duterte’s desire for revenge – as chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, De Lima had pursued Duterte for death squad murders in Davao when he was mayor there; in fact, she herself narrowly escaped assassination when she went there to investigate.

Two, the thousands of extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war against drugs, in which case all Marcos has to do is allow the prosecutors of the International Criminal Court, in The Hague, to come, investigate, and build their case against Duterte and bring him to international justice, the alternative to the local system he had managed to co-opt in his time.

Setting those things right certainly can begin with him. Being able to do it may not earn him and his family full forgiveness, but perhaps some benefit of the doubt. –

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  1. ET

    Thanks to Vergel Santos for another inspiring article, “Hangover from power.” I do hope that President Marcos Jr. did have the time to read it and be inspired by it. Unfortunately, I doubt that he has the time and if he did have the time, will he get inspired from it? Assuming he was able to read it, would he be inspired by it? No. Asking for his family’s full forgiveness is not in President Marcos Jr.’s mind. That is why his Disinformation Machinery is focused on two things: 1) lying about his father’s atrocities, and 2) leading the Filipino People to forget what the latter had done. Secondly, he may allow the ICC to work on both father and daughter’s cases just to get rid of them, but least likely he would allow the release of Leila de Lima. The latter may turn out to be the strongest leader of the opposition, just like what became of former Senator Benigno Aquino against his own father.

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