With Rodrigo Duterte, the country earns another first in the annals of its history: the use of the presidential bully pulpit in the demolition by this administration of the perceived rivals of its anointed candidate in the 2022 presidential elections.
Duterte has already started with Senator Manny Pacquiao, after the latter raised corruption issues against the Duterte administration and challenged him frontally in the leadership of the administration party PDP-Laban. By Duterte standards, the attack on Senator Pacquiao can still be considered a bit tame, this observation coming from someone who was the recipient of the whole gamut of Duterte’s malevolent and unbounded capacity to publicly name, shame, and pillorize enemies and rivals using the entire government machinery, whether executive, legislative, or even judiciary.
‘De Lima-nizing’ the perceived challenger
Duterte’s attack on Manila Mayor Isko Moreno is, however, more reminiscent of the first stages of his unrestrained assault on my person, when I started the investigation on the drug war and its consequent summary execution of what then still amounted to just hundreds, and now has ballooned to thousands, of poor and marginalized Filipinos.
In the demolition of Mayor Isko, Duterte started with his classic showbiz titillation gimmick: the use of blind items to pique the public’s prurient interest in the personal details of his victim’s life. In this style, Duterte is no better than the gossip-peddling radio broadcaster who starts his segment with the phrase, “Ayon sa aking bubwit…” – an introduction that portents nothing but innuendos, before publicly stripping the victim bare for the audience to enjoy.
In the case of Mayor Isko, the public stripping was literal. Days before he dropped the blind item on Mayor Isko in a public telecast, his troll farm apparatus had already disseminated on social media modeling photos of Mayor Isko when he was still a showbiz personality in the ’90s. Without however mentioning any name or showing the photos, Duterte would ask rhetorically if anybody trained as a “call boy” or a male prostitute deserves to be president of the country. Thus started Duterte’s public demolition of Mayor Isko on national television, something that I have already undergone and only know too well.
Not content with stripping Mayor Isko to his bikini briefs before the whole world, Duterte also aimed at stripping him of his powers as the local chief executive of the capital of the country. In the same address, Duterte accused Mayor Isko (without mentioning his name again) of having a “disorganized mind” in the distribution of lockdown ayuda to his constituency. This was triggered by supposed videos of people crowding without physical distancing in certain places in the Metro, not necessarily Manila. In fact, some videos actually showed Las Piñas as well as, hypocritically, Davao City.
And yet, Duterte singled out the Manila mayor, without mentioning the similar confusion in LGU activities of the Las Piñas mayor or of his own daughter in Davao. Duterte’s malice and bad faith is revealed in this selective chastisement of Mayor Isko, when several other local chief executives also experienced disorganized crowds, whether in their vaccination centers or in ayuda distribution. As a consequence, Duterte directed the ayuda distribution in Manila to be undertaken directly by the national agencies, instead of leaving it to the LGU of Manila. This raises questions on the legality of such an action done just to spite his daughter’s presumptive rival for the presidency.
There are two key facts that make arbitrary the ordered stripping off of the Manila City government of its ayuda distribution functions: 1) Manila was not the only LGU that experienced overcrowding in the vaccination centers; Las Piñas was also reported to have gone through this due to the fake news and confusion with regard to the alleged vaccination requirement for ayuda or travel; 2) the Manila City government was just recently commended by the DILG for their orderly distribution of ayuda.
Duterte, the Usurper (of LGU powers)
The 1987 Constitution and the Local Government Code vest in the President the power of general supervision over LGUs, or the power to ensure that local governments discharge their functions in accordance with the law. The fact that the President is not granted the right to control them is the clearest proof that he does not have the power to abolish the ability of local governments to act. His power must remain constrained to the power to direct them to perform their duties and act in accordance with the law. If they do not do so, the President cannot withdraw such power altogether, but only steer them back in the right direction.
The power to compel LGUs to do their existing mandate is not tantamount to the power to remove such power. Supervision must be within the bounds of the constitutional or legislative intent; general, not all-encompassing, as to amount to an eradication of power. Officials exercising the power of supervision merely see to it that the rules are followed, but they themselves do not have the power to act beyond such power as to already amount to a confiscation of the power with which such local governments function.
With the Local Government Code in place, the power of the President to take direct control over a local government unit is limited to extreme circumstances. One of them is when he declares martial law, but even then the local Sanggunian still continues to function despite the military government in place. The other extreme case is when there is a vacuum in administration and operation, as when entire LGUs are decimated by reason of a natural calamity.
The latter is what happened during the Yolanda tragedy when entire LGUs in the affected regions ceased to function altogether because of the sheer devastation brought about by a supertyphoon. In that case, the national government, perched in Metro Manila and still largely intact, had to take over the vacuum of operational power left in the wake of the once-in-a-lifetime calamity. There was then no other choice for the national government but to step in and take over the LGU calamity operations, including rescue, recovery, and relief operations. But even then the national government’s resources and manpower were not enough. The whole world had to help our people then.
There is neither martial law nor a Yolanda-scale calamity in the city of Manila. No palpable reason exists as to why the mandate of the Manila LGU to distribute aid should be withdrawn, when the same alleged state of confusion and disorganization in aid distribution has been manifested in several LGUs throughout the course of the national government’s pandemic response.
When hypocrisy collides with chronic incompetence: Duterte’s poor attempt at misdirection
Probably the more important question is whether it is the LGUs that are disorganized, or is it, in the first place, the national government itself, led as it is by the “great communicator” (according to his stooge Harry Roque), who was largely responsible for the disorganization and confusion in vaccination centers when he pronounced the fake news that the unvaccinated will no longer be allowed to leave their homes and will be arrested by the PNP?
Nowadays, when we speak of a disorganized response to the pandemic, definitely it is not Mayor Isko and his supposed “call boy training” that comes to mind. It is no one but Duterte and his overstretched ego who is incapable of leading the national government response to the single most challenging crisis ever to confront the country in the modern era.
Maybe it is not enough, or even relevant, to have a past as the one ascribed to Mayor Isko to be deemed unqualified to assume the great power and enormous responsibility of the presidency. Sometimes you just have to be as incompetent as a Duterte. – Rappler.com
Senator Leila de Lima, a fierce Duterte critic, has been detained in a facility at the Philippine National Police headquarters for several years over what she calls trumped-up drug charges.