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Brinkmanship

Following his repeated public avowals and dare to resign from office, President Rodrigo Duterte is getting more unsolicited advice from his allies. Short of appealing to his sense of duty, allies and supporters of President Duterte reminded him his covenant to the 16 million voters who elected him into office to serve the full six-year term ending in June 2022 yet.

This after President Duterte upped the ante and expanded his personal challenge to both Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to resign with him at the same time.

Strong-willed women they are, the Chief Justice and the Ombudsman naturally won’t take on President Duterte’s dare. While both are appointees of former President Benigno “P-Noy”Aquino III, the respective heads of the country’s two constitutional bodies maintain they have fixed terms of office. And they both enjoy the same constitutional protection that they can only be removed from office by impeachment, resignation, or death.

With all the huffing and puffing, it is time perhaps for President Duterte to take a deep and long breath now that he has already driven his point. Anyway, the former Davao City Mayor has time and again made it clear he is not one – using his own words – desperate to cling on to the presidency.

Protected by the same provisions of our country’s Constitution both invoked by the Chief Justice and the Ombudsman, President Duterte has several times already proven his willingness to even die while in office. Last Saturday, the Commander-in-chief flew for the sixth time to Marawi City to touch base with the government troopers fighting the Maute terrorists.

In full battle gear and Kevlar bullet-roof vests and other protective gears, President Duterte went to the main battle site with his omnipresent aide, Presidential Management  Staff head Christopher “Bong” Go, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año, among his regular companions in these dangerous trips to strife-torn city of Marawi.

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The President’s “Talk to the Troops” has taken him up close and personal to check on the progress of the clearing operations by the military to flush out the remaining Maute terrorists still in Marawi City. In all these trips to battle sites and military camps, the President lamented publicly his task to also grieve with the families left behind by slain troopers and policemen. And for those injured in battles, the President makes it also a part of his itinerary to personally visit them at hospitals.

While no amount of money can replace their loved ones killed in action, President Duterte makes extra efforts to keep the hopes of their widows and orphans of livelihood assistance and scholarships for their children still in school. For the injured ones, the President makes sure they get rehabilitated, fitted with prosthetics for those who lost their limbs during battles, and gives them brand new Glocks for side arms.

From where he stands, President Duterte should be confident he has the full support of the military and police. Amid what he believes are apparent destabilization attempts by “poor losers,” President Duterte bewailed they still cannot accept their defeat in last year’s presidential elections.

President Duterte merely puts his most bitter critics together in one group he calls as “yellow,” a color associated with the Liberal Party (LP). The former Davao City Mayor beat in last year’s presidential elections former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas II who was anointed by PNoy to be the LP standard-bearer.

President Duterte believes the “yellows” are behind the renewed destabilization plots and attempts to ultimately unseat him from office.

At one of his extemporaneous speeches a few days before the Sept. 21 commemoration of the martial law anniversary, President Duterte made one of his most stinging attacks at the “yellows” whom he asked to have the decency to resign for all those still holding office in government. If there is anyone who has grudge against the government, President Duterte pointed to himself having the right to protest against all these presidential appointees inherited by his administration still working in government.

Unfortunately, the President’s blanket call for all “presidential appointees” of the previous administration to resign only obviously fell on deaf ears. This is where President Duterte is apparently coming from in his latest resignation dare to both the Chief Justice and the Ombudsman.

Echoing the President’s fears of anti-administration still working in government, Palace officials admitted suspicions of “sabotage” especially in the campaign against illegal drugs. They pointed to the seeming concerted efforts to pin down President Duterte’s war on drugs for every alleged extrajudicial killing in the Philippines. 

Less than 15 months into office, President Duterte can learn a lot from the bitter experience of former president Joseph Estrada following his ouster from office in the aftermath of the so-called EDSA-2 in January 2001.

Estrada’s ouster from office was subsequently justified by the infamous “constructive” resignation in a ruling penned by then Supreme Court (SC) associate justice Reynato Puno. Handed down on March 2, 2001, the SC came up with a ruling based largely on the entries in the diary of his former executive secretary Edgardo Angara, whose chief of staff Macel Fernandez kept it for him. It has become part of SC jurisprudence.     

Finding no resignation letter coming from then president Estrada, the SC relied on Angara’s recollections of the last few hours of conversation with the former president. The SC ruling read, quoting from Angara’s diary:

“The President says: Pagod na pagod na ako. Ayoko na masyado ng masakit. Pagod na ako sa red tape, bureaucracy, intriga (I am very tired. I don’t want any more of this , it's too painful. I'm tired of the red tape, the bureaucracy, the intrigue). I just want to clear my name, then I will go.”

Again, this is high-grade evidence that the petitioner has resigned. The intent to resign is clear when he said x x x Ayoko na masyado ng masakit. Ayoko na are words of resignation.”

President Duterte has pushed the envelop this far. Let the lessons of history be a reminder when one should stop the brinkmanship before it reaches its unintended result.

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