Role models for civility

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

A self-confessed fatalist, President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly declares in all his extemporaneous speeches and public pronouncements about his readiness to meet His Maker. The 72-year-old President nonchalantly talks about his possible death while in office due to his existing medical problems. Or, not being able to finish his six-year term in office amid persistent coup rumors and alleged ouster plots against him.

In both scenarios, President Duterte would always assuage the public there is nothing to worry about because the country’s 1987 Constitution provides the Vice President to succeed in office in case of vacancy. In which case, Vice President Leni Robredo assumes if ever President Duterte gets impeached, or incapacitated, or dies before his term ends on June 30, 2022.

While they were still in good speaking terms, President Duterte would banter about the Vice President just waiting from the wings in case his helicopter or airplane crashes. The Vice President would often retort she is not one praying for such situation. Adding, the President’s joke on plane crash is rather hurting her because it brings back sad memories when she lost her late husband to a plane crash, former Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.

Lately, however, President Duterte no longer jokes about the Vice President after he “fired” her from his Cabinet as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). Through a text message by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco on Dec. 4 (Sunday) last year, the Vice President was told to stop attending the Cabinet meeting which is usually conducted every Mondays either at the Palace, or in Davao City.

The gap between the two leaders further widened when Malacanang Palace at the last minute dis-invited the Vice President from attending the traditional New Year vin d’ honneur for the diplomatic community held at the Palace six days ago. According to the camp of the Vice President, they received the Palace invite via email last Dec. 28. But on Jan. 4, or on the eve of the affair, the staff of Mrs.Robredo purportedly got a phone call from an undisclosed person and informed them the Vice President need not attend due to “limited space” at the Palace. 

The Palace kept quiet all throughout after the media reported the “dis-invite” as announced by the camp of the Vice President. Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar later admitted it was simply because it would be “awkward” for the both the President and the Vice President to appear together when, in fact, the two of them are feuding publicly over policies and on other national issues.

Incidentally, the Vice President was not also invited at the state banquet last week in honor of the state visit in Manila by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his wife and their delegation and hosted by President Duterte at Malacanang. Following protocol, the Vice President should be the one to welcome the state visitor at the airport. But this role was given to someone else.

But there is a time for everything, as the favorite bible verses Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 say that no less than President Duterte himself often invokes in all his speeches.

The Chief Executive could no longer avoid the time he has to sit down and talk with his estranged Vice President to talk and discuss policy and other national issues across the table whether they agree or not with each other on these matters of state.

President Duterte will soon convene the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to discuss the common legislative agenda with the leaders of the 17th Congress along with key Cabinet members. Under the law that created the LEDAC, the President chairs and presides the meeting, with the Vice President as among its members.

The LEDAC composition also includes the Senate president; the Speaker of the House of Representatives; seven Cabinet members; three Senators and three House members; three sectoral representatives (local government unit, youth, and private sector) to be appointed by the President.

President Duterte earlier designated the following Cabinet officials to attend the LEDAC meeting, namely: National Economic and Development Authority Director-General Ernesto Pernia; Finance Sec. Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez; Budget and Management Sec. Benjamin Diokno; Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana; Public Works and Highways Sec.Mark Villar; Transportation Sec. Arturo Tugade; and Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Sec.Jesus Dureza.

A chief ally of President Duterte, Senate president Aquilino Pimentel III earlier disclosed the LEDAC meeting will  be convened at the Palace tentatively scheduled before the end of this month. Before the first LEDAC meeting, Pimentel will sit down with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to draw up a common list of priority and most urgent bills that need to be passed in the next few months that will be tabled at the LEDAC. 

The first regular sessions of the 17th Congress resumed starting last Monday after their one-month Christmas break. The Senate president and the Speaker, along with their respective panel members, have yet to meet and agree on the common legislative agenda that would be lined up for passage into law for the remaining months before Congress adjourns sine die in June.

Among the bills that the Senators agreed to prioritize include the proposed bills to provide free tuition in state universities and colleges; free irrigation for farmers; universal health insurance coverage; and, nutritious meals for students in public primary schools.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the goal is to pass as many of the pet bills within the next two months as they could. According to Sotto, there was also an agreement among Senators to facilitate approval of the proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the creation of a trust fund for the coconut levy funds; and the expansion of the coverage of the Anti-Wiretapping Law.

But the Senators themselves are bickering with each other like the near fisticuffs between two of them yesterday at the session hall. And they talk about agreement on pet bills?

And how about the feud between our country’s top two leaders dished out in public, too? President Duterte and Vice President Robredo should be role models for civility and set aside personal hurt in favor of national interest.

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