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Opinion

VP Duterte?

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

After the presidency, no other position can compare, and the former chief executive retires from government service.

Or at least this was the tradition among previous Philippine presidents up to Fidel Ramos, who became an elder statesman upon his retirement.

Ramos did toy with the idea of staying longer in power, with his supporters initiating a signature campaign in the first attempt to amend the Constitution and lift the single-term limit for the president.

Corazon Aquino, who endorsed Ramos as her successor, led the resistance to Charter change, advising him that “there’s life after the presidency.”

In keeping a low profile after the presidency, Cory Aquino (plus her only son Noynoy) and Ramos are like former leaders of the United States, who not only retire from government service but also avoid commenting on the policies and performance of their successors. (Donald Trump, however, appears bent on running for president again.)

In our country, Joseph Estrada ended this tradition, although this was understandable since he was yanked out of the presidency before he could finish even half of his six-year term.

Thanks to a full pardon that restored even his political rights, granted by his successor immediately after his conviction for plunder, Erap made a successful bid to become mayor of Manila even if everyone knew he was a long-time resident of San Juan.

He even came second to Noynoy Aquino in the 2010 presidential race, with the Supreme Court abdicating its duty of clarifying if the candidacy violated the constitutional ban on reelection for a president. The issue remains unsettled.

Erap’s successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo affirmed the precedent set by Erap in sliding down to lower government posts. Maybe GMA needed it to vindicate herself, after being placed under “hospital arrest” for plunder for four years after her presidency, during which she often appeared in public with a neck brace and in a wheelchair.

The health accessories miraculously vanished when GMA was elected to Congress, and especially when she wrested the speaker’s post (backed by the President’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio) from Pantaleon Alvarez.

Now retired from Congress, no position seems too insignificant for GMA. Last November, she accepted an appointment from Duterte to the newly created post of presidential adviser on programs and projects in the Clark Freeport and Special Economic Zone.

*      *      *

Perhaps GMA and Erap have inspired Duterte – barred from seeking reelection – to run for a lower post in 2022.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” last Tuesday that the President was open to the possibility of seeking the second highest post in the land in 2022 – if there is “a strong public clamor” for it.

There was such a clamor, Panelo said, in late 2015 when Duterte decided at the last minute to enter the presidential race. This was after the Supreme Court allowed Sen. Grace Poe to seek the presidency. Duterte to this day maintains that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino and should have been disqualified from seeking the nation’s highest post.

Last March when Duterte’s party the PDP-Laban said it wanted him to run for VP, presidential spokesman Harry Roque noted that Duterte had previously said he is tired of public office and does not intend to run for VP or any other post when his term ends.

Duterte has also said that he didn’t want his daughter Sara to run for president and face the tough problems he has encountered in office.

On the other hand, he has been dropping broad hints that he wants his loyal aide-turned-senator Bong Go to succeed him. And Go has said he would run only if bossing Duterte would be his running mate.

*      *      *

Howard Calleja, spokesperson and one of the convenors of the opposition coalition 1Sambayan, when asked to comment on the possibility of Rodrigo Duterte running for VP, sniffed that maybe it was another one of the President’s jokes.

When we told him on The Chiefs that it was Panelo who raised the possibility, Calleja wondered why we even bothered with the chief presidential legal counsel: Bakit nyo ba pinapatulan yun?

But why shouldn’t we? Panelo was the legal adviser in Duterte’s 2016 campaign, and will likely be actively involved in the administration campaign in 2022.

And 1Sambayan cannot afford to disregard the still immense popularity of Rodrigo Duterte. Even if sliding down to VP might smack of insatiable greed for public office, he would be a formidable contender for the vice presidency.

*      *      *

There are many issues that can be raised against the administration in the 2022 elections, starting with the pandemic response that has led to over 20,000 deaths and still counting, and an economic conflagration that has deepened poverty.

Panelo thinks the ayuda given to the suffering masses will save the day for the administration. In fact the inadequate amount of aid plus mishandling of the distribution might further stoke public resentment.

The administration has expressed confidence that Duterte’s embrace of China is too abstract and is no gut issue that can influence voters. This is insulting the intelligence of Filipinos. The West Philippine Sea has become a gut issue, with Filipino fishermen unable to fish within our own maritime economic zone and consequently losing about 70 percent of their income. There are reports of resentment in the military over the policy of kowtowing to Beijing.

Filipinos remember woefully that Chinese tourists from Wuhan first brought the COVID virus to Manila, because our government fretted about closing borders and offending Beijing. And Duterte’s preference for Chinese vaccines prevented the early arrival of life-saving COVID jabs, notably 10 million Pfizer doses.

Election Day, however, is still a year away. Even the egregious human rights violations related to the war on drugs are fading from public discourse. People’s discontent over the pandemic response must resonate all the way to May 9, 2022, with the issues packaged well to touch the masses. Voters must understand what’s at stake, and how a new team can best save the country from again being the sick man of Asia.

The opposition cannot discount the personality-based, patronage-driven nature of Philippine elections.

Self-righteous overconfidence bordering on hubris can turn off voters. We’ve seen this in certain candidates in the past who had the competence, integrity and track record in public service, and were trounced by rivals with far less impressive credentials but who could connect with the masses.

In an election campaign, running scared and leaving nothing to chance is better than being smug.

RODRIGO DUTERTE

Philstar
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