The Duterte playbook

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The way affairs of the ruling PDP-Laban are being handled bears all the imprints of Rodrigo Duterte.

There’s the blatant disregard for the rules that bind lower ranking members of the party, with the chairman simply dictating his own rules and giving his blessings to those who go along with whatever he wants.

Because the COVID pandemic is never far from our minds, the messy infighting within the PDP-Laban also reminds us of the Duterte administration’s disorganized pandemic response.

And there’s the scenario now firming up of Duterte believing that the Philippines is just a bigger version of his turf, Davao City, where he and his children alternate as mayor, vice mayor, congressman and whatever position is still available.

Duterte had his Davao law enforcement playbook in mind when he promised during the 2016 campaign to eliminate the illegal drug scourge nationwide in six months.

What followed was an orgy of killings… and no end to the drug menace after six months, or even after a year, or two, and now nearing his sixth and final year.

Will the Davao succession playbook go the same way?

*      *      *

Sen. Manny Pacquiao, supposedly made street-smart by his years in poverty, is clearly still a babe in the woods when it comes to politics. He’s apparently naïve enough to think that Duterte’s party would back him as the next president of the land.

Pacquiao should have seen last Monday’s blow coming, with all the recent commentaries belittling his capabilities outside boxing, plus the reports denigrating his call to ignore the summons to a “national council meeting” in Cebu organized by PDP-Laban vice chairman and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.

With Pacquiao supporters in the party citing the violation of their own rules, Malacañang deployed Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque to announce that the President himself had ordered Cusi to call the meeting in Cebu.

When the Pacquiao camp pointed out that Roque was not even a member of PDP-Laban, Malacañang released a video of Duterte himself, in pandemic casual, calling for party unity but NOT ordering a stop to the Cebu gathering.

To no one’s surprise, the meeting pushed through. And to no one’s surprise, the principal order of business was the passage of a resolution urging Duterte to run for vice president in 2022 – and to choose his party’s standard bearer. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around – the standard bearer choosing his running mate?

But that’s also Duterte’s trademark: anything can be upended because he says so.

*      *      *

Some people who have known Duterte for a long time say he is truly tired of public office and wants to retire when he gets through these six tough years.

But in the issue of running for VP, we listen to the public pronouncements of his spokesman (Duterte is thinking about it and is leaving it up to God) and his chief legal counsel (he will run if there’s a strong public clamor for it). That PDP-Laban meeting looks like the party laying the groundwork for the “strong public clamor.”

I’ve read and re-read constitutional provisions on the presidency and vice presidency, and I can’t see anything that specifically bars Duterte from running for VP in 2022.

But opponents of the move say it will go against the spirit of the Charter, and it can indirectly subvert the constitutional prohibition on the reelection of a president.

The opponents paint this scenario: in case Duterte’s endorsed successor – his daughter or Bong Go – wins, nothing can stop either one from resigning, in which case the VP automatically assumes the presidency.

And there’s no prohibition either on such a scenario being repeated over and over, allowing Duterte to be in power till death.

This scenario is anchored on the belief that Duterte’s preferred successor will win in 2022. Those who worry about this possibility are reviving a call made during the Arroyo administration: moderate your greed.

*      *      *

What can we expect from six more years (or forever) of Duterte still at the nation’s helm?

The drug killings will continue (major campaign donors spared). So will the selective prosecution of the corrupt. Davao’s Dennis Ang Uy will become the richest person in the country. Nuclear power – Cusi’s advocacy – will become part of the country’s energy mix. Militarization of the top echelons of the bureaucracy will be complete, perhaps with the foreign service thrown in, because where will all those retired generals go?

And the country will become a province of China, with the red carpet rolled out for the entry of every killer virus from the mainland. Filipino VIPs, their families, cronies and close-in security can always get Chinese vaccines in advance – and yes, they can choose the brand.

We might kiss our security alliance with the United States goodbye.

Pacquiao has expressed confidence that he won’t be ousted, although there’s talk within the Bong Go camp that the boxing champion will be replaced as party president by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.

After the lack of respect and courtesy from his party mates, if the boxing champ is still banking on a talk with Duterte to fix things up before the election of party officials planned by the Cusi group on July 16, Pacquiao is an even bigger naif than we thought.

There is speculation that the splintering of PDP-Laban is now just a matter of time. How this will affect Duterte’s legislative agenda in the final year of his term remains to be seen. It will also further divide the Mindanao vote, already riven by the fight between Sara Duterte and ousted speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

There’s the question of what Pacquiao’s Plan B will be if his party continues to show him no respect and breaks up. Will he run for president anyway as an independent? It’s not unusual in Philippine politics with its weak party system.

Pacquiao is rating in surveys for the upcoming presidential race, but so far he has never landed at the top.

On the other hand, there’s a battle of surveys on the presidential race, with the group commissioning the poll, it seems, getting the result that it wants. At least it will keep the pollsters in business during the pandemic.

The explosion of surveys is much welcome. With all the different outcomes, it would cancel out their impact in influencing voter preferences on Election Day.

We need an informed vote in 2022. Our country is cursed with public officials who believe one can never be too rich or too powerful. Only voters can dispel that belief. Dynasties are perpetuated only if people give their stamp of approval.

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