The secessionist

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The naughty Rodrigo Duterte must be immensely amused. In his retirement, he says “boo” and the government jumps.

If he truly wants an independent Mindanao Republic, shouldn’t he have launched his advocacy when he was still a spring chicken, with no need for fentanyl to ease his aching bones, nerves, everything?

Claiming that a part of him is Muslim, he could have aligned himself with his Islamic secessionist buddy Nur Misuari.

Duterte campaigned for the presidency partly on a platform of federalism (the reason for Fidel Ramos’ endorsement). But Duterte dropped it with the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He also abandoned his push for Charter change after the House of Representatives led by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unceremoniously junked his draft Constitution and swiftly produced its own, minus the proposed curbs on dynasty building.

His socioeconomic planning secretary, Ernesto Pernia, also warned that the cost of the proposed federal system would “wreak havoc” on the economy. Pernia was promptly sacked from the Cabinet.

This time, with the head of the economic team just barely warming his seat, we haven’t heard any warnings about the potential economic costs (plus actual cost to taxpayers) of a forced signature campaign for a people’s initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution, a plebiscite to affirm the effort, and a shift to a parliamentary system, which opponents suspect is the main objective of PI.

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Duterte’s public opposition to PI and Charter change at this time has to be the reason for his raising the idea of Mindanao secession. If PI can be used to change the system of government, why not for Mindanao independence?

Even if he surely knows Mindanao secession is in the same realm as the hallucination for rice at P20 a kilo, he has made his point about PI, although the messaging is muddled so certain politicians can’t (or don’t want to) get it.

Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman clearly gets it. The senior deputy minority leader filed a bill this week, providing an enabling law for the constitutional provision that allows PI for Charter amendments.

Lagman has pointed out that the lack of an enabling law led to the Supreme Court’s junking of the first PI in 1997, also spearheaded by the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action or PIRMA.

Back then the suspicion was that the initiative for Charter change was meant merely to allow Ramos to seek a second term. Corazon Aquino, who had “anointed” him as her successor, led the protests against Cha-cha, telling FVR that there’s life after the presidency.

Today the same suspicions of perpetuating officials in power (and abolition of the Senate) underpin distrust of the House of Representatives’ push for Cha-cha. Continuity, it seems, has replaced unity as the battle cry of Marcos 2.0.

The distrust is aggravated by the deception behind the signature campaign to stampede the nation into another PI: just sign on the dotted line, and get all sorts of ayuda.

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As the Senate finally began tackling Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 (RBH6) on Monday, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano described the possibility of political Cha-cha as “the elephant in the room.”

A shift to a parliamentary system imperils the possible ascent to power of Vice President Sara Duterte, who at this early stage is seen as a shoo-in for the 2028 presidency.

Unsurprisingly, VP Sara’s father is making noises against Cha-cha and threatening secession. No major group has expressed support for his secessionist call, so Rody Duterte must be ecstatic that the government is taking notice.

So far, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año has warned that any secessionist movement will be met by the state with force. Congressmen said that Rodrigo Duterte and his supporter, Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, could be indicted for sedition, a non-bailable offense. Alvarez said yesterday secession was his idea.

BBM has decided to ignore the issue – “hindi na pinatulan,” according to Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos.

Malacañang, however, issued a statement saying provincial governors and city mayors want a united Philippines. And military officials, who have repeatedly denied destabilization and unrest in the ranks, keep reminding their commanders to follow the chain of command and be loyal to flag and country.

It reminds me of certain folks who were often suspected of plotting coup attempts in previous administrations. Tired of denying the plots, they said all they needed to do when they were bored was to get together and mention “coup” and the government would get spooked, roll out the tanks along EDSA and lay out the concertina wire around Malacañang.

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Duterte must also be happy to note that amid the tempest (in a teapot?) he has set off, rumors have emerged that Romualdez’s hold on the Speaker’s post is imperiled.

Last Monday, 287 of the 310 House members passed a resolution of support for Romualdez, defending him from senators’ “baseless accusations” and “confrontational” stance on PI and Cha-cha. Considering how loyalties in the House shift literally overnight, however, Romualdez should hope that the statement of support won’t have less value than toilet paper.

The resolution also lamented Sen. Imee Marcos’ probe of the signature gathering for PI “without a clear legislative purpose, specifically directed at discrediting” her cousin the Speaker and the House.

That sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. Yesterday, the Senate gave a hint of its response. Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the subcommittee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, said a plebiscite on Cha-cha would be more feasible in May 2025.

This would coincide with the midterm elections, which the Comelec says is not allowed. So it could be much later in the year instead, under a new Congress. Or maybe it will be never, if the senators can help it.

Rodrigo Duterte need not rattle Marcos 2.0 with empty secessionist threats to stop PI. As congressmen put it, the Senate has long been the “graveyard” of Cha-cha. A deceptive PI can seal its death.

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