Saturday, May 7, 2016

What a Duterte presidency would look like

The Scenario of a Duterte presidency: a weak Chief Executive looms in the horizon
“ and why most of Duterte’s promises would not happen”

A Duterte presidency would not be as strong as what the Pnoy administration thinks it would be. The fact is—it would be the weakest presidency in the history of this Republic because the popular Mayor of Davao would be facing an “opposition-filled House and Supreme Court”—the two other branches of government that comprise this Republic. Without a synergistic relationship with these two branches of government, Duterte would be like a sitting duck. The minute Duterte loses his political charm, that would be the end of him. And history is replete with case studies of leaders who only last months politically because the leader depended only on the strength of his popularity, not on other variables of maintaining power.

That is why stable democracies do not elect leaders merely on the strength of popularity. The fact is—I do not even compare Duterte with Hitler. Duterte is a poor copy of the former German dictator.

Hitler rose to prominence not just because of his great oratorical skills---he was backed by an ideologically driven political party. That party was supported by eminent members of German society—highly esteemed members of both the civilian and military elite—that gave that party legitimacy.

In Duterte’s case, yes, he is popular because of his oratorical skills yet he does not have the backing of an ideologically driven political party. The minute Duterte loses his connexion with the masses, that would spell his demise as a political actor.

Now, on Duterte’s pronouncement that he would announce the closing of Congress if he would encounter great difficulty pursuing his legislative agenda, there is nothing in the present Constitution which empowers him to just unilaterally abolish Congress. That power was exactly the thing which the framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution abolished when they created the present Charter.

Since the good Mayor happens to be a lawyer, Duterte probably meant the power as stated in Section 18 of Article 7. Unfortunately for the mayor, that section does not contemplate the grant of absolute power to the President—it does give the power to declare martial law or a state of emergency but subject to very strict checks by Congress and review by the Supreme Court. Hence, even if Duterte goes into a tantrum and threaten members of the House and the Supreme Court with death, his bravado would amount to nothing, and would even place him in a very delicate situation—that is impeachment.

Hence, this early, we expect a titanic battle between a strong-willed Chief Executive who would take an oath of faithfully executing the laws of the land (Section 17, Article 7 of the Philippine Constitution) ranged against proxies of traditional oligarchs in the persons of people in both Houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. These three forces would use the law as their weapons to attack each other or use these laws as tools to pursue their own personal agenda. In all likelihood, expect no major or substantive change to happen within the first two years of a Duterte presidency because the three branches of this Republic would be “feeling each other out.”

A Strong Chief Executive cannot exercise complete power

The 1987 Constitution was created in such a way that power is evenly distributed in various state institutions such as the Chief Executive, the legislative, the judicial as well as constitutional commissions. There are sufficient provisions which bar one organ of power from exercising an excess of power. A strong President can be checkmated by the Supreme Court, as is a strong Chief Justice, admonished by a strong Speaker of the House or a Senate president.

Yes, the President holds the power of funds allocation yet this is checked by the House. If the House uses government funds not in conjunction with what the Charter says, then, the Supreme Court enters  the fray and exercises its power of judicial review. This very same process applies when a strong President exercises his appointive powers. Both Congress and the Supreme Court can use their powers to publicly dissuade a President from appointing such a person which could even reach a point of an actual confrontation, such as what happened between President Aquino and his appointees whose appointments were stalled by the appointment bodies of both Congress.

An Opposition-filled Congress and a Yellow Supreme Court

What backers of Duterte failed to see is that, in the end, they would find it extremely hard to effect the promises Duterte gave to the people during the elections. Duterte may yet win this election, but lose big in the end.

This early, Duterte stands to lose Congress as an ally because most of those running for Congress are members of the Liberal party. Will I mention the Supreme Court, a majority of the members owe their sinecures to President Aquino? Just look at how the Supreme Court decided in the Poe case and that would show you how “yellow” this Court is. Would be it easy for Duterte to just flick a switch and thereafter see the dissolution of this Court? You wish. That would never happen.

The judicial department is managed and is being controlled by big firms, most of which do not count Duterte as a client. “ The firm” which is composed of two factions, is highly influential in the judiciary because partners of this”firm” have used their influence over five administrations to appoint their own men into highly sensitive judicial posts. There are other law firms which compete with the “firm” in this arena, and they have the interests of their clients in their minds. Obviously, these legal carpet baggers would surely flex their muscles and oppose Duterte if this president begins to maneuver. There are sufficient laws to counter whatever changes Duterte wants to effect.

Duterte’s camp has put all their marbles in one basket that they failed to see that for their candidate to succeed as a president, he needs Congress to be on his side. The PDP-Laban has no solid numbers at both houses. The fact is—it is a minority political party. For Duterte’s presidency to last, Duterte has to have a strong backing in Congress.

At this juncture, it is too late. The Liberal party and other political parties in opposition to Duterte would surely fill up these seats in Congress—both the Lower and Upper houses. Of course, Duterte’s camp always show several politicians migrating from their traditional political parties to Duterte’s but this is an expected political phenomenon. Eventually, these people would shift back to their parties after the election. Some would probably stick it out with Duterte but if push comes to shove and the heat turns extremely hot or this public adoration for Duterte wanes due to frustration or, worse, unfulfilled promises sore Duterte’s relations with his constituency, these politicians would eventually abandon him.

This is the fault of Duterte in the first place---he did not build a party out of this people’s movement. For Duterte to succeed and for him to politically survive Manalacanan, he needs an ideologically driven party, a party that exists with one goal---effect real change in the government. What he has right now is a messy organization united behind his persona of which he derives strength only thru his popularity at this point. The minute Duterte loses his charm, that would eventually spell his political demise.

Even if Duterte emerges as a majority president, he cannot exercise his own personal will against what the present Constitution provides.

This early, expect a titanic battle of wits and resources between Duterte and civil society groups aided by big business interests. Big business interests here are controlled by traditional political families with substantial monies to effect a destabilizing environment. They can probably accept a momentary loss of income for at least three years while preparing the groundwork for Duterte’s impeachment.

Now, if Duterte expects to exercise proto-dictatorial powers upon the business community, that would eventually lead to an ouster scenario similar to what happened to former president Joseph Estrada.

For one, a President Duterte would use his appointing power to influence the conduct of members of the Legislative department. We all know that politics here is just a tool of pursuing Oligarchic influence.

On proclaiming a revolutionary government

If Duterte accepts and is sworn into office under the present Constitution, the good mayor would definitely find it extremely hard to declare a revolutionary government. For one, the Constitution does not have a provision for a declaration of a revolutionary government, even in the most difficult of situations such as lawless violence or the absence of law and order. Yes, there is a provision of a declaration of martial rule or a state of emergency but it is subject to a review by Congress and the Supreme Court.

How then can Duterte fulfill his promise of creating a revolutionary government? Sincerely, nothing in the Constitution states that.

In the event though that Duterte tenders his resignation as President, he cannot use it as a pretext for declaring or transforming the government from de jure to de facto. If Duterte resigns, then, the Constitution has sufficient succession plans in place. Duterte cannot just dictate the terms of his succession like how he envisions it in his mind right now. The Vice president replaces him should he resigns.

Two years of listless growth, uncertainty

The first test for Duterte would actually be when he exercises his power of appointment. With an opposition dominated Senate, his appointees would surely encounter rough sailing in their confirmation.  The second test would be the passage of the 2017 national budget. Again, with an opposition-filled House, Duterte would surely find it extremely hard for his proposed budget to pass the scrutiny of Congress. What would probably happen is the passage of a re-enacted national budget for the first year.

With a re-enacted budget, expect several big ticket items or projects to encounter delays in their implementation. Surely, Duterte’s backers in big business would entice him to give them several concessions, most of them, these big government items. And we all know what would happen if these business titans fail to get what they want---they shift political alliance as fast as how politicians do it. Duterte would not have any option but to delay implementation so as to frustrate these business backers. Or, he may opt to give them these concessions by which he stands a great risk of sacrificing his own political fate or capital with his constituency who expects much from him.

Of course, Duterte’s very first project of which he salivates much is his highly popular goal of anti-criminality. On the first few months, Duterte would create another presidential anti-criminality task force of which he expects to lead.  If Duterte unleashes and uses full state power against organized crime which includes those within the bureaucracy, expect a full destabilising situation because several business interests would surely be affected by this campaign. If Duterte expects to encounter just street smart alecks running these vice groups, he must be prepared to be shocked to his wits. These vice lords have the power to effect both street-level violence and national violence. They have their own backers in the bureaucracy, probably even as high up as those in the military, police and Executive and judicial departments. Killing them all would be extremely hard. These vice lords are expected to unite, and together create a force that would just destabilize a Duterte administration.

For one, Duterte would even find it extremely hard to reform the very executive department (the bureaucracy) of which he is expected to lead. The bureaucracy, as I described it, has become a humongous louse of a syndicate controlled by mini-gods who thinks only of their personal fiduciary interests rather than the interest of the nation.

Creating a National Unity Government

Duterte promises to bring back his old mentor, Jose Maria Sison into the country and create what he calls a “national democratic coalition government.” In all honesty, this is a good proposition. For one, if it succeeds, it may probably bring lasting peace in this fragmented nation.

However, we all know what this 40 plus year old insurgency have already created for this country—a highly pro-status quo military--majority of which are composed of staunch anti-communists. Bringing back Sison would actually be a highly emotional issue with soldiers of this Republic, much the same way as most opposed giving land to the Bangsamoros thru legal means.  The AFP would probably accept a conclusion of the insurgency through the negotiating table but giving plush or juicy posts to these insurgents would surely create antipathy and animosity among the troops.

Personally, I do not believe that it is entirely safe for Joma to come back at this time or even when Duterte wins. For one, there is simply no assurance even under a Duterte or a Poe administration that the Leftist ideologue would be given sufficient security. Even during the most liberal of administrations—that of Aquino and Arroyo—Joma Sison’s safety was never assured. The fact was, under Arroyo, several die-hard anti-Sison elements close to the former president even conspired to deploy assassination squads abroad just to liquidate Sison. How much more in a Duterte presidency where active elements of Norberto Gonzales, an anti-Joma and former National security adviser and promoter of the Filipino version of nationalist socialism here, expect to once more occupy sensitive government posts via Peter Lavina, Duterte’s propaganda man.

The only way a Sison can come back here is for Duterte to dominate the armed forces in an ideological manner and control the AFP and transform it into his own personal force. Basing on the present situation, this is entirely far fetched. There is no indication that Duterte is a raving ideologue of a person. Of course, Duterte has the charisma to rouse people to take action yet he does not have the skill to inspire and deepen the belief of the people to follow him wherever he wants to go because of his lack of ideological grounding.

Besides, how can you even control a fragmented military? As of this time, Duterte’s backers are former military men. There are probably some still in active service yet these people have oppositors also in the lower ranks who exercises real control and power over the troops. These lower ranked officers are the most staunch anti-Communists due to their experience fighting these insurgents in the field, especially those who saw their own comrades killed during encounters. Will they still follow the chain of command in the event of a Duterte presidency?

Instability for the next two years

This early, indications are rife that Davao city mayor Rody Duterte would win this elections. There are just three things that would bar his anointment as the People’s President: first, electoral fraud which would result to the proclamation of an unacceptable winner. Second, failure of elections due to widespread violence which would frustrate the electoral results and lead to a non-proclamation. And third, massive disfranchisement of voters who would mostly vote for him.

This early, it would seem that the public has been conditioned by Duterte forces that he would win. The truth is—both this administration and Duterte forces have used these surveys as tools for conditioning the minds of the people that there are only two contending forces with sufficient forces to win the elections. In reality, there is a legitimate third force---the political machinery of the Vice President—that expects a win in the ground war. Digressing a bit, it is only Binay that is the most acceptable winner of this highly-contested elections.

Of course, people would say that Grace Poe stands a big chance of winning after surveys show that she is the acceptable “second choice.” The thing is, for that to become a reality, Poe has to have what Binay has—a strong grassroots political machinery. Unfortunately for the vice president, he does not have what Poe has—popular trust. Yes, both Poe and Binay have high popularity ratings yet Poe’s numbers are better than Binay because he lost some of the trust of the voters. Clearly, the baseless accusations hurled by his political enemies have stuck to Binay like glue that he encountered great difficulty convincing his own core voters several of whom transferred to Duterte.

It very unlikely that Rody Duterte would be able to establish himself as a dictator once he wins this elections. For one, Duterte would not have the entire support of the incoming Congress. It is evident that support for Duterte comes from local government officials, not exactly from elected members of Congress. Second, Duterte would be facing a Supreme Court filled with pro-Pnoy justices and a faction of the previous Arroyo administration.

Thus, we are seeing an “isolated” Chief Executive at this early.

In all likelihood, the 17th Congress would be filled with pro-Pnoy legislators. Basing on the surveys, even the Senate would be populated by Yellowtards. Since Duterte does not have his own political party (remember that PDP-Laban is just his endorsing party), there is a strong possibility that majority of the senate would not be supportive of the incoming administration. The Liberal Party would still be the strongest opposition party in Congress, both in the Upper and Lower chambers.

Of course, some would say that the Senate would actually follow the “banner” of the winning presidential bet. It is possible that its members would “configure” just to allign with the Chief Executive. I don’t see that happening.

There would be a sizeable number of oppositors against Duterte.

Duterte faces not just a pack, but packs of hungry dogs

Duterte pictures the presidency as a “strong one.” In reality, it is not. While being president entitles you to powers which is otherwise not enjoyed by a Chief Justice or a Senate president, these powers are subject to checks and balances under the present Charter. For a president to get what he wants, he needs to maneuver in a political manner. Duterte needs to wade in the political pond.

Duterte wants to picture himself wading in the political waters with the masses in his back. The reality is, Duterte would actually do that alone. Of course, his experience as a city mayor would probably be of help especially in the “wheeling and dealing”. What would Duterte face after winning the presidency is beyond him. Being president is a daunting task, a delicate balancing act.

For sure, Duterte faces a pack of hungry dogs. At the start, Duterte needs to satiate those hungry packs of dogs from his own group. If you look at his backers, these people are hungry for political vendetta, mostly people who were relegated at the sidelines during the Aquino administration.  They have invested not just time but their monies and their financial backers’ monies for Duterte. They would seek political concessions, mostly concessions that would allow them to recover their financial investments.

First off, Duterte’s big financial backers from the business sector would ask his blessing to take part in government projects. Some would probably ask him to turn a blind eye or loosen the regulatory environment a little bit to accommodate the business interests of his financiers. Obviously, these concesssions would impact on the economy, and eventually affect the very constituency of Duterte which he gave much hope behind his.

The second pack of hungry dogs Duterte would face would be those outside of his close circle but compromised their political stance in exchange for electoral support. These are the political turncoats who would expect their close associates to be given positions in government under Duterte.  Duterte would need to balance the interests of his close supporters with those of these big time political turncoats. At this juncture, Duterte would probably lose some supporters in exchange for giving in to demands of these political turncoats. These spurned supporters would form their group to assail him.

The third pack is Duterte’s affiliated political groups---those who are not within his close circle but made political alignments with him just for him to win. These groups have their individual agendum, most would probably clash with what Duterte promised to the people, that is a clean government.

The fourth pack of dogs Duterte stands to face is his political enemies who would now work to shorten his political life. These would comprise all groups which he alienated due to his political insensitivities and worse, his crassness. This pack would be his most serious political nemesis because most of these groups are driven not by business interests but by ideology. When Duterte’s political honeymoon with the electorate fades beginning on May 9, the good mayor would now face the political realities more daunting than the threat and violence of those vice groups which once dominated his Davao.

What would save Duterte from his own self

Allow things to deteriorate. When the country reaches its tipping point, use the Office of the President as a rallying point for a true revolution. That revolution would be the tool for changing the Constitution. It is only thru Constitutional change that would allow Duterte to fulfill what he promised during the elections and what the people expect him to do. Will I see Duterte hanged by the very people who elected him? Of course, this would never happen under our “democratic” society. But of course, there is always a first time, and that is if things boil to such a point that Duterte loses control and the people turn into a lynching mob. History is replete with such stories.