LAST week, a letter addressed to the President purportedly signed by the AFP Chief of Staff and the major service commanders edited by an eminent newspaper columnist, Carmen (Chit) Pedrosa, was circulated in social media. I must presume by now, this has reached the President’s ear.

It is supposed to be a letter that the President has been waiting for presumably to give him the raison d’etre to act. This letter did not mince words “…there is enough ground already to dissolve Congress and declare RevGov…”.

Although spreading in social media people are skeptical that the military’s highest echelon would be so insolent as to address the president openly, almost egging him to act outside the Constitution. This institution after all has been assiduous in following constitutional mandates after its shameless foray as Marcos stooge during the Martial Law regime. Since then, it has acquitted itself well. Chances are this is a fake letter. So, I called Chit Pedrosa, a colleague since the administration of GMA when we were both recruited in the 2005 Consultative Commission (ConCom) to amend the 1987 Constitution. Chit and I are both federal-parliamentarians. The 2005 draft document has been improved over the decade and now published as a pamphlet, The Centrist Proposals. Although Chit did not confirm or deny her role in the mentioned AFP letter, she is aware and claimed to be sympathetic to it. She agrees with the tenor.

At this level, the sentiments behind the call for RevGov may be a legitimate reflection of people’s frustration and near desperation on overcoming the challenges confronting Philippine society today. The expectations of the Filipinos were heightened upon the appearance on the scene of a maverick Promdi. The Deegong, as a successful Davao mayor was perceived to be the fresh face from down south to replicate his successful formula to the rest of the country. It hasn’t work out that way.

He was no match against the very system he wanted to change while working within it. Or at least, the people he brought with him to the bureaucracy were never able to break themselves from the mold of a prosaic mindset.

Except for a few, their level of managerial sophistication has not matched the exigencies of their office. This is partly also the fault of the Deegong himself as after two decades of local governance with little familiarity with global politics, his intimates naturally were the only ones allowed to populate his comfort zone. It was therefore logical for the president to prefer his peers: classmates, schoolmates, childhood friends, barkadas and like-minded local elites. Few were recruited to handle sensitive posts outside the community of his true believers. But the president is an exceptionally fast learner and has employed his acute native intuition to navigate through the country’s complex political environment.

Thus, his obligatory but stressful interactions with the elite and the oligarchy. Both are suspicious of each other as neither sprung from the same cultural mold with similar perspectives. But the former must work with the latter as he has the political will and, coupled with his control over the state sanctioned power, has the potential to destroy, given time. But time is not exactly in the President’s favor. They can sit him out on his legal term limits, as they did over the decades for all those elected to power that purport to reform the system the oligarchy has exploited for itself.

And the Deegong is most relentless. He showed this when the state’s teeth were bared against Ongpin and the Prietos; thus, reinforcing the oligarchy’s determined opposition against his initiatives to bring about systemic change through constitutional revisions and political restructuring.

Spearheaded by the oligarchy and its allies among the political dynasties, the opposition and quislings in the bureaucracy, they have managed to stop the Deegong in his tracks. He is now forced to work closely within the system, through the perverted electoral exercise that is decidedly stacked against him.

Let me again quote the AFP Major Commander’s letter to PRRD:

“…recent events have placed us in a quandary as those who, like us are pledged to abide by the Constitution,
have beyond doubt been the ones habitually undermining and making a mockery of it even while hiding behind it to escape prosecution.

…Even more curiously, despite the many weaknesses in our electoral process that have been exposed, not a single member of Congress has made a single proposal for electoral reform…”

Mr. President, we fully understand that it is not in your nature to ask us to transgress the Constitution we have all sworn to uphold. However, as our Commander-in-Chief we are obliged to present to you our concerns… We fear that without timely and decisive action, not only will everything we have fought worked hard and died for will come to naught, threatening the future of our children and future generations.”

An option is presented to the president that is double-edged. If he employs the drastic method of declaring revolutionary government, the risk of quick collapse and quick death of democracy as we know it is imminent. If it fails.

This is the downside of the proposition. But to some, this may be preferable to the slow strangulation that the elite and the oligarchy have been applying to the body politic that has caused grave disparity between the “have and the have-nots” and in the process has institutionalized poverty.

The upside to RevGov, if successful could unshackle the Filipino from the decades of stark poverty, deprivation and injustice. But the threat alone will put sense into the oligarchy as they can’t afford to lose all. The imminent danger could precipitate real concessions and negotiations as the oligarchy could be destroyed, and a new governance paradigm may emerge. The Deegong knows how to play the zero-sum game. And this is the ultimate!

But would RevGov be sustained by the likes of the Deegong? Does he have the temperament and the moral spine to carry it through? And is virtue a precondition to a RevGov leadership? DU30 is 74 and tired. He is old, maybe narcissistic, a trait that will help him contemplate on his legacy. Nothing defeats a man’s biases better than a glimpse of the specter of his mortality.
The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
In politics there’s no such thing as being too big to fail. Ruling coalitions become ruling parties, at which point being bloated often results in a party split, as factions lose out in the jockeying and sense an opportunity to strike out — and strike back — by forming rival coalitions to contest the next election. In regional terms, the Visayas (Cebu in particular, with Pusyon Bisaya) and Mindanao (with the Mindanao Alliance) have their own tradition of regional parties standing up to Marcos’ KBL: even PDP-Laban traces its origins to that era. Regional barons don’t take well to being bossed around, and if a boss gets too big for his britches, a revolt is inevitable. This is why everyone seems to be expecting Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to fall, the beneficiary of his toppling being Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but the cause being widely attributed to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s sharp-tongued confrontation with him.

The clash between the mayor of Davao and the representative from the first district of Davao del Norte has been framed as a battle royale between the Speaker’s machinery and everyone else, under the umbrella of the President’s daughter. The Speaker’s take-no-prisoners approach most famously took on the President’s former patron, Antonio Floirendo Jr., with the President weighing in on the Speaker’s side after Floirendo supposedly was too uppity in response to the President’s efforts to smooth things over. But if it was necessary to teach Floirendo a lesson, it seems the time has come to teach Alvarez one, too, not least because a Floirendo-led effort to defeat the Speaker in 2019 is widely expected to succeed. But it is bigger than that as the presence of Sen. JV Ejercito at the launching of Duterte-Carpio’s regional party demonstrated. The Estrada home turf of San Juan has been rocked by a confrontation between the Zamoras and Mayor Guia Gomez, yet PDP-Laban took in the Zamoras despite JV Ejercito’s support for the President. What sort of treatment is that? And so, for every ally denied the blessings of the ruling party, there now glitters the opportunity to be associated with Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

In the meantime, aside from publicly being humiliated by Duterte-Carpio, the Speaker came under attack within his own party from members unhappy with his recruitment methods and for supposedly giving the cold shoulder to party veterans. Creating the impression of a civil war within a party is a tried-and-tested method for taking down party bigwigs a peg or two, and what matters most here is the hands-off announcement from the Palace when it comes to party matters. Those with sensitive political antennae will take it as the absence of a ringing endorsement for the Speaker, at a time when he has been accused by no less than the President’s fiercely outspoken daughter for being disloyal and disruptive.

PDP-Laban and Hugpong ng Pagbabago trying to outdo each other in being more “Dutertista” than the other only increases the chances of keeping the overall ruling coalition intact, and tying all factions to the Palace’s apron strings. It’s also a pointed reminder to the Speaker, even if he survives, not to be too piggish in the company of piglets. It does not do well for a runt to act too convinced that he’s an undefeatable wild boar. While he leads a big chunk of last-term congressmen, he has been too pushy with his no-election-in-2019 agenda, leaving no room for those looking forward to replacing last-termers, and bruising the feelings of so many players — and the public, too, which otherwise might give the President’s Charter change scheme the benefit of the doubt if only it weren’t so obviously stacking the odds in favor of people like Alvarez. Now the Speaker’s scheme is running out of steam, just when the President’s collection of consultative commission mummies are showing signs of life.

Still, all the factions could reunite by the State of the Nation Address in July, where the President could make a pitch for a plebiscite on a new constitution by October — the deadline for filing candidacies for the 2019 midterms. It will be the
balancing act of a lifetime.