IN a statement that contradicted the newly appointed Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, a former general, and the pronouncements of his talking head, Salvador Panelo, the President unequivocally declared: “I will not sit as President and let you render me inutile as you continue with your corruption there in Customs right in front of me. You sons of bitches. Now you have a problem. They say its militarization of the government, correct,” he added. On Sunday (Oct. 28, 2018), he ordered the military to ‘take over the BoC’. (The Manila Times, Nov 3, 2018)

The cat is now out of the bag! While the President’s sycophants have been trying to muddle the issue with their double-speak, we have the Deegong on record on his actions and motivations — feeding his detractors with arguments to lay before the Supreme Court. The question of the constitutionality of his acts has been snatched from public discourse and now elevated to the 12 men and women of the highest court, four-fifths of whom are ingratiated and friendly to him. But the conversation on the ground is more interesting. What are the implications of the presidential declarations?

For one, the President has clearly shown that his civilian bureaucracy is not up to the job of running government efficiently. It’s quite clear now what the motives are behind his appointment of former military personnel to positions in his cabinet and sensitive bureaus and departments. This creeping militarization is nothing more than an acceptance that the President may have given up on the nuances of the republican principle of the pre-eminence of the civilian over the military. This could be presumably why martial law in Mindanao is being revisited and may be extended — perhaps indefinitely.

It is easy to speculate at this point that the Deegong is tired and has given up on the democratic ways of governance and is leaning towards a despotic pat, but this time in a slow dance macabre towards one-man rule. This could be a substitute for a declaration of a revolutionary government (revgov). Whereas the latter will involve “shock and awe,” which could be violent, the former is simply a soft “coup d’état by substitution”; in some way accomplishing what he has been signaling from the very start of his regime.

And since this takeover by the military is not accompanied by blood, perhaps most Filipinos will go for it.

So, why not also a “takeover” of the BIR? What the hell! It’s one of the corrupt agencies. And while we’re at it, why not lieutenants, captains and colonels for bureau chiefs, Asecs and Usecs of DoTC and DPWH. These are still headed by civilians and perceived to be graft-ridden and inept too.

And this could be the real “pagbabago” promised by DU30 and awaited by the long-suffering Filipinos. In the first two years of his term, DU30 never did have a chance to push his agenda successfully, except for some political crumbs allowed by the movers and shakers of this country that suit also their own interests. And these people have been at this long before the Deegong even thought of running for president. DU30 set out to eliminate the drug menace but after the death of thousands of minor souls and damage to our human rights record internationally, not one big fish was caught in his net.

He proposed a drastic change in the system of governance through political restructuring and development of a liberal economy by doing away with restrictive measures curtailing foreign direct investments. All these by revising the 1987 elitist-driven Constitution. He is failing here due to the recalcitrance and even direct opposition by the elected class, particularly the Senate; and the midterm election circus has come into play and distracts us all from the systemic restructuring. This election could result in the Deegong becoming a “lame-duck” president.

The discombobulated electoral process, the ultimate system that protects and sustains the perversion of democracy has always been the bastion of those who will not allow real change — pagbabago. The Deegong under the current democratic process must play this game. But will he? Not by the rules of those that have been calling the shots in this country for so long — the traditional politicians, the political dynasties in cahoots with the oligarchic class. This could be the reason why the President declared that he too is building his own political dynasty in Davao because as he said, “he is forced to” do it. We can only speculate what is in the mind of the Deegong.

He has always been a maverick and allowing cosmetic changes in the political environment may be his way of lulling the real enemies of the state — the oligarchy and their elected minions. Proceed with the elections as a referendum of his government and his persona; perhaps the reason why he is hell bent in projecting only one man as his avatar — Bong Go in the Senate.

He has his allies too, like the Marcoses, but this family is burdened by its own issues and an agenda of its own. In future, to regain the power behind their name, they may clash with the emerging progeny of the Deegong. Truly in politics there are only permanent interests.

These mid-term elections therefore are crucial to the country and the program of the President. If the Senate wins enough seats for those against Charter change and federalism, then all bets are off.

Despite this scenario, changes can still be achieved but at what cost now? The Deegong may not allow the sidelining of his election promises; the elimination of illegal drugs which has already produced thousands of collateral damage; the eradication of corruption in the bureaucracy which has forced him to reach out to the military; and the structural changes through Charter revisions. These are what propelled him to power and I’m afraid to pursue this to its rightful conclusion; he may have to start a war with the oligarchy and vested interest. He is counting on the 70 percent of the people behind him.

Looking from this perspective, it could explain why the president has been working along the lines he has pursued so far: putting in place former military personnel in key cabinet posts and sensitive bureaucracies, and now the takeover of the Bureau of Customs. The Deegong has always been unorthodox in his methods.

No uncouth application of a revgov, instead a more genteel use of a creeping militarization.
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.

A SENIOR living National Artist for Literature, F. Sionil Jose, still writing at 90, recently remarked that “the character of the leaders eventually defined the people and the nation they led.” He laments as we now do the decline of Filipino intellectuals, and if we may add, morals, of leaders in the corridors of power, content with its trappings but neglecting the one work they should prioritize: eradicate poverty. The under-performance of our representatives is indicative of a serious character malaise that afflicts those who are unqualified and lacking the skills yet still coveted the position.

What should our representatives do in Congress? In general, members are tasked to do legislative work that consists primarily of enactment of laws that govern relationships of individuals and the state (civil laws, criminal laws, taxation and political laws etc.) Authorization, appropriation, committee discussions, floor debates, division of the house are part and parcel of the legislative process. All government spending are likewise passed by Congress through budget appropriations which are a complex process in itself. Aside from these, congressmen amend laws, initiate impeachment process, affirm treaties, grant amnesties, confirm appointments or serve as legislative oversight. Congress represents their constituents. The House of Representatives (HOR) where the laws of the land originate is presently home to 297 congressmen that include 59 party-list nominees. It is the Lower Chamber of the Bicameral Congress, the other being the Senate or Upper Chamber. Congress is the legislative or lawmaking branch of government, a co-equal of the Executive and the Judiciary, each having the ability to check on the other to make sure that power is balanced among them. Without these powers, government will be dysfunctional and unable to meet the present-day demands and needs of the people. In the legislature, these needs are expressed through resolutions or bills, which are proposals for new laws and may exemplify the particular aspirations of their citizens coming off as platforms of political parties or through public hearings and sectoral representations.

In the House of Representatives where most bills are introduced, deliberated and passed, the more intrepid and eloquent members take the floor regularly debating their bills and/or interpellating fellow lawmakers. They lobby, hobnob with fellow committee members or even engage in horse trading just to pass their priority bills. The more idealistic ones project themselves as “influencers” with overarching concern over the greater good as much as they are forwarding the interests of their constituents. Yet, despite coaching and technical assistance of their respective congressional staff, many nominal congressmen (afraid of debates or gutless?) choose the tranquil path of relative obscurity breaking their muted deportment only through shouts of “ayes” or “nays” when voting starts. No privilege speeches. No grandstanding. Nothing.

This is where we start to oppugn the performance of our representatives in Congress. Are they always present and participating in the deliberations? Have they introduced bills that concern their districts and were these able to make the lives of their constituents better? Was their presence worth their pay? How many laws were passed with them as authors or co-authors? Have they served in committees? At the very least, we’re entitled to know what their committees have accomplished. Having submitted bills is, of course, different from having enacted them as laws. A review of the achievements of Cagayan de Oro’s representatives would show that since 1984 when then Assemblyman Aquilino Pimentel Jr. won a seat in the now defunct Batasang Pambansa and up until the tenure of Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (District 2, 2007-2016) and Rep. Maxie Rodriguez (Abamin Party list) only a handful of bills were submitted and laws passed. Most of them just wait out for their automatic appropriations, filed non-essential bills and/or join uneventful committee works until their terms were up.

Records in Congress disclose that among the city’s representatives, Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez made perfect attendance, enabling him to introduce the most number of bills and legislations authored or co-authored, that eventually became laws. In the 14th Congress, he filed 31 House bills, 449 in the 15thand 563 in the 16th Congress. Cong. Rufus helped pass RA 10667 or the Philippine Competition Act in 2015 after languishing in Congress for more than 20 years. The law protects the well-being of consumers and preserves the efficiency of competition in the marketplace to attract investors and enhance job-creation opportunities in the country. He likewise authored RA 9519 converting Mindanao Polytechnic State College into Mindanao University of Science and Technology (Must), the forerunners of what is now the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP) made possible through the passage of RA 10919. A succession of bills and legislations followed which paved the way for improvements in the delivery of basic services and vital infrastructures such as the construction of roads, drainage, pathways, pedestrian overpasses and the now much utilized Cagayan de Oro Coastal Bypass Road which greatly helped facilitate the flow of traffic from Gusa to Opol, Misamis Oriental. He vowed to get more funds for unfinished projects especially for the coastal bypass and JR Borja Extension roads and other essential needs of the city once he gets elected. Clearly, with competence and experience, the work of Congress is cut out for him.

Will Kagayanons experiment instead with newbie representatives who will be groping in the dark while trying to learn the ropes of lawmaking? Or entrust them to someone like Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez who knows the legislature like the back of his hand having served in the House of Representatives for nine straight years.

Lawmakers are imposed upon us to represent and speak for their constituents. According to Plato, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” So, how do we call congressmen who don’t utter a word at all?

(Renato Gica Tibon is a fellow of the Fellowship of the 300, an elite organization under Centrist Democracy Political Institute  [CDPI] with focus on political technocracy. He  holds both position as political action officer and program manager of the Institute. He is the former regional chairman for Region 10 and vice president for Mindanao of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines [CDP].)