Duterte Doctrine revisited Craig Vincent Tibon, Dennis Jay Paras, Nizle Caraballe

Duterte Doctrine revisited Featured

LAST year, I wrote an article about the President’s firing of the perceived corrupt and incompetent members of his official family. The manner of these high-profile dismissals, I declared then, could be the core hypothesis of DU30’s emerging “whiff of corruption” doctrine. He stated that he would “…not tolerate any corruption in his administration and he will dismiss from office any of his men (and women) who are tainted even by a ‘whiff of corruption’; and he is ready to sack any public officials even on a basis of false allegations of corruption.” (Inquirer.net, March 30, 2017)

This met with mixed reviews, but mostly positive ones, as the citizenry for the first time was being unusually initiated into the world of a foul-mouthed, no-nonsense president who will not tolerate deviant behavior in his administration – more so among his intimate circle of cabinet alter egos. Many suspended judgment on the acts of the President, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

DU30 has to date sacked a couple of hundred bureaucrats, majority of whose names were not made public by him, “to protect their families.” But we too are in the dark as to whether any formal investigations were conducted. They were simply ‘let-go’ from their posts.

I took exception to this presidential directive and I said then: “…the targets of these charges were not given ample time to prepare a reasonable defense; and they were not allowed to confront their accusers. But insidiously, the dismissals were done publicly putting to shame these alleged offenders without a measure of a prior face-saving mechanism. This public humiliation was a deliberate act by a President out to send a strong message to the bureaucracy, that the consequences of even a ‘whiff of corruption’ are immediate, deadly and total.” (The Manila Times, “Duterte Doctrine,” April 27, 2017)

I am revisiting my article as this is timely in light of a similar controversy just this month: the perceived anomaly involving Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo concerning the award of a P60 million contract to family members. The details will not be discussed here but only the general circumstances against the backdrop of the Duterte Doctrine. To all intents and purposes, Secretary Teo should have been summarily dismissed if the President were to be faithful to his actions in the past. On the other hand, if she were sensitive to the president’s quandary, or even possessing a semblance of delicadeza, she should spare the president embarrassment by resigning.

So, Mr. President, where is your vaunted political will? And will you execute your doctrine? If we still operate under a democratic system, you are not allowed to be arbitrary in your decisions.

But I am digressing. I am against both courses of action. I was against the Duterte Doctrine when it was applied against the erstwhile heads of the DILG and NIA. I am now also against dismissing Secretary Teo outright based on the same fallacious doctrine. As I wrote then, and I quote, “…the President must be subject to the minimum of fairness and the etiquette of dismissal, for no apparent reason than that the process is widely regarded as civilized behavior. But more importantly, there is a greater overarching principle that covers the conduct of the mighty, the powerful and the humble – the rule of law.

“In a democracy under which we claim we practice, prudent laws are its foundation and the glue that bind a civilized society. It is imperative that the laws laid down by government must be followed by all its citizens. The simplicity of the concept of the rule of law is oftentimes made complicated by those authorized to uphold it… allegations of transgressions (must) be investigated in a transparent manner by structures legitimately sanctioned. And the President by virtue of his ascendancy granted by the Constitution also has the primary guardianship of that Constitution conferred on him. He must therefore uphold its principles.

“From another standpoint, nations with weak leaders breed weak laws and will find themselves in a quagmire of corruption and lawlessness. Nations with prudent laws but governed by leaders void of political will to implement such laws may only cripple the primacy of the rule of law. But strong leaders with political will must understand that all are equal under the dominance of The Rule of Law; none above. President Rodrigo Duterte must aspire to be one of the latter.”

It is a well-known fact that the Deegong has personal ties with Secretary Teo’s family whose pro-Duterte brothers are well-entrenched in mass media with their own formidable public following. But this bond with the President must transcend the personal and familiar as the more important covenant with the citizenry has ascendancy.

But the Wanda Teo affair is just one of those that has of late been eroding this delicate pact with the people through DU30’s actuations.

Another disturbing episode is the case of Pompee la Viña’s dismissal as SSS commissioner for corruption. “Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the termination of La Viña was proof Duterte would not tolerate even just ‘one whiff of corruption’.” (Pia Ranada, Rappler, April 25, 2018)

As of last week, La Viña had received a new presidential appointment promoting him to the position of undersecretary at the DoT. It is likewise true that Usec La Viña was an original close comrade of candidate DU30.

Both Teo and La Viña, once appointed to their positions, were honored by DU30 with prerogatives, prestige and power, adding their own to it, to enable the president and them to do their task well. The sum of all these is the vaunted political capital of the president with a sustainability dependent largely on a fickle citizenry.

Secretary Teo must be investigated fairly and given her day in court. Undersecretary La Viña, who has already been dismissed from SSS, should not be allowed to assume his new position until he is first cleared of prior accusations.

The President’s covenant with the people is at best fragile and the wrong choice between personal ties and public good could have a deadly impact on the majesty of the office of the presidency and more importantly, the rule of law.

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