The Donald, the Deegong and their diversions The National Illustration by Pep Montserrat for The National

The Donald, the Deegong and their diversions Featured

ONE can’t help comparing lately the performance of Presidents Trump and Duterte. The US economy in the second quarter is doing great with its 4.1 percent growth and 3.9 percent employment rate. And some manufacturing jobs benefiting Trump’s political base have been coming back.

On the other hand, Philippine economic growth projected for 2018 is relatively steady at 6.7 percent and employment rates have gone down to 5.4 percent in the second quarter. Inflation, though high, is manageable. According to Cielito Habito (PDI, September 11, 2018) these are solid numbers that should give relief.

But Trump and DU30 have been fixated by matters that distract both from what are important and could have been passed on as “feel-good” narratives, driving positive news cycles in the two countries.

Trump, besieged by the investigation into the collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia that undermined the 2016 election and his legitimacy, can’t seem to extract himself from his daily tweets on the subject. And lately an op-ed article in the New York Times written by an anonymous top government official, possibly within his coterie, claiming a “resistance group” in the White House, has driven him to paranoia. His state of mind has impelled him to make careless decisions on government policies.

Meanwhile in Manila, a series of episodes has triggered a media firestorm displacing both dire and good economic news from the headlines. Senator Trillanes baited the President by calling for a Senate investigation into two of his ardent and loyal functionaries: the alleged unethical anomalous government contracts of a security company owned by Solicitor General Calida; and the alleged preferential treatment of the family of Davao billionaire Bong Go with government construction contracts. Both reek of possible corruption. The President, who puts a premium on loyalty, responded in character and took the bait.

SolGen Calida, perhaps to pre-empt the Senate investigations, dug some dirt on the senator and found evidence alleging that the senator, who was imprisoned for years for fomenting a failed coup d’état, was anomalously absolved and freed by his patron, former president PNoy. Amnesty Proclamation 75 in 2010 was defective ab initio, the SolGen claimed. It will be recalled that the same strategy was successfully used by Calida to boot out Chief Justice Sereno, on somewhat similar grounds.

Subsequently, DU30’s Proclamation 572 revoking PNoy’s Proclamation 75 was signed. Trillanes was to be arrested while the President was conveniently abroad, confident perhaps that the execution would be flawless without the proverbial “s**t hitting the fan.” But as it turned out, indeed, it did!

The Deegong was singularly impulsive in confronting his bete noire, Trillanes, in a zero-sum game, when the prudent strategy would have been to emulate President Cory’s class act against her VP Doy Laurel in 1987 — brush him off like an irritant fly. Instead, the Deegong had to indulge Trillanes who was more than happy to regain the limelight, revitalized the yellow army and newly gained adherents. In trying to reverse an amnesty on a whim, a precedent was established that could produce a chilling effect on ex-military coup plotters and rebels who came back to the fold of the law.

Both the Donald and the Deegong are faced with mid-term elections that are traditionally a referendum on their watch and could alter the power dynamics that could be noxious for both. In the US, the Democrats could capture the majority in Congress, endangering the Republicans’ hold on the Senate. This could lead to the impeachment of Trump.

Ordinary citizens can’t help but wonder, why President Duterte had to act impetuously. He needs to refocus on the challenges confronting the country today in a more circumspect and sensible manner. And problems are piling up. For one, it is not too late for the President to mitigate the high inflation rates with the help of Congress and the recalibration of his economic policies. We also have a dangerously depleted rice buffer to feed the population during anticipated destructive typhoons that could wipe out our palay granaries in the north, not to mention the displacement of large segments of population along the path of these recurring disasters. These are immediate problems demanding immediate solutions.

There is however one single issue to be addressed before the mid-term elections that could change the profile of the second half of his administration.

His cherished agenda to revise the 1987 Cory Constitution rests on the whims of a recalcitrant Senate to dance to his Cha-cha tune. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is needed to reconstitute Congress into a constituent assembly to revise the Constitution. This mid-term election presents an opportunity for him to alter the incoming Senate profile. The usual method which DU30 is wont to do is to put up his own candidates to do his bidding. However, those in his initial stable of candidates for the Senate, while true loyalists, are mostly dull personalities, in contrast to what the Filipino voters have been used to — traditional politicians with branded names, actors, comedians and celebrities.

He may have to rely on the experienced, winnable, second-termer senators brazenly allied with PDP Laban, his party that he allowed to fragment. But this could turn out to be a pact with the devil. These traditional politicians are not that dependable, and the President may find himself and his agenda hostage to their whims.

But applying his vaunted powers now and the billions of pork at his disposable, he may yet creatively buy his way to Charter revisions by changing drastically the profile of the incoming Senate. He may have to apply the old Marcosian formula: “…use persuasion as the default mode, buy them off, if the first approach is ineffective, add intimidation as a clencher. If all fails, terminate….” The last alternative of course is totally unacceptable in a democratic and morally driven society.

Often, the second step is enough. Under this dysfunctional unitary presidential system and traditional political practices, these people are cheap before election. And expensive after they sit in office.

Thus, a fallback position for the Deegong must be negotiated. Short of Charter revision, he can opt for real political reforms. Among the most critical: a) the political party and government subsidy; b) passage of freedom of information act, both still pending in both chambers; c) real electoral reforms to address vote-buying and the perversion of the electoral process; and d) an iron-clad guarantee to pass an anti-political dynasty act. (TMT column, August 8, 2018)

Charter revisions and the shift to a federal-parliamentary system inexorably dislodged from the priority of importance by the myopic exigencies of the election cycle should now be relegated as long-term targets, awaiting the second half of DU30’s term and beyond.

But his success on this medium-term endeavor will mark DU30 as a true stateman while he bides his time shaping and clearing the way for his avatar and heir apparent Sara. All these are on the assumption, of course, that no drastic alternative revolutionary ideas will intervene before midterm.000
Read 269 times Last modified on Wednesday, 19 September 2018 12:46
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