Intimations of mortality — an immortal legacy

Intimations of mortality — an immortal legacy Featured

IN my past two columns, I described President Rodrigo “Deegong” Duterte as a reformer and a revolutionary president. The trilogy closes with him as a mortal president. It is a long-held belief that for emperors, kings, monarchs, autocrats and powerful people, sensing the specter of death, one eye is directed towards what one leaves behind — a legacy. The Deegong is no different. No, the President is not dying. While confirming poor health and mitigating the same, Duterte is in full control of his faculties. But in this state, he is naturally susceptible to promptings for what he should leave behind. We take the liberty therefore, to inject into the political conversation a revisiting of Pagbabago — his campaign agenda for change. Can he still do it within the remaining few months of his regime?

His flaws
This is not an obituary. This is in fact an exhortation to a president struggling to ride herd on what political economists and the centrist democrats acknowledged is a systemically infirm unitary form of government. I don’t doubt the President’s sincerity and good intentions to do well by his people, as he did in his city. “But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” A platitude, indeed, but descriptive of his approach to multidimensional problems, arising from out of parochial concerns strictly within the parameters of local governance, the solutions of which were hammered in the anvil of his personal experiences. Though successful locally, translating the formula to a national setting requires the sophistication of a globalist. “Thinking globally but acting locally.” A truism but Duterte may not have captured the nuance of the first part of the phrase but was solely enamored by the predicate. Thus, the need to fill in the gaps — his flaws — to help him see his way clear. He sorely needs a band of “alter egos,” professionals and experts trained to think beyond the confines of local governance. But the alpha-male President possessing a huge ego himself is unable to endure the type of personality superior to his own; mocking on occasion a bemedaled high school peer, highlighting his preeminence as the boss. This explains his recruitment method, preferring individuals hewing close to his own persona — not clones — but familiar faces populating his three decades as local mayor; his schoolmates, hometown friends, bureaucrats, and those to whom he owed traditional political debts.

Many of them are talented, decent men and women of probity — but arbitrarily conscripted without so much as a vetting process to equate their competencies with the requirements of the job. Thus, some caricature of the leader fell through the sieve.

He has a penchant for enlisting people who may not contradict or question his judgment. Not necessarily ‘yes men’ per se, but people cultured in a petri-dish of a martial mindset adhering to strict structures of a warrior class, which Duterte fancies himself to come from. This is a prime reason why retired generals, admirals and senior military officials are offered sinecures or cabinet posts. I don’t buy the perception that these men were recruited simply as a bulwark against future coup d’état.

His strengths
After post-Marcos administrations were perceived to be partners of the elite and the oligarchy, the Deegong’s progressive credentials as man of the masses stood sharply in contrast, although his rightist tendencies towards totalitarianism and propensity to flaunt a certain disdain for the rule of law became obvious. His “tokhang” purportedly preventing the country’s descent into a ‘narco-state’ resulted in a wanton disregard for human rights. And on the systemic corruption pervading the bureaucracy involving his own people, we need not review in detail his blunders. Suffice it to say that his infamous Duterte Doctrine on a “whiff of corruption” was a monumental disaster.

The Deegong is an enigma not falling into any pattern of the classical left and right sides of the political spectrum. This adds to his mystique — the reason perhaps why his approval rating remains at 80 percent. And this “Teflon” image is his greatest strength. His populist image is a consequence of his masterful display of histrionics.

Kissing the ground in Jolo, Sulu in the aftermath of a terrorist bombing was a genius gesture although many “BisDak” (Visayans) consider this “kahilas baya” (maudlin). But whether sincere or simply drama doesn’t matter. What counts is Duterte playing superbly well to his base in contrast to what President Benigno Aquino 3rd did in the aftermath of the 44 SAF massacre in Mamasapano. Duterte showed empathy.

Fashioning his legacy
Before the lame-duck period sets in, the President needs to perform “must do tasks.” Revamp his entire cabinet, save perhaps for the finance and the economic team. Take out all of the two dozen military generals from the bureaucracy except for the Department of National Defense and national Security Council where military types are logically ensconced. The President needs fresh global perspectives and brilliant people in the areas where he is weak: foreign affairs, diplomacy and skills in international negotiations.

Give the Department of the Interior and Local Government to an experienced elected local government executive and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to an environmentalist of world renown. This goes also for the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Information and Communications Technology, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and a host of government-owned and controlled corporations. These men no doubt are people of unquestioned integrity. But what our country needs are civilian leaders and bureaucrats with the right type of skills and expertise built over the years in their particular fields. Additionally, Duterte needs to choose people who can stare him in the eye and say “No, Mr. President” and stop these unrestrained reappointments of discredited heads of bureaus to other agencies. This is a mockery of the appointing powers of a chief executive and a travesty of the civil service system.

Rule of law
The centrist democrats’ input to Duterte’s legacy is unequivocal. I wrote in my past articles: “In a democracy under which we claim we practice; prudent laws are its foundation and the glue that must bind a civilized society. It is imperative that the laws laid down by the 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 who by virtue of his ascendancy granted by the Constitution is conferred on him its primary guardianship. 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 devoid 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.”

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

This, Mr. President must be your legacy!000
Read 147 times Last modified on Wednesday, 09 September 2020 08:03
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