Sensing that his ground base of support has been softening, President Duterte is conjuring a specter of conspiracy to oust him from power.
Growing more bilious and truculent towards those whom he accuses of scheming to besmirch him with allegations of corruption, or who staunchly stand up to his blusterings and accusations, he is getting even more reckless by the day. Now he is implicating Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in his conjured conspiracy.
He wants both jurists – who have resolutely stood up to defend their rights and integrity and those of their constitutionally mandated offices – to be impeached. He says he himself (proud of being an ex-prosecutor) will file separate impeachment complaints against Sereno, on charges similar to those already cited in the complaint pending preliminary action in the House of Representatives; and against Morales, a case for allegedly practicing “selective justice” and for using “falsified evidence.”
Apparently, it matters not to Duterte that the Office of the Ombudsman is just in the stage of investigating a complaint formally filed before it, in compliance with its mandate. As Section 12, Article XI, of the 1987 Constitution states, “The Ombudsman and his Deputies, as protectors of the people, shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against public officials or employees of the Government…”
The two jurists have ignored his challenge for them to resign along with him. Morales, whose office is investigating his pre-presidential bank transactions based on a case filed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes, coolly issued the following statement:
“I will not be baited into abandoning my constitutional duties. If the President has charges against me, I will answer them in accordance with the law. I expect him to answer the charges against him in the same manner.” As public officials, she added, “we have sworn to uphold the rule of law. We should, as well, serve with honor, honesty and decency.”
For her part, Sereno has submitted to the House committee on justice, which is looking into the impeachment complaint, a point-by-point answer to the charges against her and insisted that her lawyers be allowed to cross-examine her accusers on her behalf, as is normally done in a criminal proceeding. On Thursday the House committee, packed with Duterte allies, voted to find the complaint sufficient in form. It will yet decide on the substance of the charges before submitting the complaint for voting to the chamber’s plenary.
Duterte had his first run-in with Sereno after the latter protested his public reading of an alleged list of drug lords and protectors that included the names of some judges (one of them already deceased). He has since had a number of verbal tussles with her.
Besides accusing Sereno and Morales of being part of the alleged conspiracy to unseat him, Duterte has gone further. Without citing any evidence whatsoever, he claims that the Left – which he befriended at the beginning of his term – has allied with the “Yellows” (the Liberal Party or the Cojuangco-Aquino political grouping) to push him out of Malacañang.
It’s an intriguing echo of the Ferdinand Marcos’ assertion that the Communist Party of the Philippines had forged an alliance with the “oligarchs” to bring down his government. Marcos used that lie as a basis for declaring nationwide martial law in September 1972.
Does Duterte now imply that he might reprise that fascist act 45 years ago? (He has already declared martial law in the whole of Mindanao.) Isn’t it bad enough that – by the acquiescence, indifference and inaction of succeeding governments, including his own – the majority of our people continue to endure the antidemocratic, unjust, and brutal legacies of the Marcos dictatorship?
Adding insult to injury, last year Duterte facilitated the political rehabilitation of the dictator, ousted by a peaceful popular uprising in 1986, by allowing the latter’s family to bury his remains, with rites for a “hero,” at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
The Marcos political rehabilitation is one factor in Duterte’s falling out with the Left. Another was his turnabout in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations which he had resumed last year, shifting in February to “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA. And now he has discarded his avowed “independent foreign policy,” sheepishly returning to the embrace of US imperialism.
Duterte has all but formally terminated the peace talks (through a written notice to the NDFP). Here’s his latest public statement:
“At this stage, I am not ready to talk to them (CPP-NPA/NDFP) because it is not good for the country… It would be good if it’s for the country. It would take some time… maybe another President… to do it.”
What did he mean by that? No matter. He has abandoned his promise to achieve peace and redress historical injustices within his term by bilaterally addressing the social, economic, and political roots of the prolonged armed conflict.
For instance, the GRP and NDFP reciprocal working committees on social and economic reforms have agreed that the distribution of land for free to landless farmers and farm workers shall be the basic principle of genuine agrarian reform. But his cabinet diehard neoliberal economic team rejects that principle, and with his acquiescence the team’s stand constitutes his administration’s policy.
Duterte now openly urges his defense secretary, national security adviser, and armed forces generals to pursue war against the New People’s Army. Recently, he told AFP troops in Marawi that after completing their combat missions there against the Maute and Abu Sayyaf extremist groups, they should prepare to be redeployed against the NPA.
But mind the context of his latest statement: it would take another president to pursue the peace talks. A slip of the tongue? Maybe, but it betrays what’s deep in Duterte’s mind. It’s possible that peace talks would resume after his exit: because his regime, like its predecessors, won’t be able to defeat the revolutionary forces.
* * *
Published in Philippine Star
Oct. 7, 2017