No one should be under the illusion that any impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo R. Duterte will by itself remove him from office. But it might help.
Someone or some organization may be willing to face the firestorm of hate that the regime’s online trolls and mercenaries in print and broadcast will certainly unleash when such a complaint is filed in the House of Representatives. But that complaint is unlikely to even pass the House justice committee which will decide whether it is “sufficient in form and substance.” If by some miracle it does survive that body, it is even more unlikely that the complaint will get the one-third vote of the total House membership needed to pass a resolution calling on the Senate to convene as an impeachment court.
The reason is clear enough, and even presidential mouthpiece Salvador Panelo doesn’t want anyone to forget it. He laughed off the possibility that his boss of bosses (or, as the Mafia puts it, the capo di tutti capi) will be impeached. He crowed that the “supermajority” in the House won’t let it happen, impeachment being “a numbers game.”
The regime’s accomplices in the House have indeed not even concealed the fact that despite Congress’ being the “co-equal” of the Executive branch of government, they will pretty much do what Mr. Duterte wants. Asked if they will be his rubber stamp, several members of that less than august body emphatically said “no.” In the same breath, however, they also declared that they will continue to support Mr. Duterte, in the process merely confirming what they have been denying.
Mr. Duterte may have violated the Constitution not only by entering into an agreement with China’s President Xi Jinping to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but also by persecuting the independent press and encouraging the killing of thousands of poor Filipinos without due process. But the House of ill-repute — dominated by warlords, provincial despots, and political dynasties with neither honor nor conviction and driven only by their personal, familial, and class interests — just doesn’t have the love of country or the brains to see how far the ruination of the country has come during the Duterte watch.
Members of the minority Makabayan bloc in the House have nevertheless said they will either endorse an impeachment complaint or else file it themselves, but have also said that it is unlikely to prosper.
What would then be the point?
Despite the odds against them, people’s and sectoral organizations, party list groups, and democratic personalities and progressives have fielded candidates for office every three years on the assumption that doing so would raise the level of discussion and debate during electoral campaigns and thus enable the public to gain a better, or at least some appreciation of what is at stake during such elections as the last one. It has been suggested that once an impeachment complaint against Mr. Duterte is filed, the ensuing debate would lead to the citizenry’s being enlightened on the need to defend the EEZ and assert the country’s sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, and on the damage to Philippine interests Mr. Duterte’s refusal to stand up to China is causing. In the course of that debate, the expectation is that such other issues as the killing of journalists, political activists, and leaders of farmers, workers, and Lumad, and the displacement of Filipino workers by the hordes of Chinese nationals illegally working in the Philippines will inevitably be part of the public discourse.
Campaigning for either a cause or a candidate primarily for the instructional opportunities it offers is a strategy that has been tried before, most recently during the last mid-term elections.
The more concerned opposition candidates did their best to direct the 2019 campaign to the issues. But the most telling indicator of whether it worked are the results. If the voters had learned anything during the campaign, they wouldn’t have sent to Congress the very same individuals identified with Mr. Duterte and his brutal “war on drugs,” his misogyny, hate speech, contempt for human rights, incoherent foreign policy, attacks on the independent press, and disdain for criticism. Instead they ignored those candidates who had sound programs and focused instead on who was prepared to sing and dance, look pretty on stage, make stupid and tasteless jokes, and forego debating the issues.
The regime candidates’ ploy of evading debate was among the crucial factors that shaped the results of the last elections — in addition to vote-buying, intimidation, and control over the command votes of its warlord allies and certain churches at the local level. The signal lesson from the May 13 campaign is that for the sake of the citizens’ enlightenment, any impeachment complaint must be amply discussed and debated in the public sphere.
There is, of course, every possibility that that opportunity for mass enlightenment will be blocked by the majority members of the House even at the committee level. Those in control of government have again and again showed that they can ignore good custom, sense, reason, and even the law — that they can make up the rules as they go along without regard for the Constitution or even basic human decency.
Because that is likely to happen, the proponents of any impeachment complaint will have to address the public through the media, whether print, broadcasting, or online. In doing so, they will face the worst that the regime’s vast horde of online trolls and old-media hacks can muster, in addition to the possibility of being threatened, harassed, arrested, physically harmed, and even assassinated.
Things have indeed come to such a pass in the country of our sorrows that reporting the truth or merely expressing an opinion can subject anyone to threats, profanities, insults, arbitrary arrest, and even murder. Only the courage, love of country and people, and best efforts of its best men and women can correct this descent to barbarism. Today may be the best time to do it, when the regime has been exposed to the entire country and the world as unwilling and unable to even defend its own citizens against the aggressive drive of its Chinese patron to claim and exploit what legally, historically, and customarily belong to this country and its people.
Those efforts may not lead to Mr. Duterte’s impeachment by his House cohorts. But they can at least contribute to providing the information that can lead to the disenchantment of the poor and marginalized who think him one of them despite his privileged origins and immense wealth.
Because of the Marcos kleptocracy’s control over the crony press, it took three years after the assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. in 1983 before enough outrage developed the critical mass that led to the civilian-military EDSA mutiny in 1986. A number of media organizations and journalists have either been coopted or intimidated into silence and acquiescence today. But there are still others who, despite the dangers of truth-telling under creeping fascist rule, are doing their best to provide the reports and commentary that are needed. It is these media organizations and the independent journalists who can help enlighten citizens on the real state of the nation. History could yet repeat itself — this time, as in 1986, for the country’s good.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).