It does look like the Duterte administration has crossed one red line too many. Solgen Jose Calida’s bag of legalistic tricks has been shot full of holes. Even the usually compliant Supreme Court managed to skirt huge public outcries by astutely finding a way to look like they are adhering to a rule of law. Yes, of course, they are not a trier of facts; and yes, indeed, it is the lower courts that can issue an arrest warrant. Even the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the national lawyers’ league, has awakened to its conscience and reminded all that there is a Constitution and that it must not be violated. They had been too quiet during the quo warranto dismissal of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, against the constitutional provision that a Supreme Court justice can only be dismissed through impeachment. Even the Senate has rediscovered its backbone. It has dropped partisanship and united to protect Senate colleague Antonio Trillanes IV against arrest within its premises. Suddenly, we are reminded that, yes, indeed, the Senate is an independent and separate branch of government from the Executive and Judiciary.
Last night, here in Cebu, I attended a Mass and prayer vigil for peace and justice in our country and an end to extra-judicial killings. Meanwhile, this once peaceful province has become a killing field with at least one killing per day of civilians and politicians including mayors and barangay captains. The Police kept announcing for a week or more that they had plans to arrest alleged drug kingpin Peter Lim and then, voila, when they finally did it, he was nowhere to be found. Surprise!
Obviously, there is still a lot to do to bring the government back to a rule of law from the rule of men that it has become. But, thanks to doggedly courageous men like Senator Trillanes, there is hope. President Duterte has began to backtrack on his arrogant righteousness about the legality of his proclamation to arrest Senator Trillanes. He has now very subtly managed to let it be known that the research on which the questionable Proclamation No. 572 was based was done by his Solgen Calida. And now, he has even blurted out that he really is not that interested in arresting Trillanes because it is up to the courts. All is not lost.
Rumor has it that the President’s announced and cancelled, or “re-designed” presscon was reset because a couple of generals who were supposed to sit beside him did not show up. So, we were subjected instead to a ho-hum, too obviously contrived “tete-a-tete” between him and his obsequious legal counsel, the clotheshorse trying-to-be Salvador Panelo. How long can they continue producing these charades? How much longer do they think we will put up with these almost comedic, if not sad attempts at legitimacy?
I am not a lawyer, but I wonder why no one has filed an ab initio petition questioning the legality of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential candidacy? It seems to me that there were too many loose ends in his process of filing. First, the candidate (for some other position, not the presidency) was someone else, then he was substituted with the name of Rodrigo Duterte who was running for president, and wasn’t this done too late? Just asking. Haha.Thank God for little blessings. It seems we are once more waking up to reality: that our Constitution is being violated once too often. That the rule of law is being overtaken by the rule of men (man?). And that we can only take so much.
I actually saw this so-called strongman Duterte on TV offering the King of Jordan help in the war against the ISIS. Our President, in the midst of our budget crisis, actually offered to send one battalion, or two- or three or even five battalions of Filipino soldiers to Jordan since we have over a million people. It was not clear if he was offering to send them as OFWs or as a donation. I suspect the King of Jordan had to suppress a laugh or two.
The political trends could be shifting. I remember marching during the Marcos years with a small ragtag band of activists. This ragtag band soon began to attract more and more marchers. It takes just a few courageous steps to pave the way for the bandwagon to roll into a multitude. Remember the miracle of EDSA!
The President and his obsequious minions cannot go on assuming that they are so popular that nothing can stop them. Not even the law. Let us remember that many lives have been sacrificed by so many heroes against authoritarianism and lawlessness in our country. Surely, their days are numbered, if we grow and persevere in courage and principle.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.