Much work but not much time

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Marvin A. Tort-125


Much work but not much time

The 17th Congress resumes on July 23rd with President Duterte opening it with his third State of the Nation Address (SONA). At this point, with 11 days to go until the event, his people should be busy putting the finishing touches on his speech. Unless, given the recently reported “drop” in his ratings, they have actually chosen to recast and recalibrate what he is scheduled to deliver.

I am very curious as to what the President has to say this time around, particularly with respect to legislative agenda, economic direction, and general plans and programs for the next four years. Curious developments have occurred since his last SONA in 2017, and there are no clear indications as to how these would impact on his administration in the next four years.

For one, in the second quarter of 2018, the President registered his lowest net satisfaction rating to date. He dropped to “good” from “very good” in the second quarter of this year, as polled by Social Weather Stations (SWS) from June 27 to 30. The survey showed that 65% of adult Filipinos were satisfied with Duterte’s performance, five points lower from his March 2018 gross satisfaction rating of 70%. SWS said this resulted in a new personal low of +45 net satisfaction rating for the President, down from +56 rating last March.

Incidentally, soon after this, Vice-President Leni Robredo reportedly agreed to lead and be the voice of a “united” opposition, which is now reportedly preparing a list of candidates for the May 2019 senatorial elections. The list, uncertain if indicating a full ticket of 12 candidates, is expected to be released in September. Filing of certificates of candidacy is in October.

Second, the President will be delivering his third SONA with people grappling with a bearish stock market, high fuel prices, significantly higher consumption taxes, consumer price increases, and with clamor from labor for an end to “contractualization” and higher wages. Transport groups have also been asking for adjustments in transport fare.

Items 1 (drop in satisfaction) and 2 (economic troubles) above become significant in light of what may be seen as a potential tipping point, which theoretically can occur during the convergence of economic and political dissatisfaction. People who are hungry are more prone to anger, while those who are economically satisfied tend to be more compliant.

Third, the march to Federalism is under way. A draft constitution has been completed and is now making the rounds for comments and opinions. While Congress is yet to set a timetable for the draft’s revision and consideration, the initial spadework for constitutional changes has been done.

For sure, there will be some words from the President in this regard.

Fourth, Senator Koko Pimentel is no longer Senate President. He resigned as Senate chief in May and elected in his place was Senator Tito Sotto. From June 2016 until recently, the President, the Senate President, and the House Speaker were all from Mindanao. This is no longer the case. Sotto, who has been in politics in the last 30 years, comes from a family that hails from Cebu. He is the third member of his family to become senator, after his grandfather and namesake Vicente, and his grand uncle, Filemon.

Fifth, Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is no longer Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In fact, by the President’s third SONA, the Supreme Court will not have a Chief Justice. To date, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio serves as chief magistrate in an acting capacity. It is uncertain if the President can appoint a new Chief Justice in the next 11 days. While Sereno was born in Manila, her father is actually from Siasi, Sulu in Mindanao. And her husband is from Davao City.

Sixth, Rolando “Bato” dela Rosa is no longer chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP). He was replaced by Oscar Albayalde as Director General of the PNP last April. Bato was President Duterte’s first PNP chief appointee. Bato is also from Mindanao, having been born in Sta Cruz, Davao Del Sur. He also served in Mindanao, particularly Davao City. Albayalde, on the other hand, is from San Fernando, Pampanga, and had never served in Davao City or Davao Region.

Of course, these personalities all matter particularly with respect to the presidential line of succession.

Under the law, the line of presidential succession follows the order of Vice-President, President of the Senate, and then Speaker of the House of Representatives. In case of death, permanent disability, or inability of these officials, Congress shall, by law, provide for the manner of selection of the person who is to act as President until a President or Vice-President shall have qualified.

In the event of a vacancy, maintaining peace and order amidst political confusion remains the mandate of the national police. The institution must remain intact and united under a legitimate leadership. Meanwhile, all constitutional and legal questions regarding succession and process are to be ultimately resolved by a Supreme Court headed by a Chief Justice.

With the filing of certificates of candidacy scheduled for October, Congress will have a relatively short runway to work on a legislative agenda that can produce needed political and economic reform measures. Come October until after the May 2019 elections, legislators’ attention will be divided. Politics can get in the way of law-making.

The focus on the legislative agenda in the next two months will depend largely on the requests and guidance to be put forth by the President in his SONA. Loyalty checks and loyalty changes may be in the offing, and new political lines may be drawn come October, which will just provide unnecessary distraction to lawmakers. They need to hit the ground running if they hope to get any work done.


Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council