The similarities are too striking to ignore.
Both US President Donald Trump (whom North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un called a “dotard”) and President Rodrigo Duterte (whom a mischievous columnist dubbed “Dutertard”) are uneasy over investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, respectively, for possible violations of law.
The results could, presumably, be an impeachment complaint against the sitting heads of state. But that is where the similarity ends.
If Mueller succeeds in building a case for obstruction of justice or for collusion with Russia, an impeachment proceeding could be taken against Trump, even if both houses of the US Congress are controlled by the Republicans.
An impeachment can only be initiated by Congress. Although the Republicans, in general, have been hesitant to speak out against Trump’s listless presidency, there have been signs of a break from the ranks, and not just by maverick Senator John McCain. Even GOP stalwarts, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have become visibly irked by Trump’s bluster and mindlessness.
It may be recalled that President Richard Nixon, a Republican, was forced to resign, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, after a visit by key GOP legislators. If Mueller, backed by US media and with an outcry from the American public, presents a strong case for Trump’s impeachment, the Republican dam could break, in a manner of speaking, and The Donald will have to leave the White House.
Not the case in the Philippines.
Even if, by some miracle, Ombudsman Morales builds a convincing case of corruption or unexplained wealth or violations of the Constitution against Duterte, there is no way that House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and his congressional Mafiosi will find “sufficient form and substance” in an impeachment complaint that may be filed against their Malacañang patron.
There is a possibility that an impeachment complaint against Duterte could have a chance of being adjudicated in the Senate — if it ever gets to that stage — but Duterte point guards Senators Koko Pimentel, Tito Sotto, Manny Pacquiao and Dick Gordon, may have the trash bin waiting to greet the complaint at the entrance to the hallowed halls of the Senate.
As the Mafia in New York would put it, “Fuggedaboudit!”
On the other hand, the late unlamented president Ferdinand Marcos appeared formidable too, during his time. But he was eventually taken down. Even in the Philippines, nobody rules forever. Besides, one predictable characteristic of Philippine politics is the unpredictable loyalty of so-called allies. Filipino politicos are quintessential survivors and would make a pact with the devil to remain in power — ask Senator Dick Gordon.
In other words, even Duterte’s seemingly formidable fortress can be eroded from within. However, don’t count on the leaders of the opposition Liberal Party to do it. Their disappointing tenure, under President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, is too recent to present as a preferable alternative to a Duterte administration.
A changeover from Duterte to the LPs would be like falling from the frying pan into another frying pan.
There is also a vast difference between Da Apo of the Ilocanos and the King of Mount Apo in Davao. Marcos, despite wanting to be president for life, was nearing the termination of his immortality. The US was aware of it and was just waiting for a reason to unplug the life support. Worse yet, Marcos made the mistake of threatening the master intriguers in his administration, led by Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and PC Chief Gen. Fidel V. Ramos.
However, We Belong, the group of young military officers that led the incipient uprising against Marcos, was not formed overnight. For the revolutionary embers to burst into flame, it took years of intrigue between Ramos vs. AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver, on one hand, and between Presidents-in-waiting First Lady Imelda Marcos vs. Enrile, on the other hand.
Even assuming that there is some revolutionary fervor currently throbbing in the hearts of some officers of the AFP, it will take years and a charismatic leader to transform that fervor into a willingness to fight and die for a cause. The generals are too comfortable in their positions to bother about staging a revolution that will simply kick out one group of opportunists, only to install another group of opportunists.
Besides, is there such a charismatic leader in sight?
Certainly not Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. He is currently useful as a pain-in-the-ass against Duterte, but Trillanes is not beyond reproach. He has been described by some as Judas Incarnate.
What about former President Ramos? Does the old soldier still have the fire to return from retirement and lead his people to redemption, like Gen. Douglas MacArthur and British leader Sir Winston Churchill? Ramos’s detractors insist that he, too, is not beyond reproach.
What about the Central Intelligence Agency, which has a reputation for replacing pesky national leaders of strategically important countries? I think the CIA has more than enough on its hands to bother about Duterte who, in spite of his bluster and much-publicized Chinese leanings, still wants to be on the good side of America. Besides, Duterte’s term is finite and all too short. One more indication that the CIA may not be motivated to take out Duterte is the fact that Malacañang is preparing to welcome Trump to Manila in November this year.
In sum, the options to replacing Duterte are not attractive at this point. Ombudsman Morales and her deputy, Arthur Carandang, will make a lot of noises about digging up evidence of unexplained wealth against Duterte, but it is not likely that they will come up with anything substantive while Duterte is in office. Some pundits think that solving the traffic mess in Manila is more likely to happen than for Morales and Carandang to build a case against Duterte.
Does anyone actually believe that the Anti-Money Laundering Council or the National Bureau of Investigation or the Justice Department will cooperate with them?
Duterte has been giving broad hints about extending his tenure (whether through a declaration of martial law, or the implementation of federalism or through his preferred successor, Sara Duterte-Carpio), but by his own admission, only two out of five statements he makes are the truth. So, one never knows what is on Duterte’s mind.
Only one thing is certain: the charade will go on and on to provide entertainment to the Filipino people. Recently, Trump boasted that the viewership of the NFL has dived because American football fans now prefer to listen to Trump’s speeches.
That, of course, is another Trump hyperbole.
But, what may be a fact is that in the Philippines, televiewers follow the endless investigations by Congress and the Ombudsman, as well as the antics of Duterte, more avidly than the TV soaps.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.