Grassroots & Governance

We could be the only country in the world where the head of state gives public orders to the bureaucracy to “kill” suspected criminals (e.g., drug addicts, pushers, not necessarily drug lords, and lately, smugglers). He has gone further. Rodrigo Duterte has publicly mandated the Customs officials to arm themselves (specifically with Gluck brand pistols) and “to learn the art of assassination.” As far as I know, the presidential spokesman has yet to explain this away as just another “joke.”

Meanwhile, the President has excused former Customs Commissioner and old friend now recycled as TESDA head Isidro Lapena whom he calls “Sid” because the smugglers got past him since he is just a naïve probinsiyano (innocent country bumpkin?).

Can we still hold our heads high in the world as a democracy that adheres to due process and rule of law?

We are becoming more and more governed by a rule of man, not of laws. Rodrigo Duterte can decide what is lawful and not lawful. Alarmingly, before the end of his term, he will have control of the disgraceful Supreme Court, having appointed majority of the justices. He has even appointed as Chief Justice the notorious Lucas Bersamin, the ponente of the San Miguel Corporation coco levy shares awarded to Danding Cojuangco since, the ponente declared, “there was no evidence that he was a Marcos crony.” Bersamin also supported the burial of Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.

Duterte has ignored issues of conflict of interest brought against his appointee as Solicitor-General, the government’s chief legal counsel. Jose Calida has not denied having multi-million peso contracts with various government agencies to provide security services; and he has not lost his job nor even been publicly chastised by his boss despite the solid issues brought against him. And it seems Calida has not been required to give up those contracts. So, how do we expect the SolGen to prosecute heads of government agencies who may have been accused of corruption if he is benefitting from business with them? Ah, but the President has not, it seems, raised a fuss about this. And he happens to be the Law these days.

Lately, for a change, Duterte has been making bold statements regarding the Panatag Shoal controversy, even warning China if they dared to occupy the territory. He has gone as far as to announce the possibility of a “suicide mission” to Pag-Asa. I suppose they will plant a Philippine flag and take a jet ski there? Ping Lacson has offered to accompany him there to bolster his shaky nerves. What, finally, after a long series of timid explanations as to why we cannot assert our sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea despite our UN Arbitral Court victory? Did he get permission to make such bold statements from his China allies, to ignore his brashness because it is an election period?

It took the courageous filing of a suit in the International Criminal Court (ICC) by two civil service retirees, former DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman and Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, in defense of Filipino fishermen who were being harassed by Chinese militia posing as fishers in our own waters to raise Duterte’s timid haunches. The daring duo also raised the crucial issue of destruction of our corals by the Chinese reclamation of isles into military facilities, thus reducing the marine life in our ocean territories.

Thank God for the nerve demonstrated by superseniors del Rosario and Carpio-Morales, an increasing number of activists and journalists are exposing more and more of the failures of this government to do its constitutional duty of defending our territories and the rule of law. The beleaguered Rappler and PCIJ professional investigative journalists have gone further in risking their freedoms with their series of well-researched revelations of misconduct among the President and his family and allies which the Duterte family must refute with contrary evidence.

It is hard to believe that some intelligent people in business and the professions that I happen to know actually support Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Are we all falling into the abyss of unconsciousness?

Duterte now controls the Lower House. He seems to be almost in control of the institutions that are supposed to ensure justice and the rule of law. And he seems close to gaining control of the Senate, where you need 17 votes out of 24 to win dominance of national policy. More and more non-performing entertainers, accused plunderers and comedians will become our national policymakers. Already the husband of one of my friends calls us “Disneyland.”

What kind of a nation shall we become? What will happen to our children and their children? Are we going to just stand by and let these ghastly developments happen to our country? Or shall we do every little bit to help a miracle happen for serious and competent independents to gain control of the incoming Senate?


Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.