It’s fascinating comparing the way the investigation of alleged wrong-doing by the Presidents of the Philippines and the United States, Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump, have been handled by officials and the media in both countries.
There are interesting similarities, but, where there is expected to be stark differences are the prospects of allegations being thoroughly and objectively probed and of justice being upheld. The expected results are as different as day and night.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, after almost a year of quiet sleuthing, has finally filed charges against members of the presidential campaign of Trump, Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, and his deputy, Rick Gates as well as George Papadopoulos, a Trump foreign policy adviser.
Expectedly, the folks in the White House have scrambled to distance themselves from the indictees, while downplaying any fallout on Trump and other members of his campaign. Of course, privately, they are anxiously waiting for “the other shoe to drop.”
White House officials have also been busy setting up figurative sandbags, in case more bombs are exploded and they get hit. Many have begun to retain lawyers, just in case. And among the Republicans who may have to run for reelection in 2018, Plans B and C are already being prepared, including throwing Trump under the bus. But no one is making any announcements to the media.
Where this initial indictments will lead, no one can say for sure.
The Trump camp has struggled to keep a brave front in the face of what is clearly a threat to the White House occupant. But, aside from some muffled noises, no one has openly accused the special counsel and his team of partisanship. In fact, members of the Republican dominated legislature have begun to consider filing a bill that would keep Trump from firing Mueller, in case the President decides to make the precipitous leap into a constitutional crisis.
Prior to the indictments, Mueller’s team avoided making any public statements, and left it up to media to speculate and chew on whatever leaks they could chance upon. The inquiries being conducted by the US Senate and House of Representatives, after much media ballyhoo, have also been relatively lowkey.
On the other side of the Pacific, the possibility of Duterte being pursued by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, following allegations of unexplained wealth, and the prospect of the Supreme Court deciding against Duterte’s interests have been loudly announced to the media and, expectedly, have been met with unabashed and unapologetic partisanship in the legislature and the Department of justice.
While the US special counsel and his team have avoided media exposure, the Philippine officials who have raised the specter of an investigation of Duterte, have sensationalized their moves. The Ombudsman’s response to Duterte’s threat was headlined to the effect that she would not be intimidated. In other words, palaban.
Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV has not simply been all over the media in his attacks against Duterte, he has gone on an international road show to drum up support for his mission. As in an action movie, the statements have been dramatic, as quoted by the media. Trillanes reportedly said that Duterte was out to destroy him, unless he destroys Duterte first.
The Duterte-dominated Senate and the House of Representatives have not been embarrassed about wielding the power of impeachment and threatening to use it against the Ombudsman and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. All kinds of trumped up charges have been stacked against the two, obviously in order to dissuade them from pursuing the case — or cases — against the Dutertes.
Where Trump and Duterte are alike have been their responses to the perceived threats to their office.
If public interest has continued to be stirred concerning the allegations of Russian interference in the last US presidential campaign, it has been mainly due to Trump himself and his penchant for tweeting unpresidential commentaries on the subject.
On the other hand, Duterte has issued the ultra-unpresidential challenge to his perceived tormentors that they all “resign” from their respective positions. It’s almost like listening to a kanto boy daring another gangbanger to touch the chip on his shoulder.
The prospect of Trump being impeached continues to be the subject of speculation by rumor-mongers, late night show hosts and the media, with CNN and Fox News presenting contrasting versions and assessments. An impeachment is not being discounted. Trump could be removed from office if a strong enough case of obstruction of justice or collusion with the Russians is built by the special counsel.
On the other hand, the prospect of Duterte being impeached is not being taken seriously — not while he holds the purse strings that make the members of the legislature salivate. President Manuel Quezon must be squirming in his grave at the fact that his classic statement — “My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins!” — has absolutely no relevance to the members of Congress.
While the ranks of the Republican Party appear to be cracking up, with at least three influential senators openly criticizing Trump, party members, in general, continue to hold their tongue, caught between the need for political survival and the need to uphold their integrity as public officials. The Democrats have remained in the bleachers, feeding the speculators but, otherwise, staying out of the line of fire.
At any rate, there appears to be no doubt in the minds of the American public that Mueller will pursue the case to its logical and legal conclusion, no matter who gets hurt.
This is where the US and the Philippine investigations sharply differ. The Senate committee, headed by Sen. Dick Gordon, has been severely criticized for its obvious bias in favor of Duterte. But what really takes the cake, to use a cliché, is the fact that Gordon and his fellow inquisitors have even challenged the veracity of the admission under oath made by accusers of Duterte to having personally killed people on Duterte’s orders.
What’s more ridiculous than somebody being told, “No, you are not telling the truth about having personally killed people.” In other words, “No, we don’t believe you are a killer.”
On the other hand, when convicted criminals were marched before a congressional committee and made to testify against Sen. Leila de Lima, the committee and the Justice Department gave credence to their testimony. De Lima is now in jail while those who admitted have committed multiple murders are overseas spreading the word about Duterte’s human rights violations.
In sum, there is no doubt in the minds of the average Filipino that Duterte and his family will never be indicted while he is in office.
However, there is also no doubt in the minds of average Americans that when the excrement hits the fan, the Republicans will quickly wash their hands and leave it to Trump and his rabid allies to wallow in it. What about Duterte’s political backers? There is no doubt that they will also abandon him and save their own skins.
That part, at least, is where US and Philippine politicians will react and act similarly. When the ship sinks, it will be every rat for himself.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.