Only two years into the presidency and yet it appears that Rodrigo Duterte is politically dead.
Banking on his charisma as a strong and powerful leader, Duterte overwhelmingly won as the highest official of the land during the 2016 national election after winning the hearts and minds of the people who were made to believe that the country needs an iron fist ruler.
So where is the so-called political will promised by Duterte and his campaign team in 2016?
The president has not yet reached half of his term of office but it seems that he is helpless in addressing the myriad problems hounding his constituents.
Look at the economy. Almost all indicators show a downhill trend.
The 6.4 inflation rate which is the highest surge in the last nine years, the flight of foreign capital and pullout of foreign firms, the continued devaluation of peso which has now reached P54.00 to
$1.00 exchange, the decrease in our foreign reserves and the rising unemployment in the country are an alarming barometer how bad the economy is.
But the worse is yet to come.
The second part of TRAIN law (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) which the government euphemistically calls as TRABAHO (Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-Quality Opportunities) is about to be passed by the administration-controlled Congress. Moreover, the annual budget enacted for next year involved significant decrease on the budget of basic sectors like health, education and other social services.
This means that the Filipino people should brace for more tightening of their belts as Duterte and his economic managers are posed to implement more anti-poor and burdensome policies.
What we have seen so far from Duterte is his willingness to use the government as an apparatus for oppressing and persecuting purported political enemies like ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and opposition senator Antonio Trillanes. But we cannot see any political will to use the vast powers of his office in order to adopt or implement drastic measures that will alleviate the hardship and suffering of the people.
However, because of Duterte’s obsession of getting back at Trillanes, the president unintentionally exposed his weakness and turned him into a powerless and incompetent leader.
The developments in the past week prove this point.
Duterte issued a proclamation revoking the grant of amnesty by the previous administration to Trillanes with the expectation that the government security forces will blindly implement his order to arrest the feisty senator. He was wrong.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) rightfully refused to execute what is apparently an unlawful order of its commander in chief. The AFP’s stand is highlighted by the directive of its Chief of Staff Carlito Galvez to stay away from partisan politics.
“I am reminding every soldier, airman, sailor, and marine not to meddle or take part in partisan politics. Our loyalty is to the Constitution,” Galvez said.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), avoiding to take a position that is contrary to the AFP, insisted that no policeman will try to arrest Trillanes without a warrant.
After being rebuked both by the AFP and the PNP, the administration’s next move was for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to secure a warrant of arrest from the trial courts.
However, two Regional Trial Courts in Makati City, Branch 148 and Branch 150, did not issue a warrant of arrest. Instead, the said courts ordered government prosecutors to prove factual and legal basis for their application.
As a result, the executive branch was forced to issue a face-saving press release that the president will respect the rule of law and will not force the arrest of Trillanes before a warrant is issued as if complying with the law and the rules is optional to the chief executive.
But the damage has been done. The refusal of the AFP and the PNP to apprehend the opposition lawmaker without a court order and the decision of the Makati trial courts not to immediately issue a warrant is a virtual slap in the face of Duterte. This monumental blunder caused enormous humiliation to the Duterte administration and made the president a laughingstock.
We share the vice-president’s take on the matter.
“I think this caused a big embarrassment to the President. Imagine, the President declared something but the grounds were incorrect? The institutions he expected to act on it did not deliver,” Vice-President Leni Robredo said.
This episode is another record-breaking for this administration. Imagine a president getting the popular vote of more than sixteen million of the electorate and with more than three years left in his term of office has become a lame, ineffective leader.
In just a short period of time, he lost control of the government that he heads. From very popular to a weakling.
Rodrigo Duterte reminds us of the last few moments of the administration of Joseph Estrada. And we all know what happened to Erap.