We may be seeing the emergence of the most powerful Philippine president since Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. There are some disquieting signs on the horizon that may seem just par-for-the-course political developments.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has not even declared martial law nationwide although he may have given hints of what was to come when he proclaimed martial law in Mindanao because of the Maute-ISIS invasion of Marawi.
Marcos ruled the country for nearly 20 years with his vast and awesome powers under martial law, declared because of rebellion and lawlessness. He served two four-year terms when presidents were then allowed to seek reelection. Marcos imposed a draconian martial law nationwide on September 21, 1972. In February 1986, he was toppled by the People Power uprising.
To those who think the former Davao City mayor may have overreached his competence, they are mistaken. Duterte is cunning and unpredictable in his political moves. After appointing Gina Lopez of the wealthy and influential Lopez family as Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, Duterte last Wednesday vowed to go after the Lopezes and their various companies. The President said he would do this because the Lopez companies were not paying the right taxes and the huge debts they owed the government.
Two political developments bear watching and need the citizenry’s vigilance. These are two impeachment moves in the House of Representatives. The first, against Commission on Elections chief Andres Bautista, has the better prospect of succeeding. The second, against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, may hurdle the House. Still, its denouement in the Senate which will have to convene itself into an impeachment court is more unpredictable.
Members of the House are easier to herd as members of the super coalition majority. All President Rodrigo Duterte has to do is snap his fingers and the Palace lackeys move with the docility of lambs. This is done through House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who brings selected solons to the Palace for the customary dinner and the order on how to vote in impeachment cases and other priority bills certified by The Boss.
The President, of course has denied any hand in the two impeachment cases. Still, Filipinos, being suspicious by nature, think he may be using proxies to carry out the charges.
The case against Sereno includes betrayal of public trust, corruption for the purchase of a luxury bullet proof car and other expenditures that was done without the concurrence of the justices sitting en banc.
The 200- plus members of the House are simply too overwhelming for the small group of independent minority and party-list representatives.
In the Senate, the PDP-Laban numbers are more nebulous and no one can tell how each senator will cast his/her vote. Senators Richard Gordon and Ping Lacson apparently have their eyes on the presidency in 2022 and want to be perceived as independent and not a Malacanang vassal. We are now seeing this in the current Senate committee hearings where Gordon and Lacson try to outdo each other in the inquiry on extrajudicial killings of drug suspects and the endemic corruption at the Bureau of Customs. The Gordon-Lacson display of investigative skill and probing questions will be taken by critics as grandstanding but it is also a projection of leadership for the 2022 presidential race. Both Gordon and Lacson have already run for the presidency and lost.
There are, however, rumors of a rift within the ruling PDP-Laban Party. Senate President Koko Pimentel and House Speaker Alvarez deny there is dissension within the party. They claim these talks are fueled by those who want to see the ruling PDP-Laban Party fragmented and weak.
We may, however, be witnessing the emergence of Duterte as the most powerful president since Marcos. The impeachment cases against Sereno and Bautista, if successful, would give Duterte control of the Supreme Court and the Comelec when he appoints their replacements. He also wants to abolish the Commission on Human Rights even as he already controls Congress, the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police. The heads of the AFP and the PNP are appointed by the president.
In the impeachment case against former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, three senators— Bongbong Marcos and the late senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Joker Arroyo cast the dissenting votes against 20 other senators who convicted Corona for betrayal of public trust and not disclosing his true Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.