"The intention is clear."
The intention is as clear as the skies on a sunny day at the peak of summer—Rodrigo Roa Duterte wants to be president. Again.
And the motive is as dark as a dungeon for COVID victims on doomsday.
Duterte wants to perpetuate himself in power, or at least, extend his presidency, either by hereditary succession (through daughter Sara Duterte) or by proxy (through a trusted and tested factotum like Bong Go or some other patsy personality).
One, to protect the gains of his presidency, some of which are solid and sterling;
Two, to protect the gains of his family—personal, political and financial; and
Three, to insulate him, his family and friends from possible political and judicial prosecution, here and abroad, and even more possible, a jail term or forced exile (in China?).
Lord Acton once said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Absolute power corrupted the Roman emperors who declared themselves God. A corporal, Napoleon Bonaparte, declared himself emperor, thanks to absolute power. Monarchies, where the king is succeeded by his children, lose their moral sense and decency, thanks to absolute power.
Since 1986, three presidents were either exiled, placed under house arrest, or simply jailed in solitary confinement.
Ferdinand E. Marcos was seized by a US embassy helicopter on the night of Feb. 25, 1986 and sent into forced exile in Hawaii where he died, a gravely sick, lonely, despondent, and despised fallen leader, in September 1989, at age 72.
The strongman’s four successors did not want his body returned until Duterte became president who gave him a hero’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, on Nov. 18, 2016.
Marcos’s alleged crimes: Human rights violations, plunder, and abuse of power.
FM was a president who saved his country from a communist takeover, undertook genuine land reform, achieved rice self-sufficiency, solved the energy crisis, tried to integrate the Muslims into the body politic, and planned to invade Sabah because it is part of the national territory.
Joseph Ejercito Estrada was ousted from the presidency after only 30 months in power, and placed for several weeks in solitary confinement in a darkened and heavily guarded room (“I thought they would kill me,” he said) at the PNP SAF training camp in Santo Domingo, now gated and well-fortified in Santa Rosa, Laguna, before he was transferred to an army camp in Tanay, which had stinking and waterless toilets, and then carted, a prisoner, across the street to his Tanay resort, which has the amenities of paradise.
I visited Prisoner Erap in Tanay a few times. He told me: “Even if you live in paradise and you are a prisoner, you are still a prisoner.” So the lesson: Do not let yourself get imprisoned.
Erap was later pardoned by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In September 2007, the anti-graft court found Estrada guilty of plunder (of $80 million of gambling money) and was sentenced to reclusion perpetua. He was, however, pardoned by his tormentor, President Gloria Arroyo. Having been pardoned, Erap ran for president, again, in 2010. He placed a decent second to Benigno Simeon Cojuangco III. Erap would have won, had not two people died, Cory Aquino and Iglesia ni Cristo leader Eraño Manalo, both in 2009. Estrada went on to serve two terms as an elected mayor of Manila, his birth place, from 2013 to 2019. After his ouster from the presidency, his wife and two sons became senator.
President Noynoy Aquino had his predecessor arrested and jailed inside a hospital suite at the suburban Veterans Hospital in Quezon City.
After nearly four years of hospital arrest and an oppressive neck brace, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo walked free, on July 21, 2016. The Supreme Court, voting 11-4, acquitted her of plunder for alleged misuse of P366 million in sweepstakes charity money.
Mrs. Arroyo was president for nine years and four months, the second longest term, after Marcos’s 20 years. I visited her twice in her hospital suite. She exhibited an aura of calm and quiet courage and a sense of optimism that things could be better for her. She was not at all bitter.
In July 2016, Rodrigo Duterte, whom she helped finance as candidate, had assumed the presidency. Mrs. Arroyo ran for congressman of her Pampanga home district and was elected speaker of the House of Representatives.
Both Estrada and Arroyo proved that there is a political life after the presidency.
Perhaps drawing lessons from the travails (from political and judicial prosecution) and triumphs (of being elected to public office again) of Estrada and Arroyo, President Duterte is carefully following in their footsteps, using a different approach.
Duterte wants to be vice president of the republic. He said so publicly on at least three different occasions. If elected vice president, and he will mostly likely win, given the poor competition (he might even be the common candidate for VP of at least four major political parties), Dear Digong will be second in the line of succession, which means he will be president again if the elected president dies, resigns, or is incapacitated.
There is nothing in tradition, practice, law, jurisprudence and the Constitution, that bar Duterte from running for vice president and from succeeding as president if something happens to the incumbent president, by design, by accident, or by an act of God.
According to lawyers who have studied the Constitution on presidential succession, a VP Duterte can be president again—by succession. What the constitution bans is a president immediately succeeding himself or herself by reelection. Duterte will be president by succession, not by direct election of the people as president. One question: Will Duterte resign as president if he files his certificate of candidacy for vice president? My bet is: He won’t.
Given the possibility of a Duterte president again by succession, it is worth remembering Lord Acton’s dictum: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”