Did Duterte live up to his oath?
Exactly a year ago yesterday, President Duterte took his oath of office. This is what he swore to, as provided in our Constitution: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. So help me God.”
Many assessments have been made (including by this paper) of Mr. Duterte’s performance in his first year, based on his campaign promises, his inaugural speech and Sona. The Movement for Good Governance, which I nominally head (the real power is Milwida Guevara) is also into this, and will come up with a scorecard before his Sona.
This column will use his oath as a basis to judge him. First, because no one has done that yet, and second, those campaign promises, etc., were not given under oath. So I thought I would go back to the basics, and judge him according to what he swore, before God, that he would do. You see, Reader, the Constitution actually gave him an alternative: He could have affirmed, instead of sworn the above, so that he could have omitted its last sentence. That he chose to swear “So help me God” was his choice.
1. Has he faithfully and conscientiously fulfilled his duties as President of the Philippines? That answer will depend on whether he has preserved and defended its Constitution, executed its laws, etc., as above-written.
2. Has he faithfully preserved and defended the Philippine Constitution? Well, a few days ago, President Duterte pooh-poohed the Constitution as just a “piece of paper.” This was told to the Presidential Security Group as audience. He further said that the Constitution was nothing to him, when the issue was protecting the Filipino people.
Don’t get me wrong. He has, in other venues, talked about his constitutional duty, But then, two days ago, he specifically stated that what he swore to do was to preserve and defend the Filipino people. That’s not what you swore to, Mr. President. You swore to preserve and defend the Constitution—including the Bill of Rights, its rules on martial law and every other provision therein.
Why preserve and defend the Constitution? Because it is the protector of the people’s rights based on the lessons of the past, and our aspirations for the future.
But not only that: His concept of protecting and defending the Filipino people is selective. If you are a drug addict, or even a drug user, you are not protected. If you are a civilian caught in the conflict, you are not protected—because he says it is your duty to protect yourself. If you are killed by soldiers or policemen, Mr. Duterte has assured them any number of times that they will not be held accountable.
Am I too harsh on him? Not as harshly as he deserves. He even told the soldiers that a couple of rapes (three, actually) will not be held against them. Need more proof? Look at what he did to the policemen who killed Mayor Rolando Espinosa inside a jail at 3 in the morning. Ignoring his own investigators (the NBI, plus the Senate), the charges against them were downgraded from murder to homicide.
3. This actually speaks to the “execution of its laws.” And Mr. Duterte has been very selective about that, too. Look at what he has done to Leila de Lima.
4. How about the part of his oath that speaks about doing “justice to every man”? I believe we’ve dealt with that, too. Maybe it is because he considers drug users as sub-human. But I still don’t know his excuse about killing civilians caught in the midst of battle. In fact, the safety of civilians is the primary duty of the state in armed conflict.
So on the basis of what he swore he was going to do, the President has failed miserably.
And frankly, Reader, this unashamed wooing of our soldiers and our policemen scares the bejabbers out of me. These drops and trickles that lull us into thinking that martial law is harmless is even worse. Filipinos, wake up! Now! Or the Never Again will be here before we realize it.
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