Defying the President
There are increasing incidents of ostensible defiance against the actions and wishes of President Duterte, and these are coming from people who are his close allies.
On May 21, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III was ousted as Senate president when 15 senators allied with the President signed a resolution electing Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III to replace him. Pimentel was removed even though he was the President’s choice at the start of his term. Mr. Duterte is the first Mindanaoan to be elected as our country’s President, and the choice of Pimentel doubly drove home the point that the time for Mindanaoans to rule “Imperial Manila” had finally arrived.
On July 23, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was ousted as head of the House of Representatives when 184 congressmen allied with the President signed a resolution electing congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to replace him. Alvarez was removed even though he was the President’s choice at the beginning of his rule. The choice of Alvarez triply drove home the point that Mindanaoans have finally captured our country’s seat of power.
In the past few weeks, three Cabinet members of the Duterte administration publicly came out with their objections to federalism. These are Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. Their statements constitute apparent defiance against the President’s advocacy favoring a shift to federalism.
All these acts of ostensible defiance are happening now that Mr. Duterte has completed his second year in office. This is in stark contrast to his first two years in office, when the President’s allies could not manage even a whimper of objection.
Considering that the President easily bristles with offensive language when his policies are criticized, one wonders why he has been completely silent on the successive acts of defiance that have emanated from his close allies.
One explanation is that these seeming incidents were actually committed with the covert acquiescence of the President. Both Pimentel and Alvarez were supposedly ousted because legislators had convinced the President of the legitimacy of their gripes against both officials.
With respect to his Cabinet officials, there are speculations that the President has come to terms with the enormity of public opposition against federalism, and thus has given his officials implicit consent to torpedo the federalism campaign as a gear-shifting means of withdrawal.
Another explanation is that the President thrives on chaos, and the squabbles among his allies feed on his craving for constant skirmishes. His propensity to pick a fight by cursing or ridiculing God, the Catholic Church, the United States, the European Union and foreign leaders attest to this trait of the President.
There’s also the explanation that these acts of defiance are genuine feats of pushback by Mr. Duterte’s allies. After getting stumped by their leader’s brash personality for two years, they have somehow recovered their capacity to voice out dissent.
However, the President has one sacred cow that must never be besmirched with even an iota of dissent—his war on drugs. Two chairs of the Dangerous Drugs Board—Benjamin Reyes and Dionisio Santiago—were axed, and the current Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief, Aaron Aquino, has been forced to go on leave, because the acts or statements of these people on the drug war displeased Mr. Duterte.
Seeing the President go uncharacteristically silent in the midst of all the conflicts among his allies, the vision that comes to mind is that of a Roman emperor who watches with equanimity while gladiators fight in front of him. He furtively revels in the spectacle of his subjects engaging in combat. They can fight all they want among themselves, but only for the purpose of pleasing the supreme leader. But they must never engage in acts of defiance that would directly and intentionally displease the emperor.
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