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On The Move

The President’s assassination narrative

For the second time, President Duterte has made a speech behind a bulletproof glass panel. It appeared to embarrass him that he had to speak behind such a protection. All Mr. Duterte could say was that it was his Presidential Security Group that insisted, and that he was simply being obedient.

Of course, the precaution also embarrasses large segments of the Filipino nation. That a President has to take measures to protect himself from his people creates some unease.

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Assassination scenarios are game-changing events in the Philippines. We agonize over assassinations when they happen to any of our public officials, from presidents down to barangay council members. But assassinations are part of the political culture of Filipinos.

President Duterte over the past three years has talked intermittently about his assassination, not so much as a tragedy about to befall him, but actually more as a deliverance from his heavy burdens as president. Unfortunately, resignation is out of the question. Assassination, apparently, is the only acceptable pretermination of his presidency. That, and of course his offer to the military to take over.

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In September last year, President Duterte, in an interview on state television, said he had evidence in a recording provided by an unnamed foreign country that a concatenation of opposition politicians, Maoist rebels and former military personnel planned to oust or kill him.

He also lashed at the military, telling soldiers who supposedly wanted to oust him to join Antonio Trillanes IV. It is telling that what irked Mr. Duterte was apparently the Supreme Court decision showing evenhandedness on the issue of the revocation of the amnesty granted to Trillanes.

In another speech, President Duterte also said the Americans and the CIA “want me dead.” “So if my helicopter explodes, that’s their handiwork.” And so Mr. Duterte will continue his assassination narrative.

But there are other more thought-provoking scenarios that this presidential narrative on assassination induces.

Political assassination directed at the administration has been used to justify the imposition of martial law in the country. The “last straw” that goaded President Marcos to declare martial law in 1972 was the purported ambush of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile in Wack Wack.

Enrile admitted in February 1986 over the radio that the ambush was staged.

Would Mr. Duterte fake an assassination attempt? Going by the way the administration went about creatively getting arch critics Sen. Leila de Lima, Trillanes and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sidelined, it is not unlikely that Mr. Duterte would accede to such a gambit.

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An assassination attempt would undoubtedly convince the nation that martial law is justified. It will also justify the wholesale rounding up of Mr. Duterte critics, based on the President’s personalized “Order of Battle”—narco lists, politico lists, journo lists and perhaps “oligarch” lists.

Which is why, this narrative about a bulletproof glass panel, a reasonable precaution for any eminent person, actually becomes a veiled threat in the context of the Philippines’ current situation. It becomes a sword of Damocles, not on Mr. Duterte, but on all his opponents.

There are other possibilities. If Mr. Duterte gets assassinated, given the fascination of Filipinos with the family destiny potential of political deaths, would that make Sara Duterte a shoo-in for the presidency in the 2022 presidential election? Can Mr. Duterte think that strategically?

Actually, from a strategic perspective, Mr. Duterte may be better off not finishing his term, tantalizing generations
of Filipinos with the “what if he did not die too soon” question, almost like the way Ramon Magsaysay’s death in March 1957 affected the people. It might be a good idea for Mr. Duterte to quit while he is ahead. Dying with one’s boots on is romantic. In a way, Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna died more heroic, memorable deaths than Emilio Aguinaldo, who ran for president and lost miserably to Manuel Quezon in the presidential election of 1935.

But any assassination of President Duterte must be an authentic event. Any crackpots or serious assassins out there must be “true believers.” If Mr. Duterte and his minions stage it, that would again be another pathetic case of “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

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TAGS: Duterte assassination narrative, On The Move, Presidential Security Group, PSG, Rodrigo Duterte, Segundo Eclar Romero
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