Power struggle in the Palace — and Bikoy
A revealing sequence of events, which we can file under “Administrative Dysfunction as a Sign of an Internal Power Struggle.”
Yesterday, Sen. Bong Go — in his continuing role as President Duterte’s chief interpreter — announced that former Estrada Cabinet official William Dar was returning to the Department of Agriculture (DA) to replace Secretary Manny Piñol. Soon after, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez was quoted as welcoming the appointment, saying Dar had the educational qualifications and the domestic and international experience an agriculture chief needs. At around the same time, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told reporters that Dar was under consideration, as one among several recommendations, but that no decision had yet been made. An unnamed source (from the circumstances, it sounded like Medialdea himself) also said that “a member of [President] Duterte’s economic team” had been recommending Dar for the DA post “since 2017.”
About two hours later, Medialdea confirmed Go’s announcement, but only up to a point. He said Dar would be named ACTING agriculture secretary to replace Piñol, who was the face (and also literally the hand, the shove-lowly-fisherman-out-of-the-way hand) who symbolized the administration’s disastrous response to the plight of the Gem-Ver fishermen. Dominguez’s quote describing Dar’s credentials then made the rounds again.
Did the administration’s right hand simply not know what the left hand was doing?
The answer likely goes deeper than that. From most indications, it is Medialdea who has kept the leaky presidency on an even keel. (As well he should. As the executive secretary, he is by tradition the Little President, the President’s chief alter ego.) But he and his staff were clearly not prepared for Go’s announcement. And the context the unnamed source provided was clearly a finger (or pursed lips, in the Filipino style) pointed at Dominguez.
Go may have been merely enthusiastic about showing the door to Piñol, a sometime rival, but then he was the driving force—against the not necessarily complementary interests of the Duterte siblings, Mayor Inday Sara and Cong Pulong—behind the election of Alan Peter Cayetano as speaker of the House. He is no mere interpreter of the President’s muttered whims, and adds to the perception of accumulated power with every public reading of the President’s mind.
But Medialdea, a much better lawyer than the President or Solicitor General Jose Calida, is no pushover either. It seems that he was able to temper Dar’s appointment from permanent to temporary. To be sure, he is fighting what amounts to a rear-guard action against another administration insider, Mon Tulfo. Expect more skirmishing, and dysfunction, ahead.
The point of all this: Under an increasingly disengaged President enjoying his record popularity, who made factionalism an essential element of governance when he was mayor of Davao City, it will be every man for himself in the administration and the coalition. No announcement will be innocent, no position safe.
When the first “Bikoy” videos came online, I was intrigued. I had been hearing about his rumored emergence for months, and based on what I learned from interviewing the confessed assassins Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas, I thought Bikoy had the same kind of credibility.
I never met him, but his first “Ang Totoong Narcolist” video seemed solid and substantial. I continued to believe in what he was saying, even though esteemed colleagues like Ellen Tordesillas quickly found him ultimately noncredible. (Neither Matobato nor Lascañas had anything negative to say about Inday Sara or her husband; perhaps that was one discrepancy I should have looked into.)
But the Duterte administration must know that the opposition couldn’t have mounted the Bikoy operation—that is to say, his supposed coming out against the Duterte inner circle. There is simply no organizational capacity, no communications savvy, in the opposition to manufacture the “tara” or to invent Bikoy’s original, complicated narrative. The administration knows this, because they have the opposition under surveillance, and must have seen how the opposition imploded — through infighting, through the withholding of resources, through unconscious defeatism, through the failure to focus on a single, overriding purpose — during the elections.
If the opposition could not have mounted the Bikoy operation for all kinds of lack (lack of resources, lack of imagination, lack of savvy, lack of focus), then that means that Bikoy was either telling the truth but was “turned” — someone in the administration had reached him or his family with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Or he made everything up and was “planted” — he was part of a sting operation against the opposition.
The turning is problematic enough, but the planting is something else. Consider: If Bikoy was planted by the administration to flush out the opposition, which was the faction daring enough, or ambitious and imaginative enough, to accuse the President’s own family, including his young daughter, of serious crimes? Accusations backed by specific details. Now that’s an administration faction that does not mind dragging the Duterte family through the mud.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]
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