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Duterte worried about the 2022 race

/ 04:50 AM September 17, 2019

Why does President Duterte indulge in stream-of-consciousness speechifying, ritualistically setting aside the prepared remarks his aides have written for him, to speak “from the heart”? Part of the answer — aside from the obvious, that he likes to talk and that he has no script or message discipline — is that he wants to be understood. As he said earlier this month, he wanted  to express what was in his heart so that “kung gusto niyong basahin ang utak ko, you can be predictable kung ano ang lalabas.”

Translation: “If you want to read my mind, (let me speak plainly, not in English) so you can predict what will happen.”

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A week ago today, President Duterte used three consecutive occasions to show that his mind was already on the 2022 elections. He touched on many topics, when he addressed the 2019 Outstanding Government Workers in Rizal Hall, the League of Vice Governors of the Philippines in the President’s Hall, and the Malacañang Press Corps, the Malacañang Cameramen Association, and the Presidential Photojournalists Association in Heroes Hall, all in the presidential palace.

But like a theme that first insinuated itself in his brain, the idea of who will succeed him in office began to resonate, until he could no longer stop himself from singing the refrain. Call it the political equivalent of the Last Song Syndrome.

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Addressing the government workers, he started by saying something startling. “You know, I’m about to close my presidency in a matter of months. I really do not know who’s going to be the next president.” He listed his governance concerns, then returned to the theme. “And looking at the political horizon there, kung sinong ma-presidente (who will be the next president), I’m so pessimistic but I’m sad that no one there would” (complete my work, is what I think he seemed to be saying).

He mentioned Sen. Panfilo Lacson, as having taken issue against him when the President said it was all right for policemen to receive gifts. Lacson, who ran for president in 2004 and won about 10 percent of the vote, is widely seen as considering another presidential run.

Then, he referred to Vice President Leni Robredo, who also criticized the President’s seeming invitation to corruption: “Then this one who wants to become president, who took the bar twice. I said, so that’s why. I said, Ma’am, you’re a lawyer. Read the book first, because I read it.”

(For what it’s worth, a nonlawyer’s take: Both Lacson and Robredo approached the laws on gifts from the general proscription; public officials should not receive any gifts. The President approached it from the exception; nominal gifts may be accepted. But this wrong-side-up approach fits into the Duterte pattern, of allowing police officers a wide latitude of dangerous discretion.)

After riffs on imperialism and drugs, the President returned to Robredo and Lacson. “I can forgive him because he’s not a lawyer,” he said of Lacson. Then he names Robredo for the first time, “si Leni talaga.” “I said, Ma’am, if you’re the president of the Philippines, we’re dead.”

Addressing the vice governors, he read his prepared statement almost as is; before reading the last page, he stopped and said, “I’d like to just have a tête-à-tête with you.” About the state of traffic in Edsa, he expressed his frustration. “There’s a senator there. One day, that will be my issue against her. Not now.” (He was referring to Sen. Grace Poe, who has held up the administration’s request for emergency powers to solve the traffic problem by asking for the government plan.)

Stung by what he called Poe’s “holier-than-thou” attitude, he attacked the “penchant for politicians to think they are the only honest men and women in this world. Like (Sen. Richard) Gordon, Lacson. Those who play the hero.”

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He criticized Robredo again. And this second time, he didn’t hold back on Lacson. “I think he’s running for president. But I would caution him to be more circumspect because when the time comes, that is what will be used against him by his rivals. Sheer ignorance. Trying, trying to be a crusader but ignorant.”

Then he went back to Poe, who ran for president against him in 2016 and after winning reelection to the Senate may be considering another run. “There’s one lady senator who said, ‘No, no, that might lead to corruption’ … I will tell Grace (naming her for the first time, mere minutes after he said it wasn’t the right time to take issue with her), ‘Grace, not everyone in this world is a thief.’”

Addressing the journalists, the President read his prepared remarks straight through, and then took questions. At times, he returned to his self-appointed task of cutting down presidential timber. He attacked Robredo again, and then Lacson, even though he said he would rather not because he was a friend. And then, Poe again. “Eh di kayo na lang. Gawain ninyong presidente ’yang y*** na ’yan, sige. Kay ako mismo ang magsabi sa mukha niya (Well, you do it then. Make that devil your President. Because I will be the one to tell her off to her face).”

He didn’t mention either of the Villars, or Bongbong Marcos, who are all said to be weighing a run in 2022. But his sustained criticism of Robredo, Lacson and Poe suggests—as I have noticed in recent weeks among other politicians—that 2022 is very much in the air. He even made sure to end the night with profuse praise for the now-popular Mayor Isko Moreno of Manila.

Oh, 2022 is on.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]

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