The succession problem
I don’t think President Duterte will croak any time soon. The sober medical opinion I’ve heard is that he will probably outlive his term, what with the topnotch doctors surrounding him and the wherewithal to afford the best treatments available. At this point, perhaps only a command from Mr. Duterte’s good friend Pastor Quiboloy could end his life.
But as the President and his men summon health as an excuse for the President’s absence more and more frequently, it becomes clear that whether or not the President is seriously sick, this administration has become twice the headless chicken it normally is. For the Duterte administration, there’s really no Vice President or even an OIC it can trust. The buck starts and ends with Mr. Duterte. And it doesn’t help that a generation of tycoons have recently passed away, showing everyone the importance of a succession plan to keep conglomerates up and running.
Ironically, the administration’s succession problem was made worse when all 12 vacancies in the Senate were won by Mr. Duterte’s allies in the May 2019 elections. Practically everyone during the campaign period, including those not running for office (i.e. Inday Sara), had one eye on May 2019 and the other on the 2022 elections. But now that most of these wannabes endorsed by Mr. Duterte have secured a national platform, suddenly there are many more of them vying, overtly or otherwise, to step into the old man’s shoes. The question is: Who among them would succeed Mr. Duterte?
This question is being asked in good faith. One of Candidate Duterte’s platforms in 2016 was ensuring some continuity in Philippine government, six years being deemed too short by him for any president to make any real impactful reforms. So far, he has trotted out the possibilities of Charter change, federalism, martial law, “revolutionary government” as political quick fixes, none of which have panned out.
Another reason it’s important to ask the question of succession now is because it’s a crucial element in the creation of the mythology surrounding Mr. Duterte. Albay Rep. Joey Salceda was heard slipping on TV that the President is running an “authoritarian regime,”but it’s worth noting that it is the President’s monolithic popularity that’s holding this administration together. Incompetent as he is on many fronts, Mr. Duterte’s robust popularity and the fanaticism of his supporters are the only things granting this administration its seemingly divine right to rule. And the Cabinet, the Supreme Court and Congress all seem to be keen on keeping it that way. So, without an heir to President Duterte’s throne, who’s to cement this strongman’s legacy?
There are too many self-proclaimed master chefs (not even cooks) in the kitchen: Locsin with his second-rate cussing? The consistently inconsistent Panelo? The butler Bong Go? Bato and his stoner’s rhetoric? The failure that is Alan Peter Cayetano? Or any of the bland Duterte offspring?
There is no real standout among Mr. Duterte’s lieutenants, since, without any sizeable opposition party to hone their fighting chops on, they are left to passively pummel each other instead, viewing themselves as mini-Digongs while imploding within the walls of MalacaÃ±ang. Also, none of them have been lucky to possess either a rich back story to their rise to power or a fan base remotely similar to Mr. Duterte’s.
Finally, the question of succession is crucial because it explains the paranoia this administration has against Vice President Leni Robredo. Robredo is deemed dangerous to anyone who might end up as Mr. Duterte’s anointed successor precisely because the President will eventually have to account for, among others, the Philippines’ acquiescence to China, the Duterte bank accounts Vera Files had uncovered, the thousands of deaths in the drug war, the allegations of ties to drug lords, the unfulfilled promises, the repeated violations of the Constitution, etc.
Considering how these misdeeds, if proven true, could easily shatter the entire Dutertian mythology, only someone with an equally mercenary authoritarian bent could ever understand and pardon these faults. And with the amount of foothold one particular family has regained and amassed under the Duterte administration, I don’t think there’s even a need to name them here.
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DLS Pineda finished his undergraduate and master’s degrees in UP Diliman before moving to Agusan del Norte to teach. Tweet @dlspineda
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