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The Duterte playbook: Go, Calida

/ 04:06 AM February 11, 2020

Item 1. Last week, President Duterte teased his close aide, Sen. Bong Go, about his supposed presidential ambitions. “Maybe he wants to be president kasi lahat ng sunog andoon siya (because he goes to all the fires),” the President told an audience of newly appointed government officials. “Halata man masyado (it’s too obvious).”

Some may have seen this as a gentle warning aimed at a devoted loyalist, or perhaps as a calculated distancing by the President from Go, still his special assistant in all but name. But it was nothing of the sort.

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It was — if we read the Duterte 25-year-old political playbook right — a wily politician’s funny but effective way of raising a favored one’s profile. Go’s ubiquity may have already raised alarm bells among many, because of his manifest lack of qualification for high office, but the President’s joke yoked “Go” and “president” together, and that can only be good for the man once described as the national photobomber.

Item 2. It is, however, too early for the President to settle on his preferred successor. The Duterte playbook fosters competition among his allies and his supporters. (Even the Davao Death Squad described by his former close aide, ex-police officer Arturo Lascañas, and a former henchman, Edgardo Matobato, used incentives and inter-group competition to increase the number of killings.) Note that the President continues to think highly of Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, or that he remains closely allied with the Villars, or that, while Sen. Manny Pacquiao is testing the possibility of running for vice president under Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the President has remained mum. All of these politicians I named, plus a rehabilitated Bongbong Marcos, may be able to guarantee a safe exit and an undisturbed retirement for him; he is merely adding Go to the mix of options.

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But also note those high officials he has attacked (Vice President Leni Robredo, Sen. Grace Poe), or criticized either subtly (Sen. Panfilo Lacson) or harshly (Sen. Dick Gordon). They are all possible presidential candidates he cannot trust.

Item 3. A mere four weeks since the plan of the Office of the Solicitor General to file a quo warranto case against the ABS-CBN network was reportedly shelved because of reservations raised by Cabinet members, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed the petition for quo warranto with the Supreme Court. Does this mean that those reservations have been resolved? It’s possible. One of those Cabinet secretaries who publicly put a distance between himself and the OSG plan last month was Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. But yesterday, on the same day Calida filed his petition, Guevarra’s Department of Justice announced that sedition charges will be filed against former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and 10 others in the so-called “Bikoy” case. The timing seems suspect, raising the possibility of an orchestrated campaign against the administration’s perceived enemies. But even if the internal discord over how to handle the franchise of the giant ABS-CBN network has not been smoothed over, the Duterte playbook tells us that Mr. Duterte is quite content to have conflicting initiatives resolve themselves in the open.

Item 4. President Duterte’s stream-of-consciousness opining on the novel coronavirus scare, during the one time he joined in the discourse, was itself a disaster. It was a bizarre performance, detached from both science and on-the-ground reality. But then policy detail was never his strong suit. As his playbook will tell us, his approach to governance is shock and awe. He likes to make an example (or “sampol,” in ordinary language), as dramatically as possible. Unfortunately for the rest of the country, nCoV does not respond to shock and awe.

Item 5. This brings us back to his playful teasing of Go. He joked: “Wala pa atang sunog nandun ka na eh. Ikaw ata taga-sindi. Nauna ka pa doon sa bumbero. Wag masyadong sobrahan baka mahalata (I think even before the fire starts, you’re already there. I think you’re the one who lights the fire. You’re there ahead of the firemen. Don’t overdo it, or you’ll make it obvious).” Again, that the President himself mentions it makes it obvious, if it wasn’t already. But that wasn’t the point; neither is the admonition at the end: Don’t be too obvious. Rather, his joking is all about retail politics. He is saying: Look at my aide, going to calamities, staying up all night, commiserating with fire victims, being one with the people.

Straight from the mayor’s playbook.

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

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TAGS: ABS-CBN franchise, Antonio Trillanes IV, Bong Go, john Nery, Jose Calida, Newsstand, presidential elections, Rodrigo Duterte, sedition case
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