The farce is strong
How many times has President Duterte bellowed out his grand aria of sheer disinterest in power — of being sick and tired of it all, and not staying a minute longer in his post once his term is over?
Here’s a vintage rendition, from a speech in February 2018, barely two years into his presidency: “I am old. I have no more ambition. I really would like to rest.” The then 72-year-old chief executive also declared: “I will step down by 2020, I will not wait for 2022.”
In June 2019, a reprise: “I’m sick and tired of the system… I lost my enthusiasm to work. Actually, I deeply regretted it. I regretted my decision to run for president.”
And, in January this year, an encore, if you will, in response to talk that moves by his allies in Congress to amend the 1987 Constitution were designed to give him a term extension: “Maski ibigay mo sa akin in a silver platter, maski ibigay mo sa akin libre another 10 years, sabihin ko sa iyo, p—ina mo, iyo na lang ‘yan. Tapos na ako.”
He’s done. Loud and clear. This is not counting the many other times the President has threatened to resign for various, wildly divergent reasons. The rough count is 14 so far, ranging from the possible failure of his signature anti-drug war (“I simply cannot accept it. And if I cannot control drugs then maybe it is time for me to think about resignation,” Nov. 2017), to his frustration over corruption (“I want you to know that I am thinking of stepping down because I am tired… My chase against graft and corruption seems to be endless and it has contaminated all government departments and offices,” Aug. 2018), to welcoming a military coup (“All you have to do if you do not like me, do not bring your weapons and mechanized armor there. Just call me and we’ll have coffee and I am ready to say, ‘It’s yours for the taking,’” July 2019), to dissuading his son Paolo Duterte from vying for the House speakership (“If you run for speakership, let me know. Kasi kung tatakbo ka, magre-resign ako,” May 2019. And for good measure: “Kasi marami na tayo. Nandyan na ang kapatid mo na mayor. So uneasy”), to dismissing allegations that he had a hand in the ouster of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno (“If there’s one congresswoman or congressman or a single justice who will say I talked to them, I can guarantee you, I will resign,” May 2018).
Mr. Duterte even promised to step down if any person could prove to him the existence of God—via a selfie (“One single witness that there is a guy, a human being who was able to talk to see God… I just need one. And if there is one, ladies and gentlemen, I will announce my resignation immediately,” July 2018).
Despite, however, the bluntness and conviction in the President’s repeated disavowals of staying in power, perhaps his words above were in fact to be read differently, especially by people wise to the cues and signals in his rhetoric? That, in the end, such statements were no more serious than his campaign promise to jet ski to the Spratlys to defend the Philippines’ claims against China’s aggression—“campaign bravado,” in his own words? How else to explain what transpired recently, when his very own Partido Demokratiko
Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) passed a resolution this week “urging” their party president — Mr. Duterte — to run as Vice President in next year’s election, in effect dismissing the incessant protestations of their leader that he’s bone-weary and wants to rest after Malacañang? Ah, but the country needs him, and will certainly benefit from “the wisdom and experience that the President has gained in his entire political career” and “the guidance he can offer” the next elected President, as Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles rationalized in a TV interview.
Not only was Mr. Duterte, the sitting president, essentially drafted as the vice presidential candidate by his own party. For the first time in the country’s political history, a putative VP candidate has been given carte blanche to choose his own running mate. The party assembly in Cebu was organized by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, PDP-Laban vice chair—at the behest of Mr. Duterte himself, and against the strenuous objections of party chair Sen. Manny Pacquiao, whose own moist-eyed gaze for the Palace was unceremoniously ignored. Pity the boxing champ: This is politics at its basest and most farcical—no permanent friends, foes, or ground rules, only permanent interests. Five years back, Mr. Duterte had raised Pacquiao’s hand, declaring him “the next President of the Philippines.” Today, the senator stands betrayed by both his party and the political godfather he had slavishly served and protected.
Is the President seeking public office anew? He was “leav(ing) it to God,” intoned presidential mouthpiece Harry Roque, quoting his boss. If that divine anointment does come, perhaps the people should also demand a selfie as proof?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.