AS THOUGH she wanted as few witnesses to it as possible, Congress’ proclamation of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as president-elect was made in the dead of night, actually in the wee hours of the morning, of June 24, 2004. She and her incoming vice president, Noli de Castro, were proclaimed at 3:35 a.m.; they exchanged a buss, a number of their supporters in the gallery broke out in a cheer, and then it was over. As the day wore on, citizens were surprised by news of what had occurred while they slept. Speaking to the Inquirer, a housewife wondered: “How did it happen at that unholy hour? It was never like that in the past.”
In contrast, Congress proclaimed Benigno Aquino III and Jejomar Binay as incoming president and vice president in broad daylight on June 9, 2010, attended by their kith and kin, with raucous applause from the gallery at the session hall and a nation tuned in to the proceedings. No hiding there, no suggestion of stealth, as Arroyo’s “midnight proclamation” in 2004 conveyed. Before the formal proclamation, lawmakers took turns delivering speeches. At one point in his speech, a deadpan Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said he had insisted that the election winners be proclaimed with the benefit of daylight, to allow the winners’ faces, especially that of the dusky Binay, to be clearly seen. (Filipinos laugh even at the most politically incorrect jokes.) Joseph Estrada, the also-ran in the presidential race, sent a statement conceding defeat and extending “unqualified support to the new president with both hope and prayers he will serve our country faithfully and will perform his duties honorably without fear or favor.” Estrada’s statement was read by his son, then Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada.
In this trip down memory lane, one common factor stands out among many: The winners of the two highest posts of the land were in full realization of the importance of the ceremony and therefore embraced their proclamation as president and vice president. Arroyo may have been embarrassed at being proclaimed winner by more than a million votes over her nearest rival Fernando Poe Jr.—a margin that she was heard stipulating in the “Hello, Garci” tape—but she came to witness herself thus formally named. President Aquino was present to claim his destiny, as was Vice President Binay, who, as Pimentel pointed out, notched a “very remarkable win over well-heeled and well-known rivals…”
The proclamation of president and vice president is thus a moment of great significance in this democratic space, which had been so passionately wrested from Ferdinand Marcos’ long dictatorship. The ceremony—for ceremony it is—is not merely a swearing in of political lemmings bellying up to the banquet table of a new ruling party, or a proclamation of a city mayor beloved by his constituents and embarking on yet another term.
Think how potently, how vigorously, Rodrigo Duterte would have projected himself and his claim of a unifying administration had he momentarily torn himself away from his city yesterday to attend his proclamation in Congress as the duly elected 16th president of the Philippines. Here is your president, he would have wordlessly declared to the nation at large, and not only to the 16 million Filipinos who voted for him. Here is the man, the nation would have been told in so many unsaid words, your hard-nosed, tough-talking, rough-hewn leader who will wipe drug traffickers and other criminals off the face of the earth and who will boldly unsnarl the traffic nightmare—and that’s just for starters.
Thus would he have boldly taken upon himself the powerful symbol of leadership and formally grasped victory in his hands. (As Vice President-elect Leni Robredo, by her presence, did.) His posse would have been so pleased.
But, inexplicably, he let the moment pass, allowing the leaders and members of Congress to go through the motions, to call out his name and proclaim… an invisible man. Does this not suggest a certain flippant attitude toward, if not a disrespect to, the institution of the presidency?
Duterte sought—albeit willy-nilly at first—this position of power, went through the drill, worked the campaign trail. And then, at the moment of truth, he was a no-show.
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