President Rodrigo Duterte stepping down? Hmm… Well, this is not the first time I heard him say he’s quitting. And how many times did he say he’s stepping down if he didn’t do what he promised to accomplish.
The first time he said he would step down was when he promised – nay, vowed – to end illegal drugs and criminality when he was campaigning for the presidency. He promised to kill more than 100,000 alleged criminals and dump their bodies in Manila Bay within six months of taking office. He promised that he would resign if he failed to do so.
Six months after he took office and about 3,000 drug pushers and users killed, he asked for an extension for another six months. He missed it again. And two years into his presidency, an opposition senator said the death toll in Duterte’s “war on drugs” has exceeded 20,000. Actually, there are more drugs on the streets today than there were at the start of his term in 2016.
On April 14, 2018, Duterte told the military and police during a command conference in Malacañang that he’s thinking of stepping down because he was tired. “I am not angry [with] anybody. My chase against graft and corruption seems to be endless, and it has contaminated almost all government departments and offices,” he said. The officers in uniform must have been shocked to hear him say he’s quitting. Just the day before, Duterte relieved a general and 20 other military officers for corruption. And the week before, he fired all board members of Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) over a “grossly disadvantageous” 70-year property lease contract.
He then asked the military and police to find his “right successor.” He said that Vice President Leni Robredo doesn’t have what it takes to lead. He added that he rejects Robredo as his successor even if the Constitution states that she would replace him if he steps down. He said he prefers a junta to lead the country, if he’s ousted by the military.
Evidently, Duterte wants to circumvent the Constitution, which mandates that the vice president take over the presidency in the event that the position becomes vacant.
But when he spoke before a group of broadcasters, Duterte changed his tune. He said that if a leader “like” Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero or former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. could assume the presidency, he would step down. He then said that he would not step down as long as Robredo remains vice president.
It is now apparent that Duterte’s plan would not be implemented for as long as Robredo is in power… except if the military and police intervene. But while Duterte had indicated that he preferred Bongbong Marcos or Chiz Escudero to succeed him, Duterte seems to be leaning more towards Bongbong, whom he had been grooming since he was inaugurated President. The problem is that he couldn’t wait for Bongbong to run and win the presidential election in 2022 in conformance with the Constitution. He wants it now buy any means! Is that why he needs the help of the military and the police?
For Bongbong to succeed Duterte, one of the following scenarios has to occur:
Scenario 1: Bongbong wins in his electoral recount petition and replaces Robredo as vice-president, which would then put him first in the presidential line of succession. This scenario would seem unlikely because of the length of time it would take to recount the votes for vice-presidential candidates Marcos and Robredo. The recount could take as long as six years… or even more. Take the case of Mar Roxas who lost to Jejomar Binay in the vice-presidential race in 2010. Roxas filed for a recount but it ended without a resolution when he ran for President in 2016. In the case of Bongbong’s recount petition, it would be co-terminus with the end of the presidential and vice-presidential terms on June 30, 2022.
Scenario 2: The Supreme Court removes Robredo by way of a “quo warranto” petition just like the way former Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno was removed. This scenario could be problematic. While a “quo warranto” petition was approved by a razor-thin 8-7 vote in the Supreme Court to oust Chief Justice Sereno, it might not apply in challenging the election of Vice President Robredo. The Constitution clearly mandates that the President and Vice President can only be removed by impeachment.
Scenario 3: Duterte declares martial law or revolutionary government; thus paving the way for Bongbong to take over the revolutionary government. This scenario could only be accomplished if the military and the police would support Duterte’s plan to declare martial law or revolutionary government. Bongbong could then rule indefinitely until a new constitution is adopted, which could take years to pass. Meanwhile, he would be in power indefinitely, which would remind us of his father and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos, who stayed in power for 21 years. It would be déjà vu all over again.
The question is: Why is Duterte in a hurry to step down to pave the way for Bongbong Marcos to assume the presidency? To answer this question, one has to realize that Duterte is having some health issues, which could curtail his ability to fulfill the demands of his office. He is also grappling with economic issues such as skyrocketing inflation, weakening of the Peso, anemic GDP, and increasing unemployment and underemployment. But the underlying reason is that Bongbong would presumably shield Duterte from prosecution for all the crimes he would be charged with once he’s out of power. But how could Bongbong protect him unless he’d follow his father’s footsteps; that is, exert dictatorial rule with an iron hand, which begs the question: Are the Filipino people ready and willing to relive the dark era of the Marcos dictatorship?
One has to look at what happened to “banana republics” where dictators ruled. Take the case of Myanmar (Burma), which was under military dictatorship for 49 years, from 1962 to 2011. It was one of the cruelest and repressive military regimes in modern times.
Another country that was under military rule is Indonesia. On March 12, 1967, Sukarno was stripped of his president-for-life title. On that same day, General Suharto was named acting president. He held the office for 31 years until he was forced to step down on May 21, 1998 after losing the support of the people. His regime was one of the most corrupt in Asia. He was believed to have accumulated billions of dollars during his reign.
And of course, Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorial rule is something that a lot of Filipinos won’t forget. Elected President in 1965, he declared martial law on September 23, 1972 with the strong support of the military, supposedly to stop the communists from taking over the government. He ruled for 21 years that ended on February 25, 1986 when a “People Power” Revolution ousted him from power. He went to exile in Hawaii with his family. After Marcos’ death on September 28, 1989, former President Fidel V. Ramos allowed the Marcoses to return home. Ironically, it was Ramos – together with Juan Ponce Enrile — who led the People Power Revolution.
Indeed, there never was a military rule that had stood the test of time. While they may have stayed in power for many years, ultimately, the people would remove them from power. Duterte should then know that following a path the Constitution allows and for the presidential line of succession to prevail is the right thing to do. However, Duterte is caught between a rock and a hard place. If he follows the constitutionally mandated presidential line of succession, there is no guarantee that Bongbong would win the presidency in a fair election in 2022. It is expected that there are several strong presidential candidates in 2022. It’s going to be a battle royale. If Bongbong decides not to run, there is no guarantee that Duterte will not end up in jail just like his predecessors Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
But right now, there is a strong effort to circumvent the presidential line of succession, which begs the question: Is a banana republic in the making?