President Duterte has been shouting himself hoarse, insisting at every opportunity that he’s ready to step down as early as next year to pave the way for the shift to federalism.
He may have to shout a bit more, to drown out the noise of skeptics who think the administration and its allies are plotting a fast break, through the federal charter, for a presidential reelection and term extensions all around.
Duterte’s detractors note that he has promised to step down if someone would show him proof that God exists. This is not inconsistent with his avowed readiness to quit. But his critics point out that producing a selfie with God would take an eternity – which is how long Duterte actually wants to hold on to power.
While such observations are made chiefly in jest, inconsistent statements from certain officials and various players in the latest Charter change effort are reinforcing suspicions that federalism is in truth meant to keep Duterte in power beyond 2022.
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Yesterday, for example, retired chief justice Reynato Puno, who chairs the consultative committee that drafted the federal charter, said the Concom, upon the President’s “special request,” would revise the transitory provisions and ban him from seeking reelection. But all other incumbent elective officials from Vice President Leni Robredo down can run again.
So what was that clarification by professor Julio Teehankee, given last Friday evening, that he “misspoke” and that Duterte actually could not run again under the federal charter?
Teehankee issued the clarification two nights after he told us on “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News channel that Duterte could run again after 2022 under the federal charter, and seek reelection in 2026, for a total of eight more years in power.
But because the clarification was made so belatedly, it fueled speculation that Teehankee had simply received a scolding for talking too much, and he was tasked to conduct damage control.
People also wondered how the person who chairs the Concom subcommittee on political matters, who brought a copy of the draft charter to The Chiefs, could make a mistake on such an important fundamental item tackled by his panel.
Puno did not issue any “clarification” on the issue. Yesterday, after the Concom had submitted the proposed charter to Duterte at Malacañang, Puno effectively confirmed that Teehankee got it right the first time. The reelection provision would be deleted from the transitory provisions, but only for this President, Puno said. So what was Teehankee’s clarification all about?
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It hasn’t helped that Duterte has a history of changing his mind at the eleventh hour on major issues, including his running for president. If a reelection provision could be sneaked into a federal charter, would he run again?
Regardless of the honest answer to that question, senators – with the exception of a few Duterte diehards – appear bent on dropping Charter change at this time. It remains to be seen whether they can stop the super majority in the House of Representatives from rendering the Senate irrelevant and imposing joint voting on the federal charter.
The senators can then take their case to the people, who will have the final say on any attempt to tinker with the Constitution. At the rate questions are being raised regarding certain key proposals in the federal charter, Cha-cha might even succeed in unifying and strengthening the opposition.
Currently leaderless and weakened by corruption scandals imputed on the daang matuwid administration, a new opposition could emerge, presenting an alternative to both the current and previous political groupings.
Yesterday, Robredo, responding to a question, indicated she was ready to step up to the plate, becoming at last a leader of the opposition, and not just because of her membership in the now minority Liberal Party.
Robredo, however, has also blown hot and cold in this role. Leading the political opposition can be tricky for a vice president, who is the constitutional successor in case of the president’s incapacity or demise. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she was vice president also dutifully kept her mouth shut – at least in public – as corruption scandals doomed the presidency of Joseph Estrada, whom she served as social welfare secretary.
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The qualifications of his constitutional successor GMA increased the temptation for Estrada’s ouster, either through impeachment or people power.
Duterte faces a similar situation with Robredo. Yesterday he said he would not step down just to make way for Robredo’s takeover. This contradicted his previous pronouncements that he was not threatened by the possibility that his vice president might take his place. Duterte has often said that Robredo could have his job any time, prompting her to remark yesterday that his mandate is not his to give away.
“I’m a great believer in God and destiny,” Duterte said yesterday. Of course anyone with his career trajectory has to believe in God and destiny.
He also seems to be a believer, like most politicians in this country, in surveys. And according to the second quarter survey of Social Weather Stations Inc. (SWS), his net satisfaction rating has dropped below 50 from “very good” to “good” for the first time.
Duterte’s ratings have been on a consistent slide, from the dizzyingly high 80s to 90s when he assumed office to the 65 percent satisfied and 20 percent dissatisfied, for a net rating of +45, in the SWS poll from June 27 to 30.
He suffered his steepest drop in densely populated, vote-rich Metro Manila, falling by 20 points from a net +54 in March to +34, or from 72 percent to just 59 percent satisfied, with the dissatisfied growing from 18 percent to 25.
This is bad news for prospective administration candidates as the midterm elections approach.
It also poses potential problems for Duterte’s push for federalism – already a tough sell even at the height of his popularity – and the other difficult measures that his administration is trying to shepherd through the legislative gauntlet and the court of public opinion, such as the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
His falling ratings may make it easier for Duterte to give up power. As his popularity slips, however, governance will also be tougher along with his reform agenda. Including Cha-cha and the shift to federalism.
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