Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is on a rampage. First, it was Vice President Leni Robredo who got the Speaker’s goat when she went to the United Nations and criticized President Rody Duterte’s drug campaign and the resultant scores of extra judicial killings (EJK). Alvarez threatened to impeach her but relented after the president objected to it and when the VP started “behaving” – meaning stopped criticizing the president. But he made crystal clear he could still go after her.
Now he has gone after the COMELEC Chairman Andy Bautista and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Maria Lourdes Sereno. Although the president wants Ombudsman Morales impeached too along with Sereno, the Speaker wants to bide his time in going after her. “I don’t work for the president,” he bragged.
What’s going on here? Going after impeachable officials like it is going out of style! Mind you, there was an impeachment complaint against the president not too long ago but that was trashed pronto. Something sinister is afoot and the Filipino people seem complicit or just plain indifferent.
The Speaker is clearly using his position to threaten officials into submission. So far, he succeeded in forcing Bautista to resign. Abuse of power is so evident in Bautista’s case. First, the Justice Committee who is charged with the determining the form and substance found the impeachment complaint defective and overwhelmingly voted to thrash it. But Alvarez was miffed that Bautista did not resign immediately and offered instead to resign at the end of the year to allow the president to find a replacement for him and ensure a proper turnover. Alvarez will have none of that and gave Bautista until 4 pm the other day to resign immediately or be impeached. Congress then convened to set aside the committee vote and voted to impeach Bautista.
Everyone knows that impeachment is a numbers game but never has it been displayed so blatantly. Alvarez overt display of power was clearly trained at the Chief Justice who the Speaker warned, “Resign or be impeached!” This is insane; if not downright criminal for the Speaker to publicly threaten these high officials. This is such a grave abuse of power and senior government officials and many legislators are abdicating on their duties to protect democracy.
The Philippines is clearly headed to become a banana republic with the president moving heaven and earth to bastardize the independent pillars of a democratic state. He is miffed because the Ombudsman found merit in investigating the president based on Senator Sonny Trillanes accusations that the president is corrupt and has engaged in EJKs and amassed ill-gotten wealth. He denies the accusations and defended his “inheritance.” During the campaign Duterte claimed he was from a poor family but now claims that he already inherited a million while he was still in college. He then fooled the country by making up stories about Trillanes offshore accounts, only to admit they were lies when the senator went to Singapore and got a denial from the purported bank.
Long before that, Senator Leila de Lima was persecuted and eventually jailed for what she claimed as “trumped up” charges. Indeed, no evidence was presented except for testimonies from drug lords currently serving time in Muntilupa. To do this, the president has himself abused power by unleashing the power of the presidency with the subservience of the Secretary of Justice and the Solicitor General. With Duterte having the luck of packing the Supreme Court during his term, an uncooperative Chief Justice will be a hindrance to his madman plans.
The opposition are aghast at what has transpired but powerless to do anything. The PDP-Laban Party of the most powerful triumvirate in government: Duterte, Senate President Koko Pimentel and Speaker Alvarez are consolidating and expanding the party by raiding other parties. Recently, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and two former cabinet officials joined the party and abandoned their own clearly to stay in power. Others will follow suit given the deadline given by the Speaker to switch parties is effective at end of November. There will be a rush for oath takings in the weeks to come.
When Senator Pimentel named the other day the six PDP Laban senatorial candidates for next year’s election, Alvarez wanted a full list completed while publicly claiming he wants to stay Speaker. He was joined by Congressman Rodolfo Farinas who also wants to stay in the Lower House. Both men hold powerful positions in the House of Representatives and could do the most damage by staying in their respective positions – not in the senate.
In other democracies, the Speaker would already be facing an investigation, if not charges, for abuse of power. But in the Philippines where the populace are giving a pass to Duterte’s extra judicial purge through Operation Tokhang and implemented by willing participants from the Philippine National Police (PNP), there is no impediment to the president’s mad policies and plans. The Catholic Church is finally getting into the act but the Filipino people and the military are still outside the fences and not sure if they are even looking.
There are talks of destabilization involving some in the military, some legislators, the Left, and the Liberal Party but everybody is denying the charge and there are no clear indications that it is indeed happening. At worst is that this could be the handiwork of Duterte’s henchmen out to justify what they are doing or intend to do.
The United States under President Donald Trump will not lift a finger to do something about it. He admires Duterte and being friendly with the soon to be dictator is in his best interest and the US. The Duterte administrations dereliction of duty with regards to China’s militarization of the South China Sea is something that the US military is watching closely and albeit being addressed covertly. A friendly Duterte could finally make EDCA work to protect the US interest in the region. Asia is the next flashpoint and the Americans know it. China’s overreach and North Korea becoming a nuclear state are two most pressing developments in the region today.
Survival of Philippine democracy is currently being tested in the crucible of time. Speaker Alvarez has proven Abraham Lincoln’s admonition to be correct when he said that the real test of a man’s character is what he does with the power given him. Alvarez has no pretentions as to their naked ambitions of holding power in perpetuity. But to get there and stay there, their own people must be in place to ensure they are insulated from future legal questions. But even the best laid plans of mice and men can go awry. Filipino people beware!