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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Duterte stays on right side of history; he is not going away

First word
IN two major decisions this week, President Rodrigo Duterte made manifest that he is going to stay put on “the right side of history,” or at least, he will stay by our side. By Team Philippines, if you like.
Not for this leader is the iconic figure of the Marlboro cowboy, who rode off into the sunset. In real life, the icon was stricken by lung cancer (for guess what? smoking too much).
First, Duterte announced that he is not resigning from office, as he intimated in rambling remarks on Monday at the Palace.
Second, the President took his oath yesterday as a member of the Hukbong ng Pagbabago (HNP), the regional political party that his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, founded, and which is now busy forging alliances with other parties and leading politicians, in preparation for the political battles next year.
I am naturally pleased by these presidential decisions because they happen to coincide with certain policy moves that I have suggested in this column, and which I believe would go far in strengthening the presidency and the nation, and help to ensure this president’s legacy.
Policy suggestions for the President
In a recent column, “DU30 could end party row and Senate hedging with one bold move” (MT, July 31, 2018), I suggested that if the President wants to end 1) the confusion and quarrels within his majority coalition in Congress, or 2) shut down the senatorial hedging on his legislative agenda, he can achieve both in an instant with one strategic move.
He can do this by announcing to the nation that he intends to establish his own political party and coalition for the rising battles of his presidency: the battle for his legislative agenda and the battle for political supremacy in the elections next May.
More recently, I wrote in “Rather than quitting, Duterte should rally the nation to action,” (MT, August 16, 2018), that DU30 should not resign from office, because he has been in fact a success. He should take a leaf from the example of General Charles de Gaulle of France, by facing squarely our weak and ineffective party system and turning his thoughts toward winning the case or argument for reform in the country. He should rally and win the people behind his program of reform.
Stampede to join Hukbong Pagbabago
When I first broached the idea of a Duterte political party, there was only a murmur of interest in it. Today there is a mad rush to join the party.
After yesterday’s dramatic developments, when President Duterte himself took his oath as a member of HNP, there will be a political stampede.
Duterte is the chairman of the PDP-Laban, the supposed party of administration, yet here we find him swearing allegiance to another party. What happens now to PDP-Laban?
PDP-Laban will retreat to where it has always been — in the uncertain and confused leadership of two former leaders of Congress, former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd and former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. Although they had the big party titles, neither had an idea about how to grow and strengthen the party while they were in power. They will be even more confused now — like groggy boxers who cannot find their corner in the ring, after taking too many hard punches.
The problem with the Pimentel-Alvarez leadership and the PDP-Laban ascendancy was that they were premised wholly on the preeminence and prior claims of Mindanao politicians. They did not rise from the soul and aspirations of a true national political party, least of all from their known abilities as leaders.
Now, PDP-Laban is being surpassed and displaced by a party with a true national following, and possibly a more attractive political platform.
Hukbong was registered only as a regional party, but now in a flash it has become a real national political party, with a possible base in practically every corner of the archipelago.
Like the other parties that have sought an alliance with HNP, PDP-Laban will likely also join HNP.
Duterte will not take over the party from Sara, but rather let the party process play out. He will watch it evolve naturally as a national party that can contest the 2019 elections energetically. He will watch how the Liberal Party and the other opposition parties will regroup and what they will do to strengthen their forces.
I suggested in my July column the outlines of a party that could espouse the politics of a new generation — the new generations of the political families, and the vastly more numerous millennials.
Political dynasty is neither inevitable nor eternal in the Philippines. It too will pass.
Will Caguioa double down vs Marcos
President Duterte was probably mistaken to declare that he would be willing to resign if Bongbong Marcos wins his election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo. This could slow down even more the sluggish work of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal in the vote recount. Justice Alfredo Caguioa could double down on his efforts to frustrate or derail a Marcos victory. Mrs. Caguioa will turn catatonic in whispering instructions to her husband.
How did Noynoy Aquino acquire such slavish loyalty from a justice of the land? Can you imagine anyone being helped by this self-centered character helping a classmate in his studies. I can‘t.
The Supreme Court en banc must take notice of and correct what is going on in the recount. The antics of one justice must not stop the truth from coming out.
If he persists, he should be removed by the court, or suffer the fate of Sereno.
Right side of history
It is with some hesitation that I suggest that Duterte’s decision to stay put in the presidency is a way to place himself on “the right side of history.”
It is tempting to say so. But in truth, history takes no sides.
During his presidency, Barack Obama evinced a keen fascination with history. He repeatedly deployed a series of phrases — especially “the right side of history” and “the wrong side of history” — that suggested a tortured, idealistic, and ultimately untenable vision of what history is and how it works.
During one address on terrorism, Obama said: “My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.” It’s a phrase Obama loved: He used it 15 times, in debates; at synagogues; in weekly radio addresses; at fundraisers. Obama was almost as fond of its converse, “the wrong side of history,” which he used 13 times; staffers and press secretaries have invoked it a further 16.
David Graham of the Atlantic has commented: ”The problem with this kind of thinking is that it imputes an agency to history that doesn’t exist. Worse, it assumes that progress is unidirectional. But history is not a moral force in and of itself, and it has no set course.”
The total result of this method is to impose a certain form upon the whole historical story, and to produce a scheme of general history which is bound to converge beautifully upon the present.
Viewing history from the standpoint of the present not only misrepresents the complexity of events, but also risks framing history as a natural progression wherein humans improved over time, going from darker, less intelligent and moral times to an ever-improving present.
Viewing events in our country today, we must take care to avoid assigning set patterns and significance to historical events and episodes, far beyond than what they signified. This is why EDSA I went berserk.
To conclude, I will submit that President Duterte is indubitably right not to give in to his moods about resigning office. He still has work to do for people and country. He clearly deserves support for his program of reform.
By staying on course, he is surely right to pursue his vision. How will history judge his presidency? Only time will tell.


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