TO be called a lame duck president is the unkindest description ever given to a sitting president. He remains in power but his days in office are numbered since he will be replaced by a successor who has been elected or soon to be elected. Becoming a lame duck is the common destiny of all presidents during their dwindling days in office while waiting for their duly elected successor to be inaugurated and assume power.
It must be a terrible period for someone who once held all the powers in the world and occupied the center of the universe to be stripped of his position, privilege and pelf. How does a president spend his waning days in office? In his book, “Pitiful Giants: Presidents in Their Final Terms”, author Daniel Franklin said: “Lame duck periods for presidents are typically sad times, full of nostalgia and reflection. They are particularly difficult when the opposing party wins the election.”
Many lame ducks are content to perform merely perfunctory functions, quietly carrying out administrative duties devoid of any policy initiatives, which they reserve for their successor. In more ways, the incumbent president is more concerned with setting the orderly transition of power in favor of the incoming president. It’s definitely not the time to initiate bold policy measures prior to his departure from Malacañang.
However, some presidents continue to work hard and pursue their agenda until they turn Malacañang over to its new tenant. For instance, I don’t think President Carlos P. Garcia or President Cory Aquino slowed down during their pre-departure from the palace by the Pasig River. They might have different motivations for their actions. One might be driven by his perverted design to undermine the next administration while the other to sublimely protect her legacy encouraged by a friendly successor who took over her place.
Others don’t take losing their position in good spirit and even create chaos before leaving. One example is the case of former US President Donald J.Trump who was even impeached after losing his re-election bid. Some lame ducks try to subvert their successor’s agenda, particularly when the latter belongs to the opposite party, by enacting pieces of legislation that would be detrimental to the incoming administration. While others make midnight appointments by naming their loyal political lieutenants to powerful and sensitive posts before they turn over the key to the gates of Malacañang.
Normally, the outgoing president’s behavior during the dying days of his term depends on whether what will ensue is a friendly or hostile takeover of government.
President Duterte will soon become a lame duck President, if he is not yet now. Some political pundits see some early signs of his declining influence and power. Others observe that he no longer commands the same level of respect among his followers. His signature swearing and cursing, which he interspersed in his speeches, once instilled awe and trepidation among his political opponents. Now, they have lost their sting.
Senator Dick Gordon disrespects him every time he issues indecent and unpresidential remarks. Even his own political ally, Senator Imee Marcos, has shown President Duterte the gumption on how to deal with alleged corruption and joined forces with the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in pursuing the Pharmally investigation. This was unthinkable in the early days of the President’s rule. Instead of meeting the investigation head-on without fear or evasion, President Duterte has banned his cabinet officials from attending the hearing. His overwhelming supporters in the Senate are hardly heard to defend the administration in this alleged “mother of all plunders”. In the past, even the presidential son, now Representative Pulong Duterte, had appeared in the congressional hearing with much bravado and blunted every maneuvering of his accusers. Now, President Duterte’s protégés in the Senate have failed to protect the President and his accused allies “in aid of the administration”. Most importantly, President Duterte dismally failed to put up credible and viable candidates for president and vice president in the forthcoming elections despite all the powers and resources of his office. He has forfeited his right to be the kingmaker and to call the shots in the next presidential election. He may be relegated to the background and end up playing second fiddle to the likes of presidential aspirants Bongbong Marcos, Isko Moreno or Manny Pacquiao. And you know you’ve joined the lame duck club when your endorsement no longer carries the weight and the clout of your powerful office.
What kind of lame duck president will President Duterte be during his final weeks or months in office? Although he has yet to announce his preferred presidential bet, will he prepare for an orderly transition of power if his anointed candidate wins? But what if his nemesis emerges victorious at the polls? Will he not roll out the red carpet in Malacanang? Will he engage in political sabotage to create imbalance to the new administration? However, this early some political pundits have now seen some early telltale signs of his lame duck presidency. Some observe that he no longer commands the same level of influence over other politicians, whereas before his every word captures their attention. Powerful politicians and business personalities no longer gravitate to him like flies unlike yesterday. His flip-flopping decisions whether to run for a public office or not has seriously impaired his credibility. His loyal followers around the country who had chosen to align with him politically and run under the PDP-Laban banner do not even have a presidential bet.
But everything’s not lost on President Duterte whom I have faithfully served during the first two years and four months of his presidency. If he genuinely cares for his legacy, he should use his remaining 188 days in Malacañang to improve the lot of his countrymen. It’s not yet too late to address the menace of the pandemic, the horrors of the drug war, the ravaged economy and the disastrous impact of climate change. He can devote his dwindling time to deliver his unfulfilled promises. There are some easy hanging fruits that he can still achieve with little chance of failure. He can still pass much needed legislation, which will leave a lasting imprint on our people’s minds and hearts. He can expand social services and protection to help our depressed people weather the vicissitudes of life. President Duterte is a strong-willed leader and for the last time he can press his team to undertake and pursue initiatives that have been languishing in the doldrums during the first five and a half years of his presidency. And I don’t mean embarking on a foreign trip, granting pardons or mending political fences to ensure the victory of his chosen candidate. Holding clean and honest elections in 2022 under the aegis of his administration will be a proud moment of his presidency. He should rise above partisan politics. His performance at this critical juncture of his presidency will spell the difference, whether he will go down in history as a statesman or a demagogue. It’s your call, Mr. President!