Duterte, undressed

President Duterte’s zealous obsession to get back at his staunchest critic, Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes IV, reminds me of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

The story tells of an emperor who loved wearing new clothes, the grandest that his people’s money could buy. He didn’t care about any official duty that an emperor is supposed to do, except to ride in his carriage to show off his new clothes.  In fact, he had a coat for every hour of the day.

One day, two swindlers visited the empire, posing as weavers of the most magnificent fabrics imaginable. They were able to convince the emperor that the colorful and high-quality fabrics they would weave for him could be made into clothes that would become invisible to those who were incompetent or stupid.

The emperor fell for the ruse, and paid the swindlers a handsome sum to create such an outstanding cloth. The foolish emperor thought that he could use the fabric to ferret out who among his subjects were unworthy and foolish. The swindlers of course delivered an invisible cloth. Afraid that they would be thought stupid and unfit for office, the emperor and his advisers declared the fabric “stunning.” The weavers were then tasked to make new clothes for the emperor out of the invisible fabric.

A parade was organized to flaunt the emperor’s “freshly minted” trouser, coat and mantle. The people heard beforehand what would befall them should they not be able to see the emperor’s new clothes. They offered the emperor thunderous applause and praise, until one little boy in the crowd exclaimed: “But the emperor has no clothes!”

Get the drift? Solicitor General Jose C. Calida could have been the “swindler” who did the research to support Duterte’s Proclamation 572, which voided the amnesty granted to Trillanes “ab initio.” Duterte’s own words were: “When the SolGen says there’s something wrong and that this has to be corrected, I cannot refuse.”

Calida’s critics suspect that the voiding of Trillanes’s amnesty was meant as a preemptive move. Calida has been accused of conflict of interest for cornering more than P300 million in government contracts. He was scheduled to appear at the Senate on the day Duterte ordered Trillanes’s arrest.

On the other hand, Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, Malacañang Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr., Justice Secretary  Menardo I. Guevarra and die-hard Duterte supporters could be likened to the people in Andersen’s tale who joyously cheered on the foolish emperor. Trillanes, meanwhile, could be the boy who saw the Emperor’s “stark nakedness.”

In the tumultuous events of the past week, we’ve seen how Duterte has given Trillanes a potent platform to undress him. The media-savvy senator has taken advantage of the stage given him to unmask Duterte for what he really is: a dictatorial, fumbling, incoherent, whimsical leader whose level of governance is only good, as Trillanes said, for a barangay post. Of course, the people have already experienced Duterte’s style of governance. He’s now being asked to account for each of his many campaign promises that have remained just that. The Trillanes caper merely served as a bold exclamation point.

In his two years as president, Duterte can only boast of killing people who are “suspected” of being involved in illegal drugs. Never in our history as a democratic nation have killings become an accomplishment! Death toll estimates vary. News organizations have it at 12,000; Philippine National Police records placed it at 7,000, and the government claimed 4,200 have been killed as of April 30, 2018. Human-rights advocates have recorded at least 12,000 deaths as of January 2018. Opposition senators claimed that the death toll is over 20,000 to date.

One wonders why the President expends his political capital going after his critics, while the majority of the people he has sworn to serve are living a practically hand-to-mouth existence. The long queue for rice ration, shown in photos published in traditional and online media, was unimaginable two years ago. Prices of goods have risen dramatically, beyond the poor’s buying capacity.

The problem is self-inflicted. Rice shortage due to the incompetence of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Food Authority (NFA) is a key driver of inflation, which now stands at 6.6 percent, the highest in nine years.

Yet, Duterte’s attention is preoccupied with unprovoked tirades against Vice President Leni Robredo, whom he has belittled to be unfitting to be his successor. He has expressed preference for either defeated vice presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos or Sen. Chiz Escudero to replace him once he steps down. Again, Duterte’s thinking exposes his tendency to do away with Constitutional processes, in the same way that former chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno was unceremoniously booted out of office on an unorthodox quo warranto petition filed by SolGen Calida. Sen. Leila M. de Lima was jailed on what she claimed were trumped-up drug charges against her.

Have these acts made life better for Filipinos? The numbers do not lie. There are many factors why inflation has gone up, but I’d rather zero in on the escalating food crisis. At the outset, the government denied that there was a problem, and Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol even comically had for lunch weevil-infested rice—a cheap publicity stunt that does not justify the clumsy policies of the NFA. What he should worry about as agriculture secretary is that some regions just last month had experienced double-digit rice-inflation rates. Government figures show that the condition is calamitous in Bicol, which did not only have the highest regional inflation rate at 9 percent, but also the highest inflation rate on rice  at 12.5 percent. Vegetables prices also rose by 19.2 percent; corn, 12.6 percent; fish, 12.4 percent and sugary goods, 9.1 percent.

The peso is also not doing well. The local currency ended Tuesday’s trading session at P53.91—its lowest level since December 2005. This was also a precipitous decline in the region. At the same time, the local stock barometer skidded down to the 7,518.01 level also on Tuesday as investors braced for further local monetary tightening amid rising inflation. And what is the government’s answer to all these?  Arrest Trillanes!

Calida’s ab initio argument is woven around official gobbledygook that even legal luminaries, including the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, find absurd, with some lawyers even viewing it as laughable. And yet the Supreme Court, from which Trillanes sought relief through a temporary restraining order, decided to toss the case back to the Makati Regional Trial Court.

Why we are in this mess is partly because of either our apathy or cowardice. Don’t look at the “honorable” magistrates. They are not the only ones who couldn’t find the courage to say with conviction that “the emperor has no clothes!”


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