By Mauro Gia Samonte | The Manila Times
There is no denying that President Duterte has succeeded in lifting the country from the sorry state he found it in at the beginning of his term. Now that his term is ending, the urgent question that he must be facing is how to sustain well into the next administration the enormous gains he has achieved for the country. The term limit imposed by the Constitution for president actually makes for one of acute maladies of the Philippine political system. Before the Cory Constitution of 1987, what was in place was the 1973 Constitution, which replaced the martial law rule, and before this, the 1935 Constitution under which the military regime of President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., beginning 1972, was established. This Constitution provides for a four-year term of office of the president with reelection but for a period not exceeding eight years; hence only one reelection. When the 1973 Constitution came into place, that term limit was fixed at six years without reelection. Such term limit was arrived at as a compromise thus: four years is too short for a good president whereas eight years is too long for a bad one. The fallacy in this criterion is that governments are not judged on whether a president is good or bad, but on what programs beneficial to the people he has crafted and dutifully implemented. If this were to be the guidepost for choosing a president, the elements of "goodness" or "badness" don't figure. Rather of paramount importance is that he is in the best position to continue the work of good government begun earlier than his term or even way back from his term.
For all practical considerations, even six years is too short for government programs whose full fruition is realizable only over time much beyond the constitutionally mandated presidential term. This is the case of the many economic development programs initiated by the Duterte administration.
Even six years has proven not enough for those programs to be completed and accrue benefits to the people. Under a political system where partisan interests is the rule, vindictiveness by a victorious opposition almost always overrides national interest that has been made inherent in the programs of the losing incumbent administration. Under the guise of crafting a new set of government programs, the victors in elections summarily set aside the ones already begun by the previous administration to the utter detriment of the people. A classic case in this regard is the nuclear power plant built by President Ferdinand E. Marcos during the martial law regime. That plant would have solved as early as then the exorbitantly high cost of electricity. But a typically vindictive usurper of political power, Ninoy's widow Cory, ordered the closure of the plant upon assumption of the presidency in EDSA 1, Among the first acts of the usurper was, together with the release pronto of Communist Party of the Philippines Chairman Jose Maria Sison, the return of Meralco to the Lopezes gratis et amore. Clearly from this example, we see how in the hands of the callously evil, the presidency can be manipulated to favor only personal interests.
Such is the dilemma which President Duterte must be grappling with now that the campaign for the 2022 elections has gone fever-pitch. Who to bequeath the presidency to?
Electing a President in this instance is not just a mere exercise of one's right to suffrage; it is, above all, making sure that he who emerges President will continue the government programs of President Duterte, programs which after all have all proven to be to the best interests of the people.
In an article titled "Into The Storm" (Decisive Point, The Manila Times, Nov. 26, 2021), retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. tackled the question in the reverse. That is, instead of asking who will continue President Duterte's programs, he placed the issue thus:
"PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) showed the people how a good servant leader should be. He genuinely brought change in governance, except for a few major issues which he wasn't able to address during his term. I will not belabor what those issues are, but suffice it to say that people know. They are not stupid. It is not a perfect government; far from it. And many of the reforms he brought to his bureaucracy have to be sustained for another six years. Sadly, only another good leader like him can deliver them.
So, who cannot deliver them?
"A politician with credibility issues.
"An opposition leader will not ensure the continuity of the sitting government, especially those who have always been vindictive given their political affiliation and upbringing.
"An opposition leader colluding with the communists will make sure the NTF-Elcac programs will be terminated, or even work for the disbandment of the national task force.
"An opposition leader hurt by the anti-drug campaign will most likely revive the network of this menace that has destroyed our families.
"The politicians who have accepted huge amounts of contributions from the oligarchs.
"The politicians involved directly and indirectly, in smuggling rice, sugar, drugs and POGO players into the country will not work for the shutdown of these illegal activities.
"A weakling who cannot stand on his own feet cannot sustain the gains achieved. A politician trained in the square ring cannot convert brute force into economic or intellectual capital. A politician who does not understand geopolitics will not be prepared to meet these challenges with the pandemic and rebalance between superpowers in our midst.
"We live in this realist world, surrounded by realist leaders. This is the 21st century, and we need a strong leader and statesman, working in tandem with a wing lady equally competent to continue the fight beyond the presidential term.
"Again, the people are not stupid. They know who these corrupt politicians are and they know they will not put food on the table. Today they know what kind of leader they want and who cannot be. They will only see two 'presidentiables' standing at the end of this race, and I am not sure if both will be politicians.
"And if their candidate doesn't have the wherewithal to finish the race? The people shall make up for it. And you may ask: What about the Comelec?
This conclusion is ominous. It portends of things to come as indicated by current transpirations in the contest for President. Bongbong Marcos, in tandem with Sara Duterte-Carpio, continues to generate massive strong support from the electorate, but at the same time, petitions for his disqualification from the race seem to sprout daily. What happens if he is disqualified?
Political analysts see mayhem. On the other hand, Leni is suddenly faced with criminal suits, one of which is enough to render her similarly disqualified. She won't allow it, for sure, and if it is true that she is actually the "chosen one" of the United States, her conviction by the court could prove the one "single spark" — like the mass walkout of election canvassers in the snap presidential elections of 1986 — to start a "prairie fire" the likes of EDSA 1. All the same, mayhem.
President Duterte's term has still got a way to go long enough for either of the above omens to come true. In the end, how he rides the portended storms would prove the ultimate measure of his true legacy to the nation.