UNITED States President Donald Trump, I think, is not one to micro-manage, so what his subalterns say could virtually end up reflecting his administration’s policy. In this context, what the US Intelligence Community, which is composed of 17 spy agencies, say about the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte could end up as the official assessment of governance in the Philippines.
For a while, I wondered how the US under Trump really views the Duterte presidency. Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was forthright: he was openly critical of the human rights situation in the Philippines. Trump’s stance, meanwhile, is difficult to discern. During his visit to the country, he was friendly to Duterte to the point that he seemed to endorse the latter’s style of governance.
Apparently, the US Intelligence Community is sending a different message. In its Worldwide Threat Assessment released on February 13, President Duterte was listed as among Southeast Asia’s “threats” to democracy together with the likes of Cambodian Premier Hun Sen, Thailand’s military backed constitution and Burma’s Rohingya crisis.
The report apparently frowned on the president’s “signature campaign against drugs, corruption and crime” and the killings associated with these and noted his earlier threat to declare a “revolutionary government” and impose military rule nationwide. To be fair, the latter two threats have been overtaken by recent developments.
The “RevGov” and “martial law” plans are too dependent on the inclination of the Armed Forces leadership and that inclination was exposed during a forum months ago with Vice President Leni Robredo when Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military isn’t supportive of “RevGov” without any compelling reason to declare it. As for military rule, “martial law” in Mindanao is but a soft version of it.
I think “RevGov” has already been abandoned in favor of charter change and a shift to a federal setup. This move no longer needs the imprimatur of the Armed Forces but of the more malleable traditional politicians (trapos) who have gone “balimbing” to the administration party PDP-Laban and who are in control of the government’s legislative branch. The obsession with cha-cha and federalism is getting obvious.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and his partisans in the House of Representatives are taking the lead on this one and from them one can discern the outlines of the plan. Everything needs to be in place before the 2019 elections thus Alvarez’s talk of a no elections (no-el) scenario. The outcome of the 2019 senatorial and local elections is unpredictable and the opposition largely dominating that political exercise could considerably weaken the rule of the president, who will become a lame duck by then.
Cha-cha and federalism would allow the Duterte strategists to do what they want, which could include extending the president’s stay in power. But like “RevGov” and military rule, cha-cha and federalism have to contend with the country’s progressive forces that are even now starting to act up. Cha-cha and federalism, not “RevGov” and martial law, I think are the next major battleground in the country’s governance. These are being used to strengthen tyrannical rule.