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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wenceslao: Three controversies

THIS should be the most hectic week for President Rodrigo Duterte since assumed his post more than a month ago. He has invited at least three controversies not only for a decision he has made but also for his outbursts this week and last week. I just hope that, like in his failed unilateral ceasefire move directed at the National Democratic Front (NDF), he would learn his lessons fast.

A report by theguardian.com yesterday said the United States State Department had summoned Philippine charge d’affaires Patric Chuasoto last Tuesday to discuss the President’s “homphobic slur” against US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg over the weekend.

“As you know, I’m fighting with (US Secretary of State John Kerry’s) ambassador. His gay ambassador, the son of a whore, he pissed me off,” was the quote published by The Guardian, a translation from Duterte’s original Tagalog speech. US State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau essentially confirmed the report. “We had that talk,” she told The Guardian.

But Charles Jose, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs, had another version of the story. He claimed that the US State Department’s summons to Chuasoto was actually to “discuss the entire breadth of Philippines-US relations.”

The Duterte administration has insisted that Philippines-US relations remain strong. I agree. Duterte calling a US official gay is not as big an affront that it could break Phillipines-US relations. But it also won’t endear Duterte to US officials.

Meanwhile,the release by the President of the list of 150 personalities supposedly linked to the illegal drugs trade had invited an interesting response from Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. Included in the list were eight judges who were or are under SC jurisdiction. Not only did Sereno expose the faults in the allegation, she reminded Duterte about “constitutional order.” The judiciary is a co-equal branch of the executive department.

Sereno said that one of the judges named was killed in 2008, another judge was dismissed in 2007 yet, another retired last month, three of the judges do not handle drug cases while another one presides over a designated drugs court “in a multi-sala court.” In response, the President lambasted Sereno, even threatening to declare martial law in the process.

Both the “homophobic slur” against the US ambassador and his reaction to Sereno’s letter show a pattern. This president do not like to be criticized and when chided tends to spit venom with his words, issuing threats left and right.

The third controversy involved the defense by the President of his earlier decision to allow the burial of the body of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The Marcoses have set the burial for Sept. 18 and the anti-Marcos forces are beginning to act up. Not only was the decision criticized, some groups may yet seek relief from the High Court.

If Duterte does not change his mind, then his administration would see the unfurling of what could be its first major showdown after only more than a month of governance. Victims of the Marcos dictatorship and righteous people are girding for this showdown. What was initially separate responses to the decision is headed for unity. This is something that the President could not just dismiss easily.

The three controversies should open the eyes of the President to the reality that while he may have succeeded in controlling the executive and the legislative branches of government, he may not be able to do so with the Supreme Court. Also that while his trust rating is high according to the surveys, there are influential personalities and powerful groups that do not kowtow to him.

Ours, after all, is still a democracy.

(khanwens@gmail.com/ twitter: @khanwens)
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