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A unifying president?

PRESIDENT Duterte’s appointment of the unoccupied Vice President Leonor Robredo as vice chairman of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) was certainly unexpected. Just as unexpected was Robredo’s near-immediate acceptance of the appointment.

Perhaps it is a reflection of our sick political culture that many of the reactions to this turn of events pontificated on Duterte’s political motivation. For example, one early reaction was that it was a a devious move (if she had rejected it) for him to unmask the Vice President’s hollowness, that she was all blah-blah against the war on drugs, but really wouldn’t want to be waking up every morning to do some real work.

The Yellows, on the other hand, are applauding Robredo’s decision, claiming that it turns out to be a big mistake for Duterte, who thought that she wouldn’t call his bluff. One such couldn’t help herself from showing her glee, writing in her column: “Look whose star has risen in the firmament.” On the other hand, another anti-Duterte critic wrote:”Duterte is cleverly setting up Robredo as a scapegoat, for the failure of the war vs drugs. “

Hold on. Forget whatever motivation Duterte may have, and just focus on what the President did objectively.

Not because of the leadership but simply because she occupies the highest ranking post in government, Robredo is chairman of the Liberal Party, its symbolic head. And the Liberal Party is the opposition party, isn’t it?

Vice chairman
So, objectively, Duterte has appointed the opposition’s highest official as vice chair of the ICAD, to be his partner in arguably his most important objective in his six-year term as president, which is to end the proliferation of illegal drugs in the country.

What does that mean politically? It signifies that he has boldly reached out to the opposition and offered it a major, even crucial role in his government. It means Duterte has demonstrated he intends to be a unifying president, even if that entails the risk of politically helping the opposition.

Indeed some claim that that he has even injected political energy into the opposition leader who was getting to have a reputation of having loony ideas, thereby giving her a chance to rise politically to be a “presidentiable” in 2020.

In the past three years, Duterte has proven to be so politically astute that he knows he was taking these huge political risks when he appointed Robredo as ICAD vice chairman.

I’m not an admirer of Robredo. But as a nation, we shouldn’t really care if Robredo’s star rises or not for her to have a shot at the presidency, if she could help in eradicating the scourge of illegal drugs in this country.

Not unprecedented
Duterte’s unifying move isn’t unprecedented. President Ramos appointed the opposition vice president then Joseph Estrada as head of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission. To his credit, or to his operative, now Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Estrada did exterminate the robbery and kidnapping gangs that had proliferated at that time.

As president starting in 1998, Estrada in turn appointed the victorious opposition candidate for vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as social welfare and development secretary. That was a bold move on Estrada’s part, as he gave to Arroyo one of the main apparatuses for undertaking his avowed goal, which was to reduce poverty.

That these two vice presidents did get to be president should have worried Duterte. He wasn’t. His spokesman Salvador Panelo was really speaking for him when he commented; “We’re giving her a ladder to the presidency, this is her chance, this is her moment. She should accept it. Be in the moment, help the Filipino people, help this country and help herself.”

Duterte through his spokesman is in effect saying: “I don’t care if it becomes a ladder to the presidency, as long as she helps the country demolish the scourge of illegal drugs.”

How unified more? Duterte’s administration has the highest rating ever. Table from SWS

Is there an ICAD vice chairman?
Having said that though, I hope Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea does his attorneying job for the President by issuing the necessary document to amend Executive Order 15 that created the ICAD.

That executive order provided that the ICAD be headed by a chairman, which it strangely designates not the head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, but the organization itself. The EO designates as ICAD members 20 departments and agencies, and specifies that these entities must designate “permanent representatives” with the rank of undersecretary or assistant secretary.

But Duterte’s EO does not designate any ICAD vice chair. Unless the EO is amended, Duterte appointed Robredo to a non-existent post. Robredo was obviously so excited about her new role she didn’t bother to check if there was one.

‘Unifying’ exaggerated
I may be exaggerating of course in my use of “unifying,” as the nation has never been unified before as it has been today. This is not my opinion but based on the most recent (September 2019) Social Weather Stations survey that showed that 77 percent of Filipinos were satisfied with the national government, and only 10 percent dissatisfied. That means a net satisfaction rating (satisfied minus dissatisfied) of plus 67 percent.

Under-reported by media, which instead highlighted Duterte’s dip in net satisfaction ratings to September’s plus 67 from plus 73 in June, no other president, including Cory Aquino, has received such level of rating at any point of his or her administration. At the same period, or after three years into their terms, Cory’s administration had a plus14 net satisfaction rating; Ramos, plus10; Estrada, plus 2 in December 2001 before reaching his third year in office; Arroyo, plus 18; and Aquino 3rd plus 35.

And to think that Duterte has had the Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN Broadcasting, several online US-funded new sites relentlessly painting a picture of him as a dictator “bathed in blood,” convincing nearly the entire US media to see him as such.

Duterte likely knew where he stood, that he was so confident, as Panelo put it, to give Robredo a “ladder to the presidency.” Why is it that my gut-feel is that she’ll trip on her own while she’s on the ladder, as she keeps looking at the people watching her?




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