Passing the buck

Maybe Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has no idea who the late US President Harry S Truman is, but it was the 33rd POTUS who famously said, “The buck stops here.”

By “here,” Mr. Truman meant the White House, and the statement simply meant that he and he alone shouldered the responsibility for all of his official acts including the most painful one of all – ordering the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Tens of thousands of civilians were killed by the bombing, but it did cause the Japanese to surrender unconditionally, putting an end to World War II. This, after the Germans were defeated and Hitler either committing suicide or was able to run away to South America.

The ultimate fate of the Fuhrer is still debated, with conspiracy theorists even claiming that he was able to escape to a hidden underground land through an entrance in the Antarctic. But enough of that nonsense.

Mr. Duterte should brush up on his history. He should realize that when he issues a presidential decree or proclamation, he cannot point to his underlings as being responsible should that proclamation produce negative results.

Unfortunately, this is precisely what Mr. Duterte did last week when he revoked the amnesty granted to former Navy officer and now Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and ordered the lawmaker’s immediate arrest. When it became clear that Presidential Proclamation 572 was of dubious legality, he pointed to his Solicitor General Jose Calida as being behind the questionable move.

Incidentally, Calida also has reason to want to silence Trillanes. The senator sought a Senate investigation on what appears to be a clear case of conflict of interest on Calida’s part. The SolGen’s security agency won several multi-million peso contracts with a number of government agencies. Calida insists that the contracts were not illegal, but they sure as hell seem immoral to me.

Anyway, it is no secret that with Senator Leila de Lima imprisoned on questionable charges, Mr. Duterte presently considers Senator Trillanes as his mortal enemy, a critic who will not be silenced. The president is more than angry at the senator because the latter has trained his guns on the entire Duterte family. He is livid.

Trillanes is by no means the only oppositionist in the Senate or the House of Representatives, but he is unquestionably the most fearless. Having spent seven and a half years in prison for his role in two coup attempts against the Gloria Arroyo government, he says he is not afraid of anyone.

If the Duterte regime does find a way to silence Trillanes by arresting him, it is not known how present leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines will react. Duterte may be aware that he does not command the absolute loyalty of the AFP. He may be the commander in chief, but with its history of rebels rising from their ranks, the AFP of today is far different of the AFP during Marcos’s time.

During the Marcos era, the dictator stacked the AFP leadership with his fellow Ilocanos. This is a luxury that Duterte does not have, and there is still mistrust for the former Davao City mayor in the ranks of the military.

As Davao mayor, Duterte even allowed himself to attend an NPA anniversary celebration, and the image of Duterte partying with enemies of the state has stuck in the minds of the AFP rank and file.

As of this writing, Trillanes remains holed up in the Senate building, where he cannot be arrested. The Supreme Court rejected his bid for a temporary restraining order to block the presidential proclamation, noting that no arrest can be made unless an order is issued by a court.

With so many legal opinions saying Proclamation 572 is invalid, the only way for Mr. Duterte to totally silence Trillanes is to declare martial law. Whether he is willing to take this drastic step or not will be known soon enough.