Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has become skilled at trolling his increasingly few but increasingly outspoken critics who congregate around the opposition Liberal Party. Duterte has made no secret of the fact that he believes the current Vice President (elected separately to the President) Leni Robredo is not up to the task of being his successor – a point that he restated during a speech this week in which he said that he is feeling “exasperated” and would step down if the current Vice President who stands to replace him in the event of a resignation was not so incompetent.
At present, a protracted re-count of the 2016 Vice Presidential vote is being conducted as long standing allegations of voting irregularities and fraud have plagued the un-sensational Robredo who many believe won the election unfairly against her main opponent Bongbong Marcos, the son of the long serving former President. During his discussions on the possibility of an early Presidential resignation Duterte even stated that he would prefer a “military junta” to take power over Leni Robredo. While Duterte’s humourless opposition moved to accuse the President of endorsing a military takeover, in reality his metaphor served two purposes. First of all, Duterte was signalling that so long as Robredo is in office he is not going to resign, something that will be a profound relief to his millions of supporters. Secondly, Duterte was signalling to Bongbong Marcos that irrespective of how long the current re-count takes, he should be prepared for government as Duterte’s favoured successor.
Duterte’s popularity has played a large part in reviving the legacy of President Ferdinand Marcos whom the Aquino family have consistently painted as a “dictator” ever since leading the 1986 revolt against his leadership. Today, Duterte has taken both legal and symbolic steps to rehabilitate the Marcos legacy while for Filipinos who are now able to look back on the events of the Marcos era and its aftermath with the benefit of informed hindsight generally believe that while an imperfect time in the history of the developing nation, the Marcos era was more stable, socially safe, secure and less economically uncertain than the late 1980s, 1990s and much of the early 2000s.
Therefore, when Duterte’s Presidential spokesman Harry Roque stated officially that the current President would like his successor to be Marcos, not only did Roque help to formalise a long understood view of Duterte but he also helped Filipinos to understand a leadership succession in parliamentary rather than presidential terms.
As The Philippines continues to debate proposed constitutional reforms including those relating to both federalism and the proposed establishment of a federal-parliamentary republic to replace the current unitary presidential system, it is instructive to remember that it was under President Macros that the country most recently experimented with a hybrid parliamentary system before the 1987 Constitution replaced this with a US style presidential system.
While the hybrid parliamentary system of the Marcos era did not have time to properly grow and establish itself in the psyche of Filipino voters, the idea of formally endorsing a successor is common in parliamentary systems. In a parliamentary system, when a party or coalition remains popular but its leader, the prime minister feels the need to resign, this does not automatically trigger a national election. Instead, such a process triggers a mechanism for the ruling party of coalition to choose a new leader. If a popular outgoing prime minister has officially endorsed a successor, chances are that this successor will have little opposition to taking the reigns from his friendly predecessor.
In this sense, by using very parliamentary language to appoint a chosen successor, the highly popular Duterte and his administration are subtly planting seeds in the minds of voters for a possible future parliamentary democracy, the kind formally enshrined in the proposals for constitutional reform drafted by the PDP-Laban party of which Duterte is a member.
In reality, Duterte stepping down from power and a final draft for a revised constitution is still likely several years away. That being said, Duterte is preparing the nation for its future both in terms of the kind of governance he seeks to gift the country with as his penultimate legacy and in terms of the kinds of individuals he would like to see carry on his legacy. Duterte has yet again subtly emphasised that Liberalism as an ideology and the Aquino family specifically are part of the country’s past rather than its future. In this sense, Duterte may be indicating that he would like the country to continue from where it left off prior to 1986 – under a parliamentary system whose overall leader was called President Marcos.