July 19, 2018, 4:00 am
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Digong’s bully pulpit

THE presidency is usually its occupant’s bully pulpit, from where he or she can perorate on any topic under the sun, the better to influence public opinion with. 

President Duterte, however, lends a rather literal meaning to this bully-pulpit of an office. Forgive the pun, but Digong, an inveterate bully by his own admission, perhaps thought that the presidential pulpit is so designed to be used for bullying critics or those he perceive to be his enemies.

In one sweeping speech, and in the days that followed, the President gave a taste of his brand of bullying to several persons and institutions he dislikes.

Among these are Jose Ma. Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines; Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales of the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Human Rights. 

It is just as well that all three are no pushovers, and can dish out strong words and well-thought out insults if needed, if only to remind the Chief Executive that curses and invectives have no place in decent and formal discourse.

This is not to say that Duterte was wrong in all his comments about Joma. Duterte correctly pointed out what others in the revolutionary movement had been saying all along -- that a leader should be with his own men fighting and dying for their cause. Sison, meanwhile, is right in asking for a full and correct disclosure of Duterte’s health condition, for it is a matter of public interest. Sison himself may die of any disease or accident abroad and it won’t be a cause for public concern in this country. Carpio-Morales has reason to be irked by Duterte, who advised the soldiers and policemen who may be asked by the Ombudsman to appear to disregard its order. The Ombudsman, just like the senators in the case of Superintendent Marvin Marcos, criticized the apparent coddling by the President of erring cops and troopers.

The latest recipient of presidential bullying who stood up for its rights and image is the Commission on Human Rights. Just like Carpio-Morales’s Office of the Ombudsman, the CHR is a constitutional office with clear and specific mandate on its work.

Threatened with abolition by Duterte, CHR officials said it would need a constitutional amendment to scrap the office. Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte made the suggestion out of frustration on the apparent biases of the agency.

The Commission retorted that “words are important in all circumstances but particularly so when uttered by the sitting President as these could quickly render into state policy --regardless of the context of such statements.”

Just like the Ombudsman, the CHR resolved to continue pursuing its mandate under the Constitution, despite criticisms from the President.

The beauty of our democracy is that you can talk back to the President and still live.
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