‘The question is: when push comes to shove, to whom will the loyalties of these people belong?’

    OVER the weekend someone sent me a link to a Facebook post supposedly written by lawyer Wilfredo Garrido. In it, Garrido laments the fact that nearly a third of Duterte’s cabinet is comprised of retired military and police men, all woefully ill-equipped to perform the tasks associated with their present jobs. Garrido goes on to attribute the recent failures of the Duterte regime – the botched war on drugs, the IATF and its abject bungling of our COVID-19 response, and now the emerging PhilHealth scandal, among others – to the fact that the persons in charge are “recycled military men.”

    “No wonder PhilHealth is near bankruptcy, IATF is a bunch of headless chickens, the country has gone to the dogs.

    “Old soldiers never die, they just rust away in the Duterte junkyard” goes the post.

    But here I must respectfully ask: is Garrido looking at this from the proper angle?
    Sure, these military/police retirees plain suck at their jobs. Res ipsa loquitur. COVID-19 cases are now far beyond the capacity our health care workers and medical facilities can handle. According to the actuarial math, PhilHealth won’t live to see past 2021. Tokhang operations appear to have shifted from alleged “drug personalities” to alleged NPA members. The DILG appears hell-bent on not helping the local governments at all, being content with merely telling LGUs what they ought to be doing (Article X Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution left the chat.) Lord knows what’s happening with the DSWD, the DENR, the DICT, and so on.

    But is all of this why Duterte appointed them to begin with?

    This is the part where I knowingly jump down the rabbit hole and say: I think Duterte, being a Marcos fanboy extraordinaire, is simply taking a page out of the dictator’s playbook, and putting ex-military and ex-police in all of these agencies under the assumption that they are personally loyal to him above the country.

    Garrido himself laid out all of the executive agencies where military people have been appointed: DILG, DND, DSWD, DENR, DICT, DHSUD, OPPAP, TESDA, Bureau of Corrections, Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, Clark Airport, MMDA, NIA, PhilHealth. There are likely more than these. But from these alone, it covers a huge swath of what makes up Filipino life.

    With mayors having been shown the example of the killing of Ozamiz Mayor Parojinog back in 2017, no mayor would question the word of the DILG secretary. Indeed, the moment SILG Año stated that no mass gathering would be allowed on SONA day, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte capitulated and went back to quietly doing nothing faster than we can spell her name – despite the clear Constitutional autonomy of Quezon City from national government.

    Many of these agencies legally and legitimately collect personal information of many Filipinos. Sure, disclosing personal information to other agencies without prior consent is against the law. But realistically, what chance does an ordinary Filipino have against the full weight of government machinery and resources?

    Between the Bureau of Immigration, the Bureau of Customs, and the various airport authorities, this represents control over a large chunk of people and goods going in and out of the Philippines.

    Between the MMDA, the PNP and the AFP, this represents control over the movement of people within the Philippines in general, and Metro Manila particularly.

    If Duterte went completely off the rails and declared himself President-For-Life tomorrow, for whatever flimsy reason only he could imagine, and if all of these ex-police and ex-military maintain loyalty to Duterte rather than the country, then they could very easily secure Duterte’s reign using all of these key agencies.

    In fact, it doesn’t even need to be so extreme. The setup could come creeping, in the form of “constitutional” laws that grossly overextend executive power (such as the Anti-Terror Law), government actions that directly threaten free speech and free press (the ABS-CBN shutdown, the various charges against Rappler and Maria Ressa, the killings and raids involving leftist media personalities and organizations), and continuing military-style lockdowns to supposedly control the COVID-19 outbreak, even as said lockdown has demonstrably failed to exert any such control, just to have the excuse to immediately disrupt any gathering, including peaceful protests.

    So never mind that these appointees are incompetent for the positions they accepted. That is a given. In fact incompetence is almost a Duterte trademark at this point.

    The question is: when push comes to shove, to whom will the loyalties of these people belong?