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A nation of scofflaws

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NOT TOO long ago, when  Boking Morales was king of Mabalacat and 95 per cent of Clark, about which he came to boast about his hometown as the Makati of Pampanga, or something to that effect, Sen. Frank Drilon came down from Manila to break bread with the opposition.

Opposition, then as now, is a cynical term for political agility or flexibility, as history shows. It is said that it is quicker for a politician to change party affiliation than for  a chameleon to adapt to the color of the tree it latches on. 

Then Vice Governor Yeng Guiao, apparently the head, symbolic or otherwise, of the opposition, hosted the dinner in a restaurant at the foot of Mt. Arayat in his hometown in Magalang. They were not hiding in plain sight.  They probably simply missed the better days of the contrarians. 

In the course of partaking of a delectable Kapampangan course,  Guiao casually told Drilon that Boking had been a mayor of his town for the last 20 years or so. Drilon nearly choked or dropped on his lower lip what he was about to chew on.  “How did you do it,” Drilon asked matter off factly, hinting at a possible Senate investigation of the Boking phenomenon.

Boking summed up his  unprecedented political journey with luck, breaks and being quite smart about the law, or having some of the best election lawyers in the Philippines.  Full disclosure, however, is irrelevant in a nation of election lawyers.  Politicians like Boking, however, are seldom aware of their limit. Or take it for granted.  Today, he’s out of office, and nobody knows when, or if, he will still show up in Mabalacat politics. 

Does  Drilon  still remember  Boking’s feat now that President Duterte is trolling the nation endlessly with his vice presidential plan?  Duterte described his plan as a way of maintaining the equilibrium,  with him as the defining center of political gravity, not the new post in mind. Where he goes, his logic implies, so goes Philippine politics. 

Constitutional purists like Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, are aghast that Duterte is trying to stand the Charter on its head.  The basic law bans any reelection by an incumbent president. It cannot be circumvented via a backdoor trick of running for vice president and then becoming a potential president through means fair or foul. 

Duterte’s choir, however, argues that the Constitution doesn’t prohibit a president whose term ends to run for a lower position, including that as vice president.  Verba legis, they are quick to point out, says if the law is clear, it should be interpreted literally.  No need for further interpretation. But the debate continues, and it is far from settled.

The Court isn’t up yet to rule on the issue since there is not active case yet.  When – and if it does as Duterte seems to play down his trick as a ploy to scare his opponents—  two things need to be made clear:1) Can the Charter’s  reelection prohibition for the president be trumped by the argument that it does not have an expressed prohibition that a vice presidential plan cannot be an option? 2)  What was in Monsod and company’s position when they agreed on  the prohibition?  

In two month’s time, Duterte’s idea may be tested. 

A  collateral case maybe afoot at the local level where an incumbent mayor whose term limit ends in 2022 may seek to run for vice mayor.  Ostensibly, this may be a ploy to get back at former post via the backdoor. This,too, may become a ‘hot’ political agenda on the Comelec’s table on the court’s.City of San Fernando Mayor Edwin “EDSA” Santiago may be in this boat, and those are up to rock it may look closely at what the Constitution says about it. 

It could stymie EDSA’s 2022 plan, and upset the apple cart of his political partner. A lawyer in hibernation and former congressman and mayor is allegedly passing the word around that he may be available for the 2022 mayoralty race in the city.  If it is lonely at the top, it is also lonely at the bottom, another former mayor who has no love lost for the lawyer , attests.  Loneliness is a sad thing, but  money is the $64 question.   

Former Sen. Rene Saguisag has always wrote about the propensity of Filipinos, not simply politicians, to flout the law.  We’re a nation of scofflaws, he wrote at one time, and that’s a huge stumbling block on our way up.  It appears that, at least in two ways, his fellow Bedan alumnus, has the same inclination: 1)at one time, Duterte mused about his idea of giving himself presidential pardon for whatever crimes he may have committed while chief executive and 2)this highly frowned  novel idea of running for vice president. 

Is Boking a Bedan alumnus, too?  His cousin, the implacable lawyer Manolo Feliciano, was said to be among the more glamourous students in San Beda in his time, flaunting his branded sports car in campus. Former Angeles City Mayor Ed Pamintuan was not in his league but Duterte exposed him as a ‘chic’ boy.  Both former LGU executives were among the first to join the Duterte bandwagon.  They are rumored to be regrouping for 2022.

To be exact, they are not rooting for a Guiao comeback in the legislative race in the First District. Guiao himself is still mum about his plan next year or this September.  The politician terrain  is still very much in state of flux, more like in chaos, with the law being tested to its boundaries. 

Lawyers will again be in the forefront of our political history, or heresy.    

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