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A VIEW FROM THE CENTER: Game of Thrones (1)

MANILA (MindaNews / 16 March)– TheHBO original series presented an interesting study of the political nature of our species, keeping the audience totally engrossed for the past seven seasons. Power, the use and misuse of power and even the non-use of power have been woven through plots and subplots, keeping the millions of viewers emotionally invested all these years. And the clever use of deus ex machina, the fire-breathing dragons, White Walkers, injected in the narrative and repairing the weak points in the storytelling, has driven the popularity of the series beyond measure. We don’t want the series to end.

We too have a miniature version of the GOT in our local politics.

The Deegong’s character imbued in his agenda has been so domineering and intimidating, effectively castrating his enemies that his own allies have to assume the role of his “frenemies.”

Duterte’s major themes

The DU30 agenda can be broken into three major themes: first, the elimination of the “illegal drugs” menace but has provoked questions of human rights violations. We are not discussing this here as “tokhang” and its implications have been referred to the International Criminal Court and are “subjudice.”

The two other themes are the drastic restructuring of Philippine society through the revision of the 1987 Constitution, and the President breaking ranks with an oligarchy, the moneyed elite and its politician allies that have sucked the lifeblood of the country almost dry for almost a century. This will be his lasting legacy.

Duterte’s rise to power is a classic case study of near-total dominance by his persona over his three colorless opponents and the election cycle. Starting off as a minority president with a third of the votes cast, his subalterns captured both houses of Congress even before he was sworn into office, abetted by a dysfunctional party system. It was the distrust for and lack of credibility of the outgoing Aquino government that brought about the obliteration of his Liberal Party, with other political groupings migrating to the winning brand, the PDP Laban.

But since the party system is personality-oriented, steeped in traditional political practices, cracks opened in the President’s party machinery, exposing the pathetic bonds within the leadership. While the President was himself engulfed in problems of his own making in his drive against illegal drugs that resulted in thousands of unsolved deaths, the internecine feud simmered underneath.

One faction is led by Senate President Koko Pimentel who himself is struggling to hold on to a fragile Senate leadership and maintain the last vestiges of “ideological purity” of the PDP Laban.

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Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s bloc in Congress, unconcerned about “ideology,” is casting its net wider to capture whatever remnants there are of the tradpols, scraping the bottom of the political barrel, enticing marginal politicians, to his own clique within the supermajority.

Alvarez’s other maneuvers have been less than elegant: a petty and uncalled-for quarrel with an agricultural oligarch as a result of a catfight between their girlfriends; a puerile squabble with the daughter-mayor of his principal, ending in his “surrender”; and the snubbing of the “original PDP Laban purists.” This evoked severe responses within the contentious alliance, portents of a battle royale in Davao del Norte politics.

But deadlier is the inevitable settling of scores by Duterte’s praetorians. So far, both are acting nonchalant, but their swords are drawn, belying a surface calm.

Presidential vs parliamentary

The unwitting (or is it?) choice of the constitutional commission or committee (Con-com) for the status quo, could play into the hands of these dramatis personae, the arena upon which these political gladiators will perform their danse macabre. DU30, with his bizarre stance to keep his hands off, may perhaps tacitly anoint the survivor as the keeper of the Deegong legacy.

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Koko certainly will give it a try, grudgingly pleased that the PDP Laban’s hybrid-parliamentary stand did not get the Con-com’s nod—what with his venerable father carrying the torch for a scheme that could vicariously give him the satisfaction of the presidency he let slip through his fingers.

Alvarez certainly will not be shy going for it but the batting average for a House Speaker reaching the top post has been dismal; witness Ramon Mitra in 1992 and Joe De V in 1998.

Sara Duterte while assuming the role of a “denial queen” could be salivating for a stab at the top post, which could explain her image remake as a female Deegong and forming her regional vehicle, Hugpong Pagbabago.

And the same old same old political dynasts whose tattered reputations have been rehabilitated, like Bongbong Marcos, fighting tooth and nail to unseat Robredo, or any of the tired old names in the political firmament—Erap, the pardoned convicted plunderer and the once-reliable FVR, who couldn’t stop being president.

The hybrid parliamentary/presidential government, could be the suitable model for the current crop of traditional PDP Laban politicians sitting at the head table relishing its supermajority status. Parliamentary government is party government and PDP Laban’s numerical advantage could assure it continued power. This model allows for a strong universally elected president, as head of state, sharing power with the head of government, the prime minister.

Post-Duterte scenario

This dual leadership could result in gridlocks and clashes of personalities. And the election of president at large makes the presidency vulnerable to the oligarchy and the moneyed few (see my Manila Times column www.

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manilatimes.net/can-con-com-con-ass-speak-for-us/384750)and may even enshroud him with such gravitas establishing his status as primus inter pares.

In a presidential/parliamentary model, Koko as President and Alvarez as Prime  Minister is the PDP Laban’s desired post-Duterte scenario; both sharing power; with the whole citizenry hoping that good will come out of this system.

But the odd man out here is Speaker Alvarez. According to the PDP Laban originals and purists, he is the epitome of everything that is wrong with the political party system in the country. In fact, rumors are rife that the factions arrayed against the Speaker are now gearing to make him a one-time representative of the second district of Davao del Norte, effectively toppling him from his perch. And these are where things could unravel and the fissures in the ruling party widen beyond repair. And by any measure, today the party drifts toward self-immolation.

And this early in the game, we don’t know the moves and intentions of the oligarchy, which has been biding its time and licking its wounds caused by DU30’s appearance. And in traditional politics, under a presidential system, they will attempt to call the shots, after the DU30 hiatus. Or, heaven forbid, the Deegong exits the scene before his time and the VP assumes power. In which case, all bets are off.

And here awaits one astute politician who may have calculated these permutations and may now be positioned for any eventuality.

Next week: GOT 2

(This column first appeared in  The Manila Times issue of 15 March 2018 http://www.manilatimes.net/game-of-thrones/386306/. Lito Monico C. Lorenzana, a Dabawenyo based in Manila, served under four Philippine Presidents as a member of the Cabinet and several Commissions. A Harvard Kennedy School of Government-educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines, Secretary General of the 2005 Consultative Commission, and one of the founders of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines, Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya and the Centrist Democracy Political Institute)

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