Nine people died of an overdose of fentanyl in a single day in Vancouver, Canada last week.

Fentanyl was the primary cause of death of singers Michael Jackson and Prince.

In a business forum last week, President Duterte confessed to taking fentanyl to relieve his back pain from a motorcycle accident. He also admitted he would sometimes take four times the amount prescribed by his doctor: “The doctor told me to stop self-medicating. The first thing I would lose is my cognitive ability”. “Cognitive” refers to the ability to perceive, remember, judge and reason.

Fentanyl is “a potent synthetic opioid to relieve severe pain. It is 100 times more powerful than morphine. It has high risk of dependence. It raises the dopamine (reward areas) in the brain producing euphoria and relaxation. It can cause respiratory distress and death when taken in high doses or when combined with other substances like alcohol. Its side effects are headaches, dry mouth, itching, exhilaration and anxiety”.

The President also admits to suffering from Beurger’s and Barrett’s disease. The former causes an inflammation of the veins and arteries and can be extremely painful. Barrett’s is “a serious complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (acid reflux)”. Side effects are nausea and vomiting.

Whatever our political affiliations we all have the duty to support Duterte as our duly elected President to the best of our conscience. He is also arguably the only person who can solve the nation’s drug menace. However, we need to be mindful of his physical and mental health and how these affect his responsibilities as Chief Executive. How can we know whether it is the President or his meds speaking? The President has admitted to taking medication, sometimes in excess, which could affect his decision-making. When and whose duty is it to determine the mental and physical capacity of a President?

Article VII, Sec. 12 of the Constitution states: “In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health. The members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall not be denied access to the President during such illness.

Article VII, Sec. 11 goes on: “ Whenever a majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice-President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall reassume the powers and duties of his office. Meanwhile, should a majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit within five days to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Congress shall decide the issue. For that purpose, the Congress shall convene, if it is not in session, within forty-eight hours, in accordance with its rules and without need of call.”

If the Congress, within ten days after receipt of the last written declaration, or, if not in session, within twelve days after it is required to assemble, determines by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, voting separately, that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice-President shall act as President; otherwise, the President shall continue exercising the powers and duties of his office.”

In layman’s terms the Constitution states:

1.The nation has the constitutional right to know the medical condition of the President “in case of serious illness” however defined. The President admits he is not well. He says he has daily migraines sometimes so severe “I want to puke”. The stress of his position can only add to his condition.

2. The Cabinet has a constitutional responsibility to ascertain the health of the President. Should the majority of the Cabinet determine he is medically unfit to continue in office it must declare so to Congress.

3. Upon notice from the President or a majority of the Cabinet, two thirds of the House and the Senate acting separately must decide whether the President must step down.

Here is the conundrum: There is no precedent for a President stepping down -voluntary or otherwise- for “serious illness”. Only the President can trigger this but will he do this absent a full loss of mental or physical capacity? What happens up to that point? His doctor cannot issue a certification without his consent. The Cabinet will not act without a medical certification and neither will Congress. The Palace has, without outside prompting,  recently taken to continually announce the President is well. This is often the first signal something is amiss (Thou protesteth too much). To support its case the Palace might wish to release his medical records for independent review by external physicians.

The medical condition of the President highlights the importance of the Vice-President and the current challenge of Bongbong Marcos with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). PET is composed of the 15 Supreme Court Justices chaired by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. It is estimated that it will take at least 3 years for the PET to arrive at a decision based on the recount of votes and a budget of over P2 billion.

In the current period we could theoretically have one elected president and three presidents. One, Duterte; two, Leni if Duterte is incapacitated; and, three, Bongbong if he wins his electoral claim.

It is really more fun in the Philippines.

The Year Of Living Dangerously

We will remember 2016 as the year we started to live dangerously. How disturbing was it? Well let’s look at 2016’s Words of the Year, the terms chosen to describe the events just gone by.

Dictionary.com voted Xenophobia as its Word of the Year. It is defined as “fear and hatred of all things or people who are strange or foreign”.

Oxford Dictionary selected Alt-Right for its Top Ten list. It is defined as “an ideological grouping with extreme reactionary viewpoints, rejection of mainstream politics and use of online media to disseminate offensive and controversial content”. In the West it is associated with white supremacist movements –KKK, Nazis- but could also refer to the social media hate-mongers who inhabit our country.

Another Oxford Top Ten is Post-Truth. It is “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are replaced by emotion and personal belief in shaping public opinion” as in post-truth politics or post-truth Congressional hearings. Sound familiar?

Then there is Coulrophobia, technically a fear of clowns but also associated with fear of “killer clown crazies”, a recent phenomenon where people dress as clowns and attack people. Coulrophobia could also translate to fear of extra-judicial killers in disguise.

Common to the top words are darkness, fear, hatred, lies and anger. It reflects the collective experience and sentiment of our times.

2016 will go down as the year of the Revenge of the People. Whether in the Philippines (Duterte), the U.S.(Trump), the U.K. (Brexit) and elsewhere, the 99.9% of the populace who have for years been downtrodden and lectured to by the 0.1% (myself included) of pundits and holier-than-thou privileged few; finally decided to speak up and upend the system. They elected demagogues or wanna-be demagogues who promise only they can save the world (Trump:”Only I can make America great again!”).

The people are angry and in their blind rage against the status quo they may have made things worse for themselves. But they do not care. They do not care that Brexit has caused the British pound to devalue by over 25% and possibly drive the U.K. economy into recession, they do not care that Trump will allow world temperatures to rise to the point of world extinction, they do not care that locally political rhetoric has fostered uncertainty, divisiveness and confusion that jeopardizes investment and employment. The Hillary “deplorables” just do not care. I can understand this. Their lives are so desperate, they are prepared to scorch the earth and throw out the baby with the bathwater if this means the elite will finally get their come-uppance.

Unfortunately life is not always that fair. Making the “haves” uncomfortable does not make the “have-nots” more comfortable. The rich have options while the poor do not. The 0.1% can vote with their feet while the 99.9% are stuck with the remnants of the destruction whether it be a political system that is no longer accountable, institutions that are replaced by personality politics and post-truths, or despotism that hopefully is benevolent but that is taking a chance. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

People’s fear has driven them to the extremes of the political spectrum. It has moved them to choose authoritarianism over consensus. It has driven them to abandon liberalism as an ideology, the notion that individual freedom, accountability and decency are the ultimate defenses of democracy. The fault for this lies mainly with the elite who believe that education and wealth entitles them to define the common good and speak for the common man. Yet the elite know nothing of the man in the street, his plight, his aspirations and his fears. They speak intellectually of inclusiveness in the confines of their padded cocoons, business leaders showcase their token Corporate Social Responsibilty programs even as they exploit consumers and the environment with their greed and over-priced services.

Our world has become a polarized place. Families and friends are divided.Technology and social media have encouraged this separation in our communities. They allow trolls to anonymously spread lies and besmirch reputations without personal responsibilty. We friend and unfriend people on Facebook so we now only communicate with people we agree with. One hundred forty words over Twitter is the extent of our social discourse. There is no longer a common space in neighborhoods, gatherings and even families where divergent opinions can be aired maturely, where we can understand and make ourselves understood. We are now not one world but a collection of islands retreating into pockets of equal and closed mindsets. Goodbye globalization, goodbye diversity, hello isolationism and intolerance.

Our President dismissed the Vice-President not by talking it over coffee (“Leni, I am sorry. It is not about you, it is about me. You deserve better. You need to move on.”) but by instructing his assistant (Bong Go) who instructs his colleague (Cabinet Sec. Evasco) to text the lady she should desist from attending cabinet meetings, the Christmas Party and other festivities of the season (ok, this last part I made up). Nobody was man enough to tell the VP in her face she had just been fired. What ever happened to common courtesy?

Our world has become a place for bullying and discrimination. A longtime Filipino American banker recounts how he was recently taunted in New York to return to the jungle. Similar stories are on the rise. Foreign student applications for U.S. universities have dropped for fear of racism.

So, yeah, 2016 has been a disturbing year. I hate to imagine what 2017 will be. If you are upset here for you is Webster-Merrill Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year: Fuuuuuuck (I kid you not). It is the extended version of the expletive. It is uttered, often as a scream, to denote an “exhausted, frustrated and exasperated admission of moral defeat”.

I like that. Fuuuuuuuck.

Irreconcilable Differences

Despite his appreciation of her knees, it was never a match made in heaven.

The President’s decision to “separate“ from Vice-President Leni was notable mainly in that the relationship lasted this long. Leni was conflicted from the start. As VP she believed she was accountable to the people yet as a Cabinet official she is an alter ego of the President and accountable to him. Leni made it clear early on that she was not a wall flower and had strong views especially on extrajudicial killings and the death penalty. Taken by her persona and her passion for the Filipino–the President loves patriots- Duterte thought he could seduce Leni into the fold as he has done with so many women; but she proved tougher than expected. The last straw may have been her vocal opposition to the Marcos burial but even before the VP disclosed that her budget had been slashed by P19 billion and she could not get her people appointed.

Leni’s supporters claim there is a plot to replace the Vice-President with Bongbong. They ask why the fascination with the young Marcos? Maybe Sen. Alan Cayetano knows the answer which is what explains his quiet period.

It is all about politics but Malacanang could have treated her dismissal with more grace. Given her standing, the respectful protocol would have been for the President to have manned up to Leni and laid out the predicate for her termination. As it was his assistant unceremoniously texted her not to attend the next Cabinet meeting as one would a lowly employee; and refrained from taking her multiple calls thereafter (CHED Chair Patricia Liduanan was similarly banned from attending Cabinet meetings, perhaps to imply the VP was not being singled out).

The Palace accepted Leni’s subsequent resignation “with a heavy heart” which smacks of insult to injury. This is not unusual. There is pleasure in watching enemies twist in the wind. There was all that social media talk about Leni’s pregnancy. Whether it be with De Lima and now Leni, the President’s supporters appear to relish psychologically destroying a person before finally taking them down. This is akin to the public shaming in Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the ISIS public beheading of its victims. It sends the message that you do not mess with this Administration.

Speaking of De Lima, guilty or not, it is wondrous to witness the extent the powers at be are taking to destroy the woman. Even Senators who otherwise are sympathetic to the President are incredulous at the conflicting sworn statements of the witnesses, all criminals and low-lifers, that have been trotted out to malign the lady Senator.

The testimonies are so disbelieving  PNP Chief and Drug Czar Rolando “Bato” de la Rosa has been brought to tears. Now Bato seems a really nice man but it is becoming increasingly clear that as much as the President loves him, Duterte is not letting his chief cop in on all the secrets. The President trusts Bato implicitly but the latter cannot always be relied to keep things to himself. Bato leaked PNP Supt. Marcos’ (no relation to Bongbong) on again, off again “dismissal” to Karen Davila on national TV which says as much about Karen’s prodding skill as it does of Bato’s naivete; but more about this later. Bato’s tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve is what makes him so endearing to the public but is unsuitable for the deep plays the President likes to engage in. There is also the question of the ruthlessness of the PNP Chief: He is brave enough but is he tough and wily enough for the job? Bato has not quite hugged Ronnie and Kerwin but we are afraid he is always one step away from doing so.

The President reversed Bato’s decision to relieve PNP Superintendent Marcos who was accused of taking protection money and leading the police contingent that killed Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa while in jail. It appears that unbeknownst to Bato, the President had his own investigation going and needed Marcos to lead him to bigger and badder things. Bato is the perfect face of the PNP, disarming, lovable and honest. Is he being made a foil to matters that are beyond his pay grade?

The De Lima, Robredo and Bato narratives tell us is there is possibly a Government within the Government that is invisible to the public and unknown even to those officially in place. This Administration would not have invented it. There was Nixon’s Watergate, the Iran-Contra thing and others. So much for the Freedom of Information Act.

The President is a brilliant strategist who understands human behavior, the weaknesses of media and the levers of power. He is a man on a mission who is uncomfortable with the limits of constitutional authority. He admires strongmen, Ferdinand Marcos, Putin. He often hints at lifting the writ of habeas corpus. He now controls the House and arguably the Senate. A move to Federalism will institutionalize his hold. This leaves only the Supreme Court to make the Executive omnipotent and this should be resolved in his Administration. In the next six years there will be ten vacancies (out of 15) in the Supreme Court to be filled by the President. This will give him a clear majority of the Court. Chief Justice Sereno remains but even she may be put in a delicate situation.

In short, and this is with trepidation, we may finally have the Benevolent Despot many Filipinos have been longing for.

Back To Basics

Ex-President Fidel Ramos thinks we are in a little bit of a mess.

The Administration is five months old which gives us, if you exclude the holidays, a fortnight to solve traffic, erase the drug trade, make peace with the Communists and Muslim dissidents, get Federalism going, take down the business oligarchs and terminate corrupt government officials; all the things the President promised would happen before the end year or he would resign. Neither is expected anytime soon.

We accept the promises as election talk. Just as Trump is not going to build his Mexican Wall, so Duterte should be allowed some hyperbole. Still, we should as a nation feel we are on the move, not up and down, but forward.

There are mixed results. Traffic, we are told, has improved although you might not think so.

Our conversation with the Left has hit a snag over the Duterte-endorsed Marcos burial. Communists are sensitive over Macoy and understandably so. The Reds were to Marcos what druglords are to Duterte. Leftists were extra-judicially killed then, druggies are extra-judicially killed now. Communists were the ostensible reason for martial law, drugs are the reason Rody is talking about habeas corpus. The Leftists -which include a number of Cabinet Secretaries- are apoplectic that Marcos is in Libingan.

On the War on Drugs, there is a palpable decrease in drug use and people feel safer as a consequence. There are over 4,000 dead druggies so we are on track to erase the 3 million still to go. However, there has been no prosecution much less dismissal of big-time government officials involved in the drug trade. A few mid-management drug traffickers –Jaguar, Mayor Espinosa- have been taken down but the higher-ups are still around and, when apprehended, treated with kid gloves and offered immunity. PNP Chief Bato De La Rosa seems a really nice guy but when he offers Mayor Espinosa his spare room to sleep, puts his arm around Ronnie Dayan and openly “admires” Kerwin; the public is confused.

To be fair, the Government has not nailed any big fish because most of them are apparently already in jail serving multiple life sentences while still going about their business. Be that as it may, the Administration should show they are suffering for their sins and not in Maximum Security luxury. What we have instead is an Administration that hails them as patriots for whatever salacious stories they can come up with against Leila de Lima. The lady senator may or may not be guilty but surely the War on Drugs is bigger than just her.

The Duterte Presidency has a vision but right now it is blurry. It should rethink its communication strategy, organization and priorities.

Malacanang’s current messaging is a substantial improvement from its cacophonous beginnings but it still needs work. With his penchant for mischief and double meanings, speaking what first comes to mind be it on Vice-Presidential knees or Obama, and snapping back at the smallest affront; the President is not helpful. The mature and sober Ernesto Abella, a former evangelist, is the best articulator in the Cabinet and he should be given sole responsibility for speaking for the President.

Organizationally, there is the sense of a scattered Government with each Secretary doing his thing. We do not see the juggernaut that was promised. Unifying the Cabinet effort is  the management responsibility of the Executive Secretary but for all his qualities, Bingbong Medialdea is not an organization man, he is a lawyer. The economy is not one of the President’s strengths. He could use an economic czar who would direct and speak on behalf of the economic team.

The President has correctly identified the drug menace as the nation’s number one priority. However Duterte has gotten stuck on this subject to the detriment of the country’s many other needs. His style is to delegate and rely on ministerial accountability which is fine but the overall effort has to be conducted. Cabinet Secretaries are uncertain of their footing, are afraid of getting shot as messengers and are often blind-sided by the President’s pronouncements; so they do not move with purpose. The Cabinet –and the business sector- needs leadership and guidance and that is lacking from a President fixated almost exclusively with the drug problem.

And if that was not enough the President complicated things by adding foreign policy to the menu. I cannot recall the President ever mentioning foreign relations in the campaign trail but this has become, next to drugs, the centerpiece of his Government. Yet Filipinos do not care about foreign policy, about whether Americans mistreated us a century ago (Ferdinand Marcos mistreated us as well, how come he gets to be buried with heroes?). The average man wants a good job, an education for his kids, healthcare for his parents, a roof over his head, safe streets, good air and clean water. These are where the President should devote his energy, not in building a new world order with us as one of the three pillars of the universe.

A nation has many moving parts, certainly more than a city. National governance requires perspective, planning, priorities, an effective management information and communication system, attention to execution, and a commitment to process. If the President wants to realize his vision for this country, he might want to return to these basics.