“WHOM THE GODS would destroy, they first make mad.”
That’s the popular line uttered by Longfellow’s Prometheus; as a Christian, however, I prefer Samuel Johnson’s version: “Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat” – “Whom God will destroy, He first makes mad.”
The thought doesn’t do justice to our redemptive God, who is far from the wrathful deity folks sometimes imagine. But Scripture reveals that He has used madness as a corrective for tyrannical rulers who had to be jolted into repentance and reform.
I feel that we’re watching one such leader being brought to heel right now.
Let’s run through events as they developed.
On September 27, Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang announced that his office would investigate charges made by Sen. Antonio Trillanes about Rodrigo Duterte and his family’s alleged hidden wealth. Carandang said they held documents from the Anti-Money Laundering Council which essentially affirmed those which Trillanes submitted with his complaint.
Duterte lost no time addressing that. He ominously declared in a PTV4 interview aired on September 28 that he would create an independent commission to look into reports of corruption at the Ombudsman. “You’ll be investigated also. One of these days kayo ang sigurado kong hahabulin dahil nga yung partiality ninyo. Pag hindi ninyo imbestigahan ang sarili ninyo, ako ang mag-set up ng commission to investigate you as a President with investigating powers,” he warned.
The next day, the AMLC formally denied having issued the Duterte bank records to the Ombudsman. Observers adjudged it a timorous move, considering the Ombudsman would not have made its announcement without first verifying the evidence. (It’s interesting that the current AMLC head is a Duterte appointee endorsed by SOJ Vitaliano Aguirre, and a fellow alumnus of San Beda Law.)
Both Duterte’s threat and the AMLC denial were duly refuted on September 29 by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who stated, “The President’s announcement that he intends to form a commission to investigate the Ombudsman appears to be a retaliation to our ongoing investigation. We will, nonetheless proceed with the probe, as mandated by the Constitution…As to the documents in our possession, we stand by our word.” She added, “If the President has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear.”
This unleashed a veritable cascade of vitriol from Duterte who issued a series of statements he will surely regret against Trillanes, Carpio Morales, Carandang, and even Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (who somehow got caught in the mêleé, possibly because she is another feisty woman who has stood up to him). He has dared both Carpio Morales and Sereno to resign with him.
After his startling revelation that he lied about Trillanes’s reported Singapore bank account, he dropped a couple of bombshells – first, that Trillanes closed his account online before heading to Singapore to dispute it, then that Trillanes was using his hidden wealth not for personal gain but to destablize the government.
Dubious netizens were quick to fact check these seemingly wild assertions, especially after Duterte’s admitted “invention.” (“Liar, liar” was the chant.) They easily learned that in keeping with standard banking practice, the DBS bank does not allow online account closures.
— JR CASTILLO (@JRDCastillo24) September 30, 2017
Ay kailangang iverify ang signature at thumbprint kapag magko-close ka ng account. 😆 pic.twitter.com/pfcPQ5iAqC
— JR CASTILLO (@JRDCastillo24) September 30, 2017
Through all this, unflappable Trillanes countered with his continuing call for Duterte to “Sign the waiver.” This refers to the official waiver of Duterte’s right to privacy guaranteed by the Bank Secrecy Law, which will allow a review of his and his family’s bank documents. A previous waiver signed by candidate Duterte and running mate Alan Peter Cayetano was insufficient because it was not specific and did not address any particular bank. Trillanes has repeatedly egged Duterte to sign a proper waiver but Duterte has ignored him entirely. “I signed a waiver hindi naman ginamit. Ngayon pa-signin mo ulit ano inuuto-uto mo ako? Swerte ka,” Duterte said.
In a matter of days, Duterte has claimed persecution by Trillanes, by the office of the Ombudsman, and even by IBP national president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo. In a statement, Fajardo called him “onion-skinned” and said his planned commission to investigate the Ombudsman was “constitutionally suspect.” Duterte lambasted Fajardo in a speech before the Davao IBP, saying: “And you just say ‘do not be onion-skinned.’ Who the f**k are you to tell me, in face of fabricated evidence. Sinabi ko na sa before the election wala ako niyan, at wala ako ngayon, I said to your sorrow (?). Ihampas ko sa mukha mo yang p**i* papel na yan [referring to Fajardo’s statement].”
He has vowed to ignore the Ombudsman’s investigation, alleging that the supposed evidence against him is spurious. He blasted this mouthful at Carandang, who seems to have caused severe provocation:
“Imagine this Carandang, magdasal ka lang Carandang. I’m not threatening you. ‘Pag ka nagka-leche leche ang Pilipinas uunahin kita… Sabi ng [AMLC] bakit may nagkuha doon sa loob? Binigay kay Trillanes, binigay kay Carandang. P—– ka Carandang ka, you are holding a fabricated [document], it’s up to your sorrow, you will rely to. Kung may kaibigan ka sa loob, pumunta ka na sa Bangko Sentral, tingnan mo na para safety ka.
“For certainly itong si Carandang, I can summon him. Because he committed a crime, not an administrative. I’m not trying him because I am not the judge but he has to answer for this or else I will go there and bring him to the NBI.”
In the same speech, Duterte said:
“Now look, I will not submit jurisdiction to the Ombudsman. Okay? If we cannot decide how to do it, then I will not – Congress refuses it. The Supreme Court is headed by – I’m not saying the membership, I have deep respect for the…Kilala ko…Pero ito, if it’s headed by a corrupt [official], wala sa SALN diyan ‘yung Piatco na ‘yan. Piatco na nabalita ‘yan, the legal circle . The Armed Forces and the police will decide it for us para hindi magkagulo-gulo itong bayan.”
This quick rundown of his pronouncements over the past few days shows that Duterte is losing it. We seem to be witnessing the unraveling of whatever self-restraint he had, at the very least, or at most, of his reason. The Ombudsman seems to have pushed the presidential buttons so deeply that he cannot escape the pressure. It is building up internally; one can feel it; and he appears near implosion. He is obviously obsessing about key personalities who (based on his ragged and vilifying statements) he is gleefully wearing and tearing down in his head.
If only his statements were prudent; if only they were decent; if only they did not betray his despotic tendencies, perhaps we could abide them. But they reveal a president in a tailspin whose response to official challengers is to destroy them. I wonder if he is all right, if he is still in full control of his faculties. Mostly, I wonder if he is still able to perform his sworn duty to faithfully and conscientiously fulfill his duties as President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate himself to the service of the Nation. So help him God.
I have my doubts.
15However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: 25The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. 28The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. 29At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.
– Deuteronomy 28:15, 25, 28-29