If Trump were President of the Philippines
Donald Trump appears to be in a whole lot of trouble and could even face impeachment as president of the United States. His biggest problem is not even the allegation that he may have been involved in a possible collusion between his presidential campaign team and the Russians.
Rather, it is the allegation that he tried to obstruct justice by asking -- or suggesting -- to former FBI Director James Comey that the latter should discontinue the investigation of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Flynn was summarily dismissed from his sensitive post and is currently being investigated by the FBI -- and by a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller -- for suspicious contacts with the Russians and for failing to disclose earnings he had made as an agent for a foreign government.
Obstruction of justice was also the violation that forced President Richard Nixon to resign, to avoid impeachment, as a result of the Watergate scandal.
In fact, a recent article in Voz, written by Dylan Matthews, and posted online, carried the headline, “Donald Trump has committed the exact offense that forced Richard Nixon to resign.”
Trump must wish he were president of the Philippines, instead. Then he would have no problems. No problems at all.
In our country, obstruction of justice is a normal occurrence, as likely to happen between superior (i.e., president) and subordinate (i.e., head of the NBI) or between legislative colleagues as the sun rises in the morning and sets at night.
In the Philippines, it is considered a prerogative of the top dog to expect undying, unquestioning, and unconditional loyalty from subordinates.
That kind of loyalty sometimes involves bending or outright breaking the law.
The myth of coequal bodies in the government -- executive, legislative and judiciary -- is exactly that: a myth. Because the president of the Philippines has the power to grant largesse in the millions to members of the “coequal” members of the Legislature, senators and congressmen don’t even hide their sycophantic relations with the chief executive.
I referred to it in a recent column as The Golden Rule, namely, he who has the gold makes the rules.
Of course, in today’s Republican-dominated US Congress, Donald Trump still commands some loyalty from his party mates -- but it’s not the kind of lap-dog, kiss-ass loyalty that members of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives reserve for President Rodrigo Duterte. In fact, it is more a case of loyalty to the Republican party rather than to President Trump.
At this point, some members of the GOP (Grand Ole Party, which is a nickname for the Republicans) have begun to have second thoughts about party loyalty vis-à-vis loyalty to the country.
This particularly applies to members of Congress who need to run in the mid-term elections in 2018 (as you can see, it’s not strictly loyalty to country, either, as it is a survival instinct).
In Nixon’s case, the time came when Republican leaders told him bluntly that he had lost the support of the party. That was the final nail hammered into Nixon’s presidency. He immediately announced his resignation.
Political observers are not sure that Trump will readily give up the presidency in the face of an impeachment threat. According CNN political pundit, Fareed Zakaria, in an on-air commentary, Trump’s character, described as “malignant narcissism” by a panel of eminent psychiatrists and psychologists, may mean that he will hang on to his job whatever the cost.
When it comes to the relations between the president of the US and the head of the FBI, the rule is for the parties involved to keep a safe distance from each other, to avoid any suspicion of collusion.
And yet the POTUS has the authority to hire and fire the FBI director -- which Trump, in fact, did. But it appears that the reason for the firing was because of Comey’s refusal to pledge loyalty to Trump or to “lift the cloud” hovering over his presidency, to use Trump’s own words.
All these careful crossing of the t’s and the dotting of the i’s surely sound funny, even ridiculous, to Filipino politicians. It’s as funny and ridiculous as not engaging in graft and corruption while in office (If not now, when? If not me, who?).
In the immortal words of the late unlamented Senate President Jose Avelino, “What are we in power for?”
Thus, if Trump were in the shoes of Duterte, he would find comfort in the unapologetic backing of the Secretary of Justice Vitaliano Aguirre. And in the Senate, if anyone dares raise the possibility of investigating allegations of obstruction of justice, Trump could always count on the hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-speak-no-evil support of such honorable men as Senator Richard Gordon and Senate President Koko Pimentel.
As one hardened Pinoy political commentator puts it, “Obstruction of justice lang pala. Chicken iyan sa Senado. Eh, kung iyong EJK wala silang makitang kasalanan.”
(If it’s just obstruction of justice, that’s nothing in the Senate. They couldn’t even see any case of extrajudicial killings).
It goes without saying that the Philippine House of Representatives will vow to throw any impeachment complaints in the trash. You can always count on Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to rise to the occasion.
Anyone who promises to tear up any Supreme Court order to convene both houses of Congress to review Duterte’s recent declaration of martial law, should have no difficulty telling Trump, “no problemo (to quote Arnold Schwarzenneger in Terminator).”
If Trump were president of the Philippines and if Comey were the director of the NBI, you can almost see how the conversation would go in the sanctum sanctorum of Malacañang (in the first place, Trump would not have to send his top people and son-in-law out of the room).
Trump would tell his aides, “You guys stick around. Anyway, Jimmy here is our man. Right, James?”
Comey would readily reply, “Yes, sir. I’m your man, sir. In fact, if you tell me to jump out the window, I will ask you, from what floor.”
And Trump would beam: “That’s what I call loyalty.”
Trump would then immediately get to the point: “I want to talk about Mike Flynn. I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
“Yes, sir,” Comey would quickly reply. “No problem, sir. Case closed.”
But assuming James Comey were the kind of man with a high sense of integrity and hesitates to give Trump an assurance of “letting Flynn go,” here is what would happen.
Trump: “You’re fired Comey. And I have witnesses here to attest to the fact that you and the foreign agents were in cahoots, not Mike Flynn. Isn’t that so, guys?”
Chorus of Trump aides: “Yesss sirrrr!!!!”
Next day, the newspaper headlines and social media will blare: “President fires NBI Director for collusion with foreign agents.”
The subhead will read: Trump clears Flynn and Russians. CIA suspected.”
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.