Is Dick Hindering Digong or Is Digong Suffering from Dick Envy?

By Marcial Bonifacio

Updated: 9/8/19

My friends and countrymen, I realize this commentary comes late but is most appropriate as we observe National Heroes Day.  Indeed, I wish to shed some light on the current issue by providing some historical context, which would otherwise perpetuate misapprehensions and misperceptions about the intentions of a public servant, worthy of the same respect, honor, and adoration as Dr. Jose Rizal.  Therefore, I’ll be killing two birds with one stone.  Without further ado, I’ll begin now.

I’m greatly appalled by the spectacle of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s behavior on August 1, 2019 wherein he went on a tirade against Senator Richard Gordon.  When the former disclosed his decision to appoint former military officials to top government posts, the latter simply commented that having such numerous appointees could potentially be “dangerous because civilian authority must remain supreme over the military.  Dapat three years muna bago ka i-appoint… para mawala muna ‘yung ties mo, the ties that bind.” (There must be three years after relief from active duty before you get appointed…to let go of your ties, the ties that bind.)

Gordon explained, “Ang problema lang kay Presidente, mababaw ang bench niya. He comes from the province, hindi niya nakilala. So, mas nagre-rely siya sa military.” (The problem with the President is that he has a shallow bench. He comes from the province and scarcely knows anyone. So, he relies mostly on the military.)  As a result, during his speech at the 28th founding anniversary of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) commemoration, Duterte made some repugnant and bizarre remarks, which I will list below and consequently address:

“Pero kung ako ang presidente at pupunta ako ng Maynila magtrabaho dito, maghanap ako ng tao. Kung si Gordon lang naman ang makita ko, mag-resign na lang ako [sa] pagkapresidente.” (If I’m the President and I go to Manila to work and look for people, if Gordon is all I’d see here, I’d rather resign as president.)

“Ang tanong niya sa akin, ano daw ang nakita ko sa military. Well, one, sabihin ko sa ‘yo, I can move faster with honesty. Mahirap maghanap ng tao na honest ngayon.” (His question for me is, what do I see in the military? Well, one, I’ll tell you, I can move faster with honesty. It’s hard to find honest people nowadays.)

“Do not be too presumptuous about your talent. Why do you criticize me? It’s my prerogative. It is not prohibited by law. And the law says that the president shall be, kung may tulong siya sa mga taong Cabinet member (if he gets help from Cabinet members), it doesn’t say except those who are ex-military men because they are not qualified.”

“I am challenging him, give me one specific instance that the military, the police or the DILG membership disobeys a single order from me.”

“You won’t ever become vice president. I will make sure of that. You really won’t become vice president. Now if you want that title badly, what you should do is you create a private corporation, make your family the incorporators of that corporation, then appoint a president, a member of your family as president of the corporation, then find a way that you will be seated as the vice president of that corporation.”

“Kung ikaw mag-presidente, sigurado ‘yan wala talagang maniwala sa ‘yo. ‘Yang sinabi mo na ‘yan? ‘Wag ka na tumakbo ng presidente, wala kang makuha sa Armed Forces. Pag manalo ka, kargahin ka diyan galing sa Luneta diretso ka doon sa Bilibid (If you run for president, for sure, no one will believe you. Considering what you said about the military? Don’t ever run for presidency, you won’t get a single vote from the Armed Forces. If you win, you will be carried straight from Luneta to jail),” he added.

“Mabuti kung may away diyan sa Negros, matawag ko ba si Senator Dick Gordon magpunta doon? Magturo-turo, mag-English… Siya lang makaintindi, kinakain niya salita niya, eh (There’s conflict in Negros, it would be good if I could call on Senator Gordon to go there. But what would he do? Teach English? It’s only he who understands himself because he eats his words),” Duterte said.

“Hindi ka naman talaga Filipino, tisoy ka lang. Kami dito mga probinsyano.” (You are not pure Filipino, you are of mixed race. We, from the province, are.)

“You know, I think ‘yung sabi niyang probinsyano ako, sa bagay totoo ‘yan. Pero, at least, probinsiyano ako, my brain stays in my head. ‘Yung utak mo, Dick, natutunaw, napupunta diyan sa tiyan mo. You are a fart away from disaster. Intindihin mo muna ‘yung tiyan mo bago ka makialam sa trabaho ko.” (You know, I think his remark about me being from the province, to be fair, that’s true. But at least I’m from the province, my brain stays in my head. Your brain, Dick, dissolves and goes to your belly instead. You are a fart away from disaster. Mind your belly first before interfering with my job.)

“Take care of your stomach. It’s ugly. You’re just a fart, a heartbeat away from… ‘Yang laki mong ‘yan? ‘Yan ang katawan na mahirap, hindi pwede ambulansya. Karga ninyo sa truck ninyo.” (With your size? You won’t fit in an ambulance. They will carry you at the back of a truck.)

“Sabi ko nga, ikaw, para kang penguin maglakad. Totoo man sabihin mo sa kanya. Makita kami. Sabihin niya sa akin uli ‘yan. Sabihin niya in front of me.” (Like I said, he walks like a penguin. It’s true, you can tell him that. When we see each other, he should tell me what he said to my face.)

To all these insults, Gordon graciously responded, “I take no offense at the President’s comments. As I have said, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and we cannot be onion-skinned about such things. . . I am happy that the President is concerned about my waistline, but he need not worry about that.  My wife has seen to it that I have reduced it significantly of late. But I appreciate that he is concerned about my health as I am about his.”

Now that I have presented the relevant parts of the dialogue between Duterte and Gordon, I will henceforth address each of Duterte’s points.  First, Duterte detests Gordon so much that he would resign as President if he was the only prospective appointee.  However, in a speech at a Philippine Red Cross event in 2017, Duterte praisefully referred to him as “President Gordon,” which would be “only about a few more years.”  Whence came such clear inconsistency in Duterte’s view of Gordon?

Now that I have presented the relevant parts of the dialogue between Duterte and Gordon, I will henceforth address each of Duterte’s points.  First, Duterte detests Gordon so much that he would resign as President if he was the only prospective appointee.  However, in a speech at a Philippine Red Cross event in 2017, Duterte praisefully referred to him as “President Gordon,” which would be “only about a few more years.”  Whence came such clear inconsistency in Duterte’s view of Gordon?

Second, Duterte says he prefers military officials because they are trustworthy, and honest non-military prospects are difficult to find.  Generally speaking, in this seemingly cruel, dog-eat-dog world, it is difficult to find trustworthy friends and spouses, much less good, upstanding public servants impervious to corruption.  However, that is precisely why anyone running for the office of president should have an entrenched political machinery.  That is simply the nature of politics.

Surely Duterte’s close friendships with potential appointees are not limited to current military and retired military officials.  Even if so, can he not find prospects among the network of his own children in public office?  Mayor Sara Duterte or Congressman Paolo Duterte?  What about his college mates or colleagues when he was a prosecutor?  By the way, if military officials are trustworthy, what of the retired generals who are accused of plunder at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO)?

Third, Duterte questions Gordon’s criticism, defensively stating that his intended appointments are at his discretion and lawful.  Article XVI, Section 5(4) of the 1987 Constitution reads: “No member of the armed forces in the active service shall, at any time, be appointed or designated in any capacity to a civilian position in the Government including government-owned or controlled corporations or any of their subsidiaries.”  Therefore, Duterte is correct with regard to legality and constitutionality.

However, this is not an issue of legality or constitutionality, but of national security and following the spirit of the law, rather than just the letter of the law.  Apparently, Gordon understood the principle of civilian control of the military, since the latter is not an institution “wired for democratic policymaking, governing, or statecraft.”  Rather, its nature is authoritarian and generally functions for defense, deterrence, and killing.

In order to understand Gordon’s concern germane to Duterte’s potential militarization of the government, historical context is instructive.  This concept of civilian supremacy is the trademark of American government, which distinguishes the U.S. as well as other republics (including the Philippines) from authoritarian nations, whose attempts to overturn their governments via military coups, are banal.  In order to institute such a state of affairs, America’s founders delegated some military functions to civilians.

According to Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress shall have the power “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy.”  Article II, Section 2 reads, “The President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States . . .”  Such a dispersal of power with a civilian check on the military was similarly adopted and assimilated into the Philippine Constitution.

During a time when the world was less interconnected in terms of trade and national defense, a standing army or permanent military force was obsolete, even abhorred by America’s founders.  They knew from their experience under King George III, that on just a whim of a tyrannical government, their rights could easily be violated.  However, this situation changed after World War II and the specter of Communism, whereby a more dangerous world necessitated the banality of a permanent American military force and interventionist foreign policy, even more so today with the rapid spread of Islamic terrorism and the emergence of rogue states, developing nuclear weapons.

Consequently, the U.S. Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947 which mandated a 10-year minimum (currently amended to a 7-year minimum) of inactive military service prior to appointment as Defense Secretary.  Such a law, according to Kathleen Hicks of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “is a prudent contribution to maintaining the constitutionally-grounded principle of civilian control, both symbolically and in practice, in the presence of a sizable and highly capable 21st century military.”  Gordon is fully aware of this American law and proposes it be applied to retired military appointees in the Philippines as well.  However, he suggests a mandatory 3-year (instead of 7-year) hiatus and proposes it for all top civilian posts, aside from that of Defense Secretary.  Such an interval would weaken the “ties that bind” and hence thwart coup attempts by rebels.

From our own history, Gordon has pointed out two coup d’etat attempts by the Magdalo group, which is composed of three Philippine Military Academy graduates, who served in the Bureau of Customs, namely, former Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, Customs Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Gambala, and former Import Assessment Services (IAS) director Milo Maestrecampo.  “First of all,” Gordon asks, “is there any danger, for example, that they could be raising money for a political party like Magdalo? Is there any danger, for example, that they could be raising money to buy arms for another coup?”

V: Gordon’s interpolation

Cognizant of our countrymen’s tendency to be complacent, even in so far as to be acquiescent, Gordon is simply cautioning us, including Duterte, about the risks of appointing newly retired military officials to top civilian posts of government.  The purpose, according to Gordon, is “meant not only to protect the country but his administration.”  That is his mandate as a representative of the people, and if Duterte feels hindered or threatened, perhaps he does not possess an equivalent historical acumen or erudition.  Otherwise, his despotic tendencies may be preventing him from tolerating peaceful dissent or differing public policies, qualities that comprise a thriving republic.

Aside from the ostensible domestic concerns of militarized government, negative global optics can adversely affect international relations in security and business dealings.  Among Duterte’s former military appointees thus far are: Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez Jr., Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council of the Philippines (HUDCC) Chair Eduardo del Rosario, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, and MMDA Chair Danilo Lim.  Couple such appointments with his numerous visits to military camps throughout the Philippines, his rhetoric on the prospect of establishing a revolutionary government, his demand for authorization to use emergency powers and imposition of martial law, and his censuring of journalists.

Would such optics bode well with the international community?  Would foreign investors feel confident about infusing funds to boost our economy?  Would our allies trust us and continue to provide foreign aid in the form of humanitarian goods and services and military goods and training?  How would potential tourists feel about vacationing in the Philippines?

Fourth, on Duterte’s challenge to Gordon to cite one specific instance wherein a military official disobeyed an order from him, August 20th the day of such an instance.  It was the day Bureau of Corrections Chief Nicanor Faeldon ordered the release of rapist/murderer Antonio Sanchez against Duterte’s order.  According to Duterte, “he violated my instructions.”  That is why on September 4, 2019, the President terminated his public service.  “Faeldon has to go,” he said, “because Faeldon disobeyed my order.”  Hence, Gordon won the challenge without ever uttering a word, since Duterte essentially outchallenged himself.

Fifth, it seems that Duterte has given advice to Gordon on how to become Vice-President.  I must say that I am a bit perplexed.  I was not aware that Gordon has sought or currently seeks such a post.  Therefore, I cannot comment on that, but I will ask: How is that pertinent to the BFP commemoration?

Sixth, Duterte states that should Gordon run for the presidency, nobody would believe him, and the military would not vote for him, due to insulting them.  Why wouldn’t anyone believe Gordon?  He has been consistent in his principles and is even known as “Aksyon Gordon” because he “walks the walk” and doesn’t just “talk the talk.” What precisely was Gordon’s insult to the military?  That the government may become militarized?

Perhaps he shares the same sentiment as one of America’s founders, Samuel Adams, who warned that, “Even when there is a necessity of military power, within the land… a wise and prudent people will always have a watchful & jealous eye over it.”  Why wouldn’t the military vote for Gordon?  I’ll let him defend himself in his own words:


During my first term as Senator, we authored and passed RA 6948 or the Act Standardizing and Upgrading the Benefits for Military Veterans and their Dependents. We even pushed for a higher budget for the military and defense. In fact, during the deliberations of the TRAIN Law, we proposed that 15% of the collections from it be earmarked for military modernization and it passed the Senate. When it was later removed, I threatened to filibuster until the President called and assured me that the executive would ensure that it would be implemented.

Seventh, Duterte expressed his desire for Gordon to accompany him in Negros with regard to the recent killings allegedly committed by the New People’s Army, the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.  However, he questioned what he would do there.  Teach English?  What an excellent idea, since English is a most essential language!  According to the British Council:

English is the main language of books, newspapers, airports and air-traffic control, international business and academic conferences, science, technology, diplomacy, sport, international competitions, pop music and advertising. Over two-thirds of the world’s scientists read in English. Three quarters of the world’s mail is written in English. Eighty percent of the world’s electronically stored information is in English. Of the estimated forty million users of the Internet, some eighty percent communicate in English. . .

Gordon speaks both fluent English and Tagalog.  He is even adept in utilizing English colloquialisms, clichés, and idioms.  Therefore, Gordon would be the ideal English instructor for the people of Negros, unlike Duterte who is fluent in neither.

Of course, a well learned and accomplished man as Gordon can contribute in other ways as well.  As a crisis manager for the Red Cross, he could provide emotional and inspirational support, as well as disaster logistics and rescue aid to the victims.  As a legal luminary, Gordon could advise Duterte on any proposals with regard to military and counter-terrorist action and the legality or constitutionality thereof.  After all, he was a lawyer and delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, and is currently an effective lawmaker in the Senate.

Eighth, on the issue of Gordon not being a real Filipino, If Duterte is referring exclusively to ethnicity, then he is incontrovertibly correct.  He is only 50% Filipino due to his Caucasian father, who chose to renounce his American citizenship, become a Filipino citizen, betroth and live with a Filipina in the Philippines, serve Filipinos as their mayor, and eventually die and be buried in the Philippines.  Gordon followed suit, notwithstanding his birth and rearing in the Philippines and is yet to be deceased.

If, on the other hand, the definition of a Filipino is expanded to include a Philippine citizen who religiously performs his civic duty, then Gordon is 100% Filipino.  If the definition includes a citizen who contemplates and honors Filipino heroes and martyrs, then Gordon is 100% Filipino.  If the definition includes a public servant who defends and upholds Filipino institutions and the Philippine Constitution, then Gordon is 100% Filipino.  In a word, if the definition of being a Filipino is simply one who embraces Filipino culture and supporting causes and policies which will advance or uplift the Filipino people, then Gordon is 100% Filipino.  Is that not all that should matter?  Duterte will not even fulfill his constitutional mandate of protecting the Philippines’ territorial sovereignty in Panatag Shoal.  Perhaps we should rightfully say that he is 50% Filipino and 50% Chinese for acquiescing this fundamental right to China.

Ninth, from where did all Duterte’s derogatory and puerile comments about Gordon’s intelligence (or lack thereof) and excess weight emanate?  One can only speculate.  Perhaps this was a display of the former’s own intelligence (or lack thereof).  Perhaps it was another typical demonstration of his character (or lack thereof).  Perhaps such histrionics was simply an indicator of his own inadequacies or insecurities projected deeply from his own subconscious.  Perhaps it is due to his upbringing in the province. de0a  Whatever it may be, one thing is certain: Digong’s obsession with Dick finally overwhelmed him.  Indeed, ranting about Dick for approximately twenty minutes in a speech, which was supposed to commemorate the BFP, made this clearly transparent.

In conclusion, I wish to inculcate our countrymen with some important points.  First, we must always remember that a popular president does not equate to a good president.  That is why Gordon’s grasp of history, his foresight, and his persistent vigilance are qualities we should come to appreciate and cultivate within ourselves.

Second, we must understand that Gordon’s civility and humility in handling Duterte’s excoriation exalts him and makes him the better man, as well as the better public servant.  Indeed, his restraint in personal attacks against Duterte is a display of good character, diplomacy, and cognizance of domestic, as well as global optics, which could impact international relations.

Third, we must appreciate the founders and their concept of civilian supremacy over the military in order to preserve our government’s peaceful transfer of power.

Finally, my friends and countrymen, we must never, under any circumstances, underestimate or take for granted, the value and impact of Dick . . . Dick Gordon, that is.

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