The call for a “revolutionary government” by the pompously named Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Committee may seem absurd and cluelessly sophomoric, but it is not just the joke some observers have described it to be. It is a deadly serious threat, as both the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Philippine Bar Association have warned, for espousing which, some lawyers have argued, the instigators should be charged with inciting to sedition.
Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson and his secretary of justice airily dismissed the call as just one group exercising its right to free expression — but without reminding its members that right is protected by the very same Constitution they want to trash. Free expression or not, the campaign for a revolutionary government is nevertheless enough of a challenge to the fragile Constitutional order that has been in constant danger under strongman rule for many to be alarmed.
The likely reason behind it is the instigators’ fears that time is running out for their patron. Those fears are based not only on the approaching end of Mr. Duterte’s term in 2022, but also on the possibility that he is not in the best of health and may not even complete his six-year term of office.
In the process of making their fears public, his partisans have unwittingly confirmed what much of the public has long suspected but hasn’t been quite sure of: that despite his cohorts’ frequent denials, and in confirmation of his own recent public declaration that his Barrett’s esophagus is getting worse and may become cancerous, Mr. Duterte is seriously ill.
What the open advocates and secret sponsors of a “revolutionary government” want is to prevent from happening what the Constitution mandates: their protector’s being succeeded by the current vice-president should he be incapacitated by health issues.
Their fears are driven not only by Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo’s not being among Mr. Duterte’s true believers. They are also premised on the assumption that once in power she could begin the difficult but doable process of putting an end not only to the plague of corruption that has spread throughout government but also to the exemption from punishment — the impunity — of wrongdoers in it.
But even if Mr. Duterte finishes his term, they also fear that whoever he chooses to run for President — will it be the boxer-cum-senator Manuel Pacquiao, his daughter Sara, or his senator-aide Christopher “Bong” Go? — may not win the 2022 elections as handily as he did in 2016, when, because of the number of candidates then, he won the country’s highest elective post, although only with 35% of the votes.
The opposition parties should have enough sense to unite and field only one candidate in 2022 in the person of Vice-President Robredo. It isn’t just because there is no one else. Despite the efforts of regime trolls, its print and broadcasting hacks, and its flunkies in the government media system, Mrs. Robredo is also gaining a quality following among academics and professionals as well as the poor who want competence and honesty in government. The growth of support, respect, and admiration for her is one of the consequences of the lethal impact on vast numbers of Filipinos of the Duterte regime’s sorry record of governance as most glaringly demonstrated by its disastrous handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Despite the pandemic and the consequent demands on meaningful leadership during the crisis, and the billions at his disposal, Mr. Duterte has mostly been elsewhere other than his office for days and even weeks at a time. When he does appear in public he provides citizens little relief from their fears of contagion, and their worries over where their next meals are coming from.
Although with limited resources, Mrs. Robredo has in contrast managed to address the economic and other difficulties of many Filipinos as well as provide medical frontliners the protective gear they need in the course of doing their jobs at the risk of their own lives. Its failure to stem the tide of unemployment and hunger and the continuing surge in the number of coronavirus infections is costing the Duterte regime dearly in the support of even its most ardent followers, some of whom are already migrating to the Robredo bloc.
Whether early or late, Mrs. Robredo’s assuming the Presidency could mean not only the end of the unlimited and unaccountable access to public funds regime accomplices, cronies, and collaborators now enjoy, but quite possibly, even their being tried and penalized for their crimes.
To forestall that catastrophe, Mr. Duterte’s minions are planning the demise of the 1987 Constitution and the framing of a new one by the very same creatures who would most benefit from it. It doesn’t matter to them what the costs to the country will be, among them the economy’s likely descent into a full-scale depression as political chaos and uncertainty shut down even more enterprises and foreign investors pull out of the country; the passing of the Republic and the rule of law as various forces contend violently for political dominance; and, worst of all, the destruction of what little remains of democratic institutions as one-man rule becomes the norm even after Mr. Duterte passes from the scene.
Rather than being about meaningful change, any so-called “revolutionary government” that’s established in the present context will be the exact opposite of what “revolutionary” means. A truly revolutionary government would, among others, lead the country to a sustainable peace, to development and political stability, assure the marginalized a voice in governance, and respect human rights.
Mr. Duterte has denied any link with the instigators, and so have his police and military officials. But as his own apologists insist, he does not always mean what he says or says what he means, and neither do his subordinates. Those declarations should not lull anyone into thinking that the proposal for him to lead a “revolutionary government” does not have his support and that of his police and military generals. He has after all threatened a number of times to declare it as the “antidote” to the complexities of democratic rule — and his wish is the latter’s command.
Neither should anyone delude themselves into believing that there are enough legal barriers to prevent that atrocity’s being forced on the people of this country. The lessons of history simply say otherwise.
Despite a spate of credible reports in 1972 that Mr. Duterte’s idol and mentor, Ferdinand Marcos, was planning a coup against the Republic and the Constitution by declaring martial law, few took the threat seriously in the belief that the Philippine “show window of democracy” was more than capable of defending itself from the ambitions of any would-be fascist overlord.
Everyone was soon disabused of that illusion when the entire country woke up in the morning of Sept. 23 with a president-for-life in Malacañang; the police and military empowered to arrest, detain, torture and murder anyone; only static over radio; no television and no newspapers; and worst of all, no Bill of Rights.
The lawyers are right to be alarmed. As outlandish and as deceptive as it may be, like Marcos’ martial law, a so-called “revolutionary government” can devastate this country as well unless everyone takes it seriously enough to oppose it for what it is: a plot against the Republic, the Constitution, and the entire Filipino nation.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).