The attempt to start a groundswell of public support for a “revolutionary government” failed dismally last week; some supporters of the Duterte administration have not yet come to terms with the brutal political reality, a year and a half since Rodrigo Duterte took office, that campaigning as outsiders is entirely different from governing as the establishment. Does this mean that the existential threat to the constitutional order that was the “RevGov” attempt has ceased to, well, exist?
The answer is No, because here is the truth of the matter: A deep antidemocratic spirit, hostile to the rule of law, characterizes Dutertismo. And this spirit will continue to seek ways to express itself—if not through the self-coup that is a revolutionary government, then through the extension and even expansion of martial law, the weaponization of Congress’ power to impeach, the continuing abuse of the justice department’s prosecutorial powers.
RevGov supporters wanted to organize a semblance of public support for the power grab, to allow President Duterte the popular cover he would need to abandon the Constitution. Because make no mistake, declaring a revolutionary government would have meant ripping our country’s founding law apart. The defense department’s categorical message, that it and the Armed Forces cannot support a revolutionary government, is based on both a sense of hard-earned professionalism and a horror of the inevitable disorder that will follow in the wake of a declaration.
We should not make too much of the defense establishment’s position (at the same time we should avoid making too little of it). Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero are not politically opposed to the President; far from it. But I believe they understand the Constitution in a more intuitive way than most lawyers do; as soldiers they know they may have to die for it. Thus, any attempt, whether in a Cabinet meeting or outside it, to make the Constitution less than it is must be resisted.
But “normalization” of unconstitutional conduct is also a function of time and repetition. You have the President repeat his threat to declare a revolutionary government again and again, and the younger generals may begin to think the threat is a legal option after all. You have the Supreme Court bend over backwards to recognize the President’s minority election mandate, at the expense of the overwhelming vote to ratify the Constitution itself (this is the ideological framework
underpinning Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta’s incoherent decision allowing the Marcos burial), and the younger justices and the new judges may begin to think that any president, even one elected with the second-smallest mandate in our history, is larger than the constitutional order itself. You have an empowered buffoon like Larry Gadon say the most outrageous things, not only about Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno but now about a supposed cabal of bribable senators, without so much as a reprimand from a compliant Congress, and younger politicians and political activists may begin to think that raw power really does trump the rule of law.
President Duterte’s “Davao template” is based on a highly pragmatic approach to governing: Many factors contributed to its success, but part of its secret is the accumulation of political capital through the systematic abuse of the rule of law. Mr. Duterte said it himself, about using his prosecutorial power to plant both intrigue and evidence. This is how he understands things get done.
The history is there, for everyone to read. But now the President is facing existential threats of his own: the unexplainable bank accounts exist; the billion-peso shabu smuggling scandal that implicates his own son refuses to go away. To a lifetime of tendencies, we add a once-in-a-lifetime temptation for total power.
That is why pushback against a revolutionary government or any other anti-democratic attempt must continue; the threat remains.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand