Duterte trying to do a Marcos with ‘RevGov’
From President Duterte down to his supporters, we hear the argument that the template for creating a “revolutionary government” was set by Corazon Aquino; why, he asks (they all ask), can’t he do the same thing?
He already raised the question when he visited the Inquirer in August 2015, during his long, coy campaign for the presidency. The idea that the presidency as an office was not powerful enough to fix what truly ails the country, and that a revolutionary government or a “constitutional dictatorship” was needed, was not Marcosian, he said. “Why will I be a Marcos? There is a lesson there in history to look at. Why not follow Cory?”
He repeated the same claim, that Cory Aquino’s revolutionary government was a pattern he can follow, in August 2017, over a year into his raucous presidency, when he started talking up the revolutionary government option again. “For the Philippines to really go up, I said: What the people need is not martial law. Go for what Cory did — revolutionary government. But don’t look at me. I cannot go there.”
Two months later, the “I cannot go there” was, well, no longer there. In an interview with a favored news presenter in October, President Duterte said: “Pag ang destabilization ninyo patagilid na and medyo magulo na (If your destabilization attempt is worsening and it has become somewhat chaotic), I will not hesitate to declare a revolutionary government until the end of my term, and I will arrest all of you and we can go to a full-scale war against the Reds.”
But in fact Mr. Duterte has no legal authority to declare a revolutionary government. His “lesson there in history” is based on the wrong reading of history. Corazon Aquino was brought to power by a revolution, the People Power uprising that repudiated the rigged election results called under the 1973 Constitution; she replaced it with a truncated version (removing the most onerous parts), until the people overwhelmingly ratified a new Constitution. That’s why — and how — in her first year in office she presided over a revolutionary government.
So what Mr. Duterte is really trying to do is a Marcos: Elected by constitutional fiat, he wants to kill the Constitution that brought him to power. (Marcos’ version was called a “revolution from the center.”) He may not have the legal authority to declare a revolutionary government, but if enough senators and justices, bishops and businessmen, laborers and students remain silent, and he is able to co-opt a professional military, then that’s the beginning of the end.
What if RevGov is a mere gambit? That’s possible, but…
At the national convention of the Free Legal Assistance Group last month, I had the chance to debunk a myth. “I have heard it from sources close to the President and from his political allies that he has a strategist’s mind. On reflection, I find that he is in fact a master tactician, but no strategist. He has no message discipline, no policy discipline, no personal discipline. The strategy is one size fits all: Gain power and consolidate it. That’s it. He can dominate certain controversies with tactical counter-strokes, such as when he had Kian delos Santos’ parents visit him in the Palace and then do the Duterte fist bump. He can take high-profile risks and then realize they were not worth it, such as unexpectedly naming Gina Lopez as environment secretary. And he can lose outright.”
(I also said much the same thing at an East West Center forum in Honolulu, last October.)
The idea that the President is using the revolutionary government card as a gambit, something he will withdraw at the last moment when he has secured the approval of the rest of the political establishment for his other projects, feeds into this nonsense about strategic thinking. I believe the gambit as an idea arose only as a tactical response to the unexpected pushback from the defense establishment.
But — to extend the metaphor — the equivalent of the revolutionary government gambit in real-world chess is one’s opponent threatening to upend the chessboard and start anew when he realizes he is losing. Why would anyone want to play with him again, or at all?
Senators and congressmen who may be tempted to think that, say, impeaching Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is a relatively small price to pay for getting Mr. Duterte to reject the revolutionary government option once and for all are only deluding themselves. This is a man who will have no qualms smashing the board, or cracking his opponent’s skull with it.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand
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