The politics of sedition | Inquirer Opinion

The politics of sedition

/ 04:40 AM April 23, 2024
The politics of sedition

Long afflicted with foot-in-mouth syndrome, Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez kicked a hornets’ nest two Sundays ago by asking the military and police to withdraw their support from President Marcos to force him to abdicate the presidency.

Unfortunately for the Mindanao lawmaker, a one-time Speaker, his call was greeted with brickbats instead of bouquets.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched an investigation on Alvarez’s possibly seditious words, while the Department of National Defense eyes a parallel inquiry.

By turns defiant and apologetic, Alvarez has tried to walk back his comments by invoking free speech, while the Duterte family, the likely beneficiary of his incendiary proposal, sit grimly on the sidelines, protected by a political alliance that teeters on the edge of collapse.


Brink of war

Speaking at the April 14 rally in Tagum City in support of former president Rodrigo Duterte, his long-time ally, Alvarez had warned that the administration’s stance on China was pushing the country to the brink of war.

“When trouble breaks out in the West Philippine Sea, there will be countless dead bodies. There would be unimaginable destruction, famine, hunger,” he said, addressing the troops. “If you withdraw support from him, he will have nothing else to do but step down.”

Right on cue, Mr. Marcos’ allies came running to his defense. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the DOJ would determine “whether [Alvarez’s call] has risen to the level of sedition, inciting to sedition or even rebellion.” Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. warned that such a call “will not amount to anything but a possible criminal investigation.” A House inquiry is in the works, and there is talk that Alvarez, a Marine reservist, might be stripped of his rank.

Freedom of speech clause

Last Tuesday, Alvarez said he had been overcome by emotion at the prospect of “being dragged to war by Malacañang.”


“I love the Philippines, especially Mindanao. How could I keep quiet?” he said, arguing that his speech was not seditious at all, “because it is protected by the freedom of speech clause of the 1987 Constitution.”

That is rich coming from someone who spent his entire term as Speaker trying to revise the Constitution, and doubly so, from the one who threatened to oust the sitting vice president in 2017 for the crime of criticizing the drug war before a United Nations body.


At the time, Alvarez had blustered on television: “Yes, it’s true she (Leni Robredo) is entitled to freedom of speech. But it does not exempt any official from an irresponsible act.”

In a breathtaking display of karmic retribution, the Davao lawmaker’s own words have come back to haunt him, this time, under a government that’s not as keen to coddle him as the last one.

A textbook example

The Revised Penal Code defines inciting to sedition as an offense committed by “any person who, without taking any direct part in the crime of sedition, should incite others to the accomplishment of any of the acts which constitute sedition, by means of speeches, proclamations, writings … or other representations.”

At face value, it would appear Alvarez’s comments are a textbook example of this, although, of course, such a determination could only be made by state prosecutors, and ultimately, the judiciary.

That said, other people have been taken to court for less. Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a constant target of similar complaints, was indicted on an inciting-to-sedition charge six years ago for telling the military and police in September 2018, that “Duterte will not be there for long; please do not do anything illegal or unconstitutional.”

From just the sound of it, such rhetoric might well have belonged to the pages of Alvarez’s own speech.

Duterte’s veiled threats

But one can hardly dismiss Alvarez’s comments as silly ramblings when Duterte himself and his other loyalists have uttered similar remarks.

In November, the former president admitted talking to retired generals and, at one point, threatened his foes in the House leadership: “I am not scaring you, but watch the military and the police closely.” In February, Duterte batted for a “separate and independent Mindanao,” with the caveat that “it is not a rebellion, not a bloody one.” In March, his ex-legal counsel Salvador Panelo warned during a Manila rally: “The day will come when the people who installed you will be the ones to remove you.”

Through all these, nary a peep was heard from the government, for the privilege Duterte enjoys over Alvarez is not because of his identity as the former president but because of his identity as the father of the President’s constitutional successor.

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On that score alone, it is sheer folly on the part of the Marcos administration to ignore Alvarez’s spoken warning, but it would be utter madness to ignore Duterte’s veiled threats.

TAGS: Editorial

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