The coming change
EVEN before Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s official proclamation as “President-elect,” which was due to happen today, his promise of “change” has already begun to unfold. But the “coming change” seems surprisingly different from what was promised by the just-concluded electoral process or imagined by his most ardent supporters. His approach to his constitutional presidency has a distinctly authoritarian character, and it seems to come closest to what the Israeli philosopher Jacob Leib Talmon calls “totalitarian democracy.” This seems enough to cause many of his most rabid supporters some precious hours of sleep.
Not everyone may have heard of Talmon or his work. But it is fairly well discussed among academics. I refer to it simply to lend some academic classification to the emerging political puzzler, although to a non-academic observer like me, “totalitarian democracy” is nothing but an oxymoron—a combination of words with contradictory meanings. On the basis of what we have heard and are hearing from Mr. Duterte and his evolving entourage, I believe “totalitarian,” “dictatorial,” or “despotic” would suffice to describe the political organism that seems to be shaping up.
First of all, everything seems to be coming from out of the box—from the way Mr. Duterte will dress for or speak in his inaugural, to what social and political forces he’ll work with, to what aspects of human life he’ll want to control and dictate, etc. No conventions or precedents are sacred. “This is what I want; I don’t want a debate. I want your obedience, not your opinion or your consent.” This is what strikes the average listener, hopefully incorrectly, as he listens to the presumptive President-elect.
Coalition govt with the Left
For starters, Mr. Duterte has decided to set up a coalition government with the Left. The decision may have been secretly considered by the candidate before the election, or discussed between him and the leaders of the CPP/NPA/NDF, but until he announced it recently, the public knew absolutely nothing about it—he never said he would do anything like it, if elected President. Although it now appears that the Left had mobilized its forces for Duterte at the polls, he ran as presidential candidate of the PDP-Laban only, and not as a coalition candidate of PDP-Laban and the CPP/NPA/NDF.
Would he have obtained the same massive grassroots support had he told the electorate he was running as a candidate of the Left also, and that one of his first priorities, if elected, would be to create a coalition government? This is an important question to ask. It is not to revive any Cold War position or sentiment, but it is a fact that while Soviet communism has collapsed and the Cold War has ended, the last remaining communists in Utrecht are Filipinos, and communist insurgency in the country has grown and prospered. So the Filipino people have every right to know what their government intends to do about it.
For the sake of national solidarity and peace, we should welcome our qualified brothers and sisters on the Left as they take elective or appointive high government office, but only after a genuine peace and reconciliation agreement shall have ended the prolonged armed struggle in the city and countryside. There is no reason why a coalition government should not work here as well as it has in present-day Europe, but it would have no constitutional, political or moral basis while the armed struggle remains unsettled.
In 1992, Congress repealed Republic Act 1700, otherwise known as the Anti-Subversion Law of 1957, which outlawed the Communist Party of the Philippines and related organizations, so that their members could come down from the mountains and the hills and enter the political mainstream. As a consequence, former communist partisans now sit in Congress as elected party-list members, but sadly their party continues to wage armed struggle.
For a coalition government to prosper, it must be built on a comprehensive peace agreement that includes, among other things, the laying down of arms and other reconciliatory and confidence-building measures. Even with the best of intentions and goodwill, no coalition government can be formed without this indispensable anchor or foundation. If the coalition government is to be forged after—and necessarily as the result of—an election, the plan or proposal must be well-publicized for the guidance of the voters right from the start of the electoral process.
Unfortunately, this was never mentioned during the campaign, not even in the presidential debates. No wonder some people feel a gun is now being held to their head, as it were.
Reviving the death sentence
Throughout the campaign, Duterte thrilled audiences with his promise to solve crime in three to six months by “killing criminals.” He has since vowed to restore the death penalty for certain heinous crimes. The 1987 Constitution has abolished capital punishment, except for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes. Various administrations from Fidel V. Ramos up have used the penalty to execute criminals. But in 2006, then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo suspended the penalty and commuted the death sentence of 1,230 convicts to life imprisonment.
In 2007, the Philippines acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which commits the state to the perpetual abolition of capital punishment. The government will have to renounce this treaty if it decides to restore the death sentence. That will not be without its international consequences. And the mere move to restore the penalty is certain to trigger an intense debate.
Advances in penology have created a strong case against the death sentence; extensive studies have shown that the certainty of punishment is a far greater deterrent to crime than the most severe sentence. If every crime were solved, every criminal arrested, prosecuted and punished, the crime rate would certainly go down, without need of imposing any sentence that carries the lethal vengeance of lex talionis.
A martial law practice
Duterte has also spoken of curfew for minors. At the Kapihan at Anabel’s in Quezon City last Saturday, Duterte’s bejeweled spokesman-designate Salvador Panelo described curfew as one of the priority measures of the next government. Curfew was one of the most appreciated features of martial law in the seventies, especially by wives and mothers, but it did require martial law to enable Marcos to impose it. Unless part of a state of emergency, curfew will have to be legislated by Congress rather than simply ordered by the Executive; it might sail into extended debate on the freedom of movement of citizens.
Still there is less danger of a dictatorship arising from a regime that imposes curfew on minors than from one that sees itself in absolute control of everything that moves and believes it has the power and the authority to impose a quota on the number of children a family can have. This is about the most frightening pronouncement we have heard from the incoming government. The presumptive NEDA director-general and secretary of economic planning seems to believe the shortest route to economic progress is not to produce more food for all those sitting on the table but to send away some of the people there.
Three children per family?
So instead of talking about new ways and means of creating employment and income, eliminating the energy cartel and reducing the cost of electricity, education, health care and food, his first proposal is to impose population control. This is barred by our Constitution, except that the last time we looked, the Supreme Court justices who constitutionalized the unconstitutional Reproductive Health Law have not heard about it at all.
Now Mr. Duterte is quoted as saying he does not want to see more than three children per family under his rule. This is a 200-percent improvement upon China’s draconian “one-child policy,” but operates under the same totalitarian principle—it gives the state a power it does not have and puts it in control of all aspects of human existence.
This is totally incompatible with and repugnant to sound democratic principles. In The Moral Foundation of Democracy, the renowned Duke University professor John H. Hallowell points out what Church teaching and our own Constitution make abundantly clear, that there are spheres of human life which the state may not legitimately control. Family life is one. Our Constitution recognizes “the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation, and marriage, an inviolable social institution, as the foundation of the family.”
Sec. 12 of Article II provides: “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.”
Correctly understood and enforced, this provision bars the State from trying to run the family life of any single couple or individual. Under this provision, the State is the primary official protector of conception; it cannot, therefore, be the source or agent of even one single case of contraception. And yet at the behest of powerful global population controllers, and with the obscene cooperation of the Aquino government, this provision was savaged by the RH Law, which makes the State the primary source and provider of contraception.
In 2014, a benighted Supreme Court ponencia declared this clearly unconstitutional law “not unconstitutional,” saying it is nothing but “a population control measure” which in its view is “not prohibited” by the Constitution despite the clear and unmistakable prohibition contained in the above-quoted provision. Now, the incoming Duterte government threatens to wreak complete havoc by limiting the fertility of married women to a maximum of three children during their lifetime. And we are expected to welcome it and celebrate it, as the first good news about our economic and moral salvation!
How long before married women are required to secure official papers from the State so they could bear children?
Duterte must succeed as a democrat
We all want the incoming Duterte government to succeed. But it must succeed as a democracy, not as the latest manifestation of totalitarianism. We must all work together for this, but Mr. Duterte should lead us, not against us.
For six years, we had to bear Aquino’s drift into dictatorship. By using the vast resources of the Executive to corrupt Congress and intimidate the Judiciary, he took virtual control of the three branches of government, after the impeachment and removal of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, and devoted himself to creating ridiculous myths about his late father and mother, Ninoy and Cory Aquino, and making life unpleasant for his perceived enemies, like former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who remains under detention, and most recently Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr., whom he has made sure would not become the Vice President.
Only Aquino’s native incompetence and ineptness saved the country from the real rigors of dictatorship. He did not lack the tyrant’s malice, nor the madness, but he did not have the skills. Mr. Duterte, by any measure, is far more skillful and effective than his bumbling predecessor. If he decides to become a dictator, we are sure to suffer the full impact and rigors of his dictatorship. For this reason, he needs to show us a much clearer and far more reassuring layout of where he intends to take the nation during his watch. He must do his best to succeed as a democrat, not as anything else.