IT is not clear what prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to say, in his recent National Heroes’ Day speech, that in France a person accused of a crime is presumed guilty and must prove his innocence. It is absolutely embarrassing for a Filipino to have to listen to such poppycock coming from his own President, and unbearably so, to have to listen to an Embassy statement correct him with labored politesse. There is no acceptable excuse or explanation for it.
First, because the matter has no place in a National Heroes’ Day speech or in any presidential speech whatsoever; second, because the law adverted to is no super state secret, it is completely accessible to anyone who wants it. DU30 is a lawyer surrounded by so many other lawyers from the same class in the same law college; they must have some basic sense of the high principles of law that animate many constitutions, even without their having read Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, the Napoleonic Code, or any of the legal classics which the young Wenceslao Vinzons read as a law student at the University of the Philippines, or the actual laws of other countries.
We thank the French Embassy in Manila for pointing out the President’s error without making such a big fuss about it. “As in the Philippines, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty is at the core of the French judicial system, based on the principles enshrined in the French Declaration of Human and Civic Rights of August 26, 1789,” the statement said. It was sufficient to state the fact. But we owe the world an apology for having a President who talks like this.
And how he loves to talk! It seems to be the fulfillment of his idea of governance and leadership. Nothing seems too inconsequential, irrelevant or low for this President. Thus, we heard him talking about his fascination with “revolutionary government” where he could have contributed some moments of silence. He gave the impression that whatever political power he now holds is not enough; he desperately wants more; and he is torn between two alternatives—“martial law” for the entire country, or a “revolutionary government.”
Whose revolutionary govt?
Because of the Mautes’ attack on Marawi on May 23, 2017, martial law is now in place in the whole of Mindanao until December 31, 2017. But some people close to DU30 are apparently convinced it should be extended nationwide for his own purposes—he only needs to invent the legal grounds for it. But DU30 interrupts his soliloquy to confess his preference for a “revolutionary government.” “My advice to a President who wants to change, do not go for martial law. Gawin lang isyu—(they’ll just make an issue of it.) Go for a revolutionary government, para tapos lahat—(so everything will be finished.)”
The thirst for power is obvious, but equally so is the lack of understanding of what revolutionary government actually entails. Normally, you oust an existing system or government to establish a revolutionary government.
This is what Oliver Cromwell did in England, what Napoleon Bonaparte did in France, Simon Bolivar in Latin America, Lenin in Russia, Mao in China, Fidel Castro in Cuba, and so on and so forth. This is also what the Armed Forces of the Philippines, supported by the US and the Church-led civilian population, did when they withdrew their allegiance and support from Ferdinand Marcos and installed Cory Aquino in his place, despite her having earlier lost to him in the snap presidential election.
Since DU30 now heads a constitutional government, the only way he could declare a revolutionary government is for him to oust himself and the Constitution under which he got elected in May 2016. Then he becomes a revolutionary president. This would formalize his current status as a de facto revolutionary president who acts outside the Constitution and the law whenever he likes it. But it would expose him to grave danger from other forces. For if he believes it is right for a sitting President to mount a revolution against himself, then nothing should prevent others, and the people as a whole, from waging the same revolution against the same president.
Therefore, the Protestant pastor cum presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella was right to wake DU30 from his reverie and assure the nation that he had “no intention of establishing a revolutionary government under his administration.” Abella did not say it, but the truth is that a revolutionary government already exists without DU30 having to proclaim its formal existence. But not knowing when he is defending or further incriminating the President, or when he had said enough on the President’s behalf, the spokesman went on to say that DU30’s remarks on a revolutionary government were meant for some future President, who might need a new “approach in resolving the country’s endemic and structural problems hindering genuine progress.”
The intention was obviously to take DU30 out of the woods. But it only succeeded in embedding him all the more deeply inside the thicket. For if the spokesman was speaking the President’s mind, as every faithful spokesman should, then it means DU30 does not discount the possibility, if not indeed the desirability, of a revolutionary takeover of his own government. But until now, DU30 has been the one trying to terrify us with the prospect of a nationwide martial law or revolutionary government. Rightfully, We, the People, should be the ones putting DU30 on notice that our patience is fast running out and that we could boot him out if he doesn’t fulfill his duties within the limits of his constitutional mandate.
For over a year now, DU30 has made the extrajudicial killing of drug suspects the full equivalent of his idea of presiding over the official business of the state and the transformation of Philippine society. Outside of these killings, he has not told the 105 million Filipinos what his government intends to do in the next 12 months, much less in the next five years, assuming he lasts that long, to assure the basic well being of the society. He has not said one word how the society is going to look like after the last drug suspects are killed and their killers are medalled and paraded as heroes before the international community.
Reign of terror
DU30 has shown a total lack of zeal in using the powers assigned to his office by the Constitution, and an excess of energy and determination to use those powers denied to him by the same Constitution. Thus, his pointless soliloquys, which his spokesman is later made to deny or clarify, are focused on the exercise of powers outside his lawful jurisdiction. By killing thousands of suspects in his murderous drug war, and threatening to kill anyone who crosses his path on any issue, DU30 has succeeded in terrorizing everybody else, who might otherwise raise their voices against murder, corruption, treason, incompetence and other crimes.
At the same time, he has created a myth about “presidential popularity” among those who do not have the courage to say that the “Emperor is naked,” and prefer instead to endorse the manufacture and manipulation of public opinion by the most crooked propaganda fraudsters who would invent any fake news just to be on DU30’s good side. All this has contributed to DU30’s year-long reign of terror, which the website Asia Sentinel describes as “psychopathic.” This has terrorized the entire society by terrorizing institutions, not only individuals.
The Church, which had played a brave and heroic role in opposing human rights abuses at the height of Marcos’s martial law regime, has until the last few days failed to speak out as an institution. Some individual churchmen could not be prevented from denouncing the drug killings, but the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) as such failed to take one common stand for all its member-bishops against the killings.
This was perhaps because DU30 seized the initiative by striking the first blow, cursing the Pope for causing a big traffic jam during his Philippine visit, and accusing unnamed bishops and priests, without proof, of leading private lives as colorful as his own, which is marked by many admitted moral imperfections.
The Church comes alive
This is now about to change. From the Archdiocese of Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP president, in Lingayen-Dagupan, which began the ringing of cathedral bells from 8 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. every day until November 27, following the police killing of the 17-year-old Grade 12 student Kian Loyd de los Santos in Kalookan on August 16, several dioceses and archdioceses have since decided to ring their church bells at the same time, to call for an end to the drug killings. In my own parish, the pulpit has begun to speak out more vigorously than before.
The church bells first rang in protest against the drug killings, long before Kian’s death, in the Diocese of Legazpi under Bishop Bong Baylon. The bell-ringing is expected to be heard in the other dioceses until it reaches the Archdiocese of Davao, where DU30 is a parishioner. There, Archbishop Romulo Valles is a good friend of the President, but he is also the incoming CBCP president whose term begins in December. He cannot afford to take a position distinct from all the other CBCP members.
When all the cathedral bells all over the country start ringing to call for an end to the killings, we would then see the Church’s institutional response.
Will the military follow?
The other institution that needs to show its response is the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The Constitution designates the AFP as “the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.” But not a word has been heard from the AFP high command since DU30 decided to set aside the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the maritime features within its exclusive economic zone in the Spratlys, as confirmed by the July 12, 2017 ruling of the Permanent Arbitration Court at the Hague, and allowed China to continue its island-building activities in the disputed maritime features, without filing a single diplomatic protest.
A few members of the AFP, who have identified themselves as members of the Patriotic and Democratic Movement (PADEM), have called for DU30’s ouster for failing to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But the AFP as such has not spoken. Analysts believe the failure of this institution to respond will continue for so long as there is no organized public pressure on it to respond. But these analysts believe it will finally begin to respond if and when there is a collective effort to compel it to do so. This would have a better chance of success if DU30 begins to have a greater fear of the people than the people have of DU30.