President Rodrigo Duterte is now the most powerful President in the nation’s history—more powerful than the late former President Ferdinand Marcos ever was at the height of Martial Law. This appears to be the confident view of many political observers and well-known CEOs. This is because where Marcos needed to declare Martial Law to impose authoritarian rule, DU30 has done so without declaring Martial Law. He has done and is doing anything and everything he wants to do simply by insisting that his motive is “pure,” and that the end justifies the means. And there’s been nothing and no one to stop him.
Where Marcos needed to abolish Congress to do away with venal and useless politicians, DU30 simply decided to make them part of his adopted PDP-Laban in order to railroad everything he wants to acquire a semblance of legality—from the restoration of the capital sentence for heinous crimes, to the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to nine, to the revision of the present Constitution according to the wishes of the President. Speaker of the House Pantaleon Alvarez gave a terrifying demonstration of this when he spoke before the Philippine Constitution Association at the Manila Golf Club on Tuesday evening.
Where Marcos needed a military tribunal to try Lim Seng, the Chinese illegal drugs manufacturer, for drug dealing, and to condemn him to death by musketry, DU30 only had to order the Philippine National Police to eliminate suspected drug pushers, (1,800 as of the latest count), and to jail 700,000 drug users, who have opted to surrender rather than get killed by the police or vigilantes. To sweeten the pot, he has offered a bounty of P2 million for every “drug lord” killed.
And where Marcos, who died 30 years ago, continues to be savaged by the so-called victims of Martial Law for acts committed by the State in self-defense, DU30 has refused to be intimidated by any threat of being held accountable for his current acts against drug suspects after he leaves the presidency. He nonchalantly tells those who denounce his methods that he “doesn’t give a damn,” he’s simply trying to solve a serious problem of his country.
Reactions to DU30
The UN special rapporteur on summary executions (Agnes Callamard) has spoken, saying “claims to fight illicit drug trade do not absolve the government from its international obligations and do not shield state actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings.”
So have the US State Department, the White House, and Amnesty International on human rights. So has Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on warrantless arrests and impunity. So have Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, former CBCP President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar V. Cruz, and Manila Cardinal-Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle on the moral law and the right to life.
So have 300 international nongovernmental organizations, which signed a letter denouncing DU30’s policies and demanding that international drug control agencies state unequivocally that such killings “do not constitute acceptable drug control measures.”
DU30 has remained unmoved.
The world media an irrelevancy
While he relishes the honor and homage paid to him by the public and the local media, he has refused to be swayed by the critical nudging by the international press. TIME magazine has spoken. The New York Times has spoken. The Washington Post has spoken. The Los Angeles Times has spoken. The Economist of London has spoken. The Guardian and The Daily Mail have spoken. Japan Times has spoken. The South China Morning Post has spoken. CNN and Bloomberg have spoken. BBC has spoken. Al Jazeera has spoken. Russia Today has spoken. And so have we.
We have not heard from Suddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Welt, Die Zeit or Spiegel in Germany. Or from Le Figaro, Le Monde or L’Humanite in Paris. Or from Corriere della Sera, La Republica or La Stampa in Italy. And we may not hear much from People’s Daily or the English-language China Daily in Beijing.
Or from Yomiuri Shimbun with a circulation of 9,240,00, Asahi with 7,210,000 and with 3,300,000 in Tokyo. But we cannot simply ignore the sober message of the largest and oldest English language paper in Japan (founded in 1897).
A sober editorial
In a recent editorial, Japan Times said, “The (Philippine) drug problem may well constitute a national crisis, but that cannot excuse the shredding of the rule of law and extrajudicial killings. Human rights extend to the guilty and the innocent alike.”
Quoting UN figures, the editorial said the Philippines had the highest metamphetamine use in East Asia in 2012, and according to the Philippine National Police chief, it has 3.7 million drug users. In 2013, the drug trade was worth $8.4 billion, and between 2010 and 2015, 623 government officials and employees were arrested on drug-related offenses; 6,000 anti-drug operations were conducted nationwide.
But it pointed out that Thailand under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra waged a similar war on drugs, in which 3,000 innocent victims were killed without making a dent in the trafficking or use of illegal drugs.
“Loss of innocent lives or the settling of scores under the guise of cleaning up the drug trade is one problem,” the editorial said. “Even more worrying over the long run is the erosion of the rule of law in a country with a long history of abuse of power. Filipinos have struggled to reclaim their democracy and it has been a long and frustrating process. Duterte is only the most recent in a long line of autocrats who have been irritated by the inefficiencies of a democratically elected government. Corruption has been and continues to be a real problem in the Philippines. But the solution to that problem is rigid and neutral application of the law —not its disregard.”
Meeting with Obama
DU30 tends to dismiss the world press as an inconvenience and irrelevancy. However, as president of a sovereign country with an active role in the world community, he has to deal with individuals, governments and institutions that cannot be indifferent or neutral to international public opinion. He would be meeting with some of them in Vientiane, Laos during the Asean summit conference next week, and hosting them or their successors at the Asean summit next year in Manila.
One of these will be US President Obama, who has expressed a keen desire to talk to him precisely about the things where he has, so far, dismissed as external “interference” the interest expressed by other governments and institutions. Obama will be leaving the White House by January 20 next year, but until then he carries a big stick.
This is one meeting the international media and the diplomatic community will be watching keenly.
Scary performance by Alvarez
I listened to Speaker Alvarez at the Philconsa monthly meeting on Monday evening, and came out of it feeling scared. In the one-minute invocation which I was asked to give, I offered a simple prayer: “As we prepare to address the many constitutional ills of our government, Lord, speak to us through our Speaker, and permit him not to stray so that we may not be left groping in the dark. In the dialogue that will follow, give us the courage to speak if the truth is with us, and give our honored Guest the curiosity to inquire if there are things You have revealed to the simple which You have hidden from the wise.”
In his speech, Alvarez did not refer to any infirmity of the present Constitution, which needs to be cured, other than the “highly centralized” unitary state that must now be replaced by a federal system, pursuant to the desire of the President. But in addition to changing the territorial structure from unitary to federal, Alvarez also spoke of changing the present bicameral Congress into a unicameral assembly or parliament under a system similar to the French. This means a thorough-going revision of the Constitution, not simply a matter of amending it. This is a task for the sovereign Filipino people, through their delegates in a constitutional convention, rather than for a rubber-stamp Congress.
Federalism, parliamentary shift, con-ass all due to DU30
But Alvarez said the President has decided that the proposed constitutional changes should come from the present Congress, convened as a constituent assembly (con-ass), in order to save on expenses, among other things. The President will also appoint a group of experts to draft the initial proposed changes, which, presumably upon his approval, will be submitted to the con-ass. The idea could not have frightened me if it had been presented as a proposal for mature deliberation and debate, but it was presented as something already carved in stone, because it’s what the President wanted.
This compelled me to ask the first question. I said that there’s no doubt we need to revisit the Constitution. It is technically flawed. However, in proposing any amendment to, or revision of, the Constitution, we have to be guided strictly by what the same Constitution says on how, and by whom, amendments or revisions should be proposed. Under Article XVII, only the Congress sitting as a con-ass, and the Filipino people, through a constitutional convention or by direct initiative, may propose constitutional changes. There is no mention of any role for the President.
Rome has spoken…
And yet this point seemed completely lost on Alvarez. He made it unmistakably clear that the constitutional revisions that would be proposed, and the manner by which they would be proposed, were decreed by the President, like imperial edicts. What was scary was the cold finality with which he delivered his lines, like Augustine (in a nobler context) informing his flock that the Pope had ratified the condemnation of the Pelagian heresy, which denied the primitive state in Paradise and original sin, by the councils of Milevi and Carthage. Roma locuta; causa finitaest, said Augustine—Rome has spoken; the cause is finished.
Bar this Congress, let the people do their thing
Even without DU30’s overt intervention, the present Congress lacks the moral integrity and competence to propose anything on the people’s behalf. The present state of the Congress is surreal. The so-called House super-majority was cobbled after so many unprincipled opportunists migrated to DU30’s adopted party, which did not quite have five visible members before the election. Even the minority was formed with the tacit benediction of the majority. In the Senate, the only organic member of the PDP-Laban, Koko Pimentel, became the Senate president, while former Senate president Franklin Drilon, who should be leading the Senate minority in a morally sensitive environment, now manipulates Pimentel as Senate president pro-tempore.
The sovereign Filipino people cannot and must not allow this unprincipled and opportunistic Congress to propose a revision to the Constitution at the behest of a constitutionally excluded authority. DU30, being smarter than all his minions, should reject the devil’s temptation to get involved, as strongly as Christ rejected it at the desert, and let the people, who are ultimately wiser than their machine-elected “leaders,” do what the Constitution prescribes.