For me, my advice to a President who wants to change [is]do not go for martial law. They [people]will just make an issue of it. Go for a revolutionary government, so that everything will be finished.
— President Rodrigo Duterte
FIRST it was Ferdinand Marcos. Then, irony of ironies, democratic icon Corazon Aquino did the same thing after Marcos fell in the 1986 People Power revolt.
Both leaders set up revolutionary governments. Declaring martial law 45 years ago next month, Marcos assumed executive and legislative powers, imprisoned critics and muzzled media, cracked down on crime, and rewrote the 1935 Constitution. His blueprint for national transformation under authoritarian rule was a short book titled:
Today’s Revolution: Democracy.
Having taken over in a bloodless uprising, Aquino decided to take on the revolutionary label. By decree, she promulgated the Freedom Constitution, under which she too enjoyed executive and legislative powers.
Media and politics were free, but the democracy icon was so popular, anything she wanted won broad support. Even the 1987 Constitution, far from democratic in its drafting by Aquino’s handpicked 50-member constitutional commission, won ‘yes’ votes from more than three-quarters of the electorate.
Now, President Rodrigo Duterte has mused about revolutionary government amid the mammoth challenges and drastic changes the country faces — and less than five years left in his administration, assuming he completes it.
His remarks came days after he admitted that the drug problem “cannot be solved by one man [as]President for one term.” And when he recently replaced Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, whom he insisted was an honest man, Duterte conceded that graft in the bureau could not be eradicated in a year.
No wonder the President is now thinking of more drastic ways to drive change.
Not that Duterte has not done anything drastic yet. Consider what he’s done.
He has unleashed the Philippine National Police in a brutal war on drugs, in which thousands have died, the most casualties in any campaign against lawlessness in the country. Not even Marcos martial law shed that much blood.
He has named dozens of officials, from legislators and judges to local government officials down to the barangay, who are allegedly protecting or profiting from drugs.
Three mayors accused of drug trafficking are now dead, and Sen. Leila de Lima is in jail over the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison during her watch as justice secretary.
In fighting corruption, Duterte has fired two longtime supporters — his trusted Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno and his campaign spokesman and irrigation chief Peter Laviña — and recently spoke of dismissing two more Cabinet members for “conflicts of interest”.
And while the Armed Forces of the Philippines did not recommend martial law to deal with the Malawi assault, Duterte declared it for all Mindanao even if he was thousands of miles away from the battle on a state visit in Moscow.
On the economic front, the P8-trillion Build, Build, Build public works program is unprecedented in scale, with an unheard-of goal of pushing infrastructure spending to 7 percent of gross domestic product.
In his second State of the Nation Address last month, President Duterte also warned mining firms that he would “tax you to death” if they don’t spend ample funds on repairing environmental damage and uplifted adversely affected communities. No national leader ever read the riot act to miners that way.
And if that still isn’t revolutionary enough, the Chief Executive has also become Chief Expletive against those opposing his tough methods. From the leaders and senior officials of the United States and the United Nations, to international and domestic rights advocates, Duterte has carped and cussed at them all.
And perhaps most revolutionary of all for a nation under colonial domination for centuries, Duterte ended decades of special security and geopolitical ties with Washington, and announced “alliance” with Beijing and Moscow — triggering a contest among Asia’s big powers, Japan included, to woo the Philippines with aid, trade, credit and investment.
What’s next for Duterte’s revolution?
Now, ask the visitor from outer space, and even yourself: Isn’t the past one year and two months nothing short of revolutionary?
And what’s even more astounding is that even after witnessing all these presidential moves way out of what they have ever experienced or even envisioned, the Filipino people in two separate surveys profess immense trust in both President Duterte and his government.
Believe or not, four out of five Filipinos trust the government and the President. That’s according to not one, but two polls: the latest EON Philippine Trust Index nationwide survey of 1,200 representative respondents, aged 16-35, this year; and Pulse Asia’s second quarter poll conducted June 24-29.
The 80 percent PTI score for the government is the highest ever since the poll began in 2011, when the state was trusted by just half the current ratio. And Pulse Asia’s rating rebounded five percentage points since March.
The trusting slice of the national pie grew to as much as 58 percent in 2012, then plateaued at 50 percent by 2015 before leaping by 30 percentage points in the first year of President Rodrigo Duterte.
As for Pulse Asia, both trust and approval ratings top 80 percent in June, recovering from the decline in March. And in the Social Weather Stations poll done in the same week, satisfaction for Duterte and the government also hit nearly 80 percent.
With such massive public support, augmented by army and police support boosted by his firm pledge to defend them from their accusers, Duterte could very well take even more drastic measures for fundamental change.
For instance, if Congress were to oust the heads of the Supreme Court and the Commission on Elections, Duterte would then have his chosen Chief Justice and Comelec Chairman to advance judicial and electoral reform.
That may well smooth the way for a federalist charter to recast our political system, and the Bangsamoro Basic Law to end Mindanao’s separatist rebellion.
Now, is that revolutionary or what?