It isn’t a children’s toy, let no one play with it

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FRANCISCO S. TATAD

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

AS this is written, several rallies are reported to be taking place in various places in and outside the country, calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to oust himself as a constitutionally elected president and declare a “revolutionary government” by means of which he could rule as an absolute dictator without a constitutional successor, without Congress, without the judiciary, and without a troublesome free press. These are not anti-government rallies. They are organized and supported by pro-DU30 fanatics who would like to invest him with unaccountable powers not contemplated by the Constitution, neither remotely associated with any concept of democratic and republican government.

Rallies galore

The rallies are taking place in hallowed grounds, grounds sanctified by the blood of heroes who had risked everything to oppose repression, cruelty and injustice and proclaim their readiness to lose everything in the name of their precious liberties. Today these have been taken over by lynch mobs seeking to install an absolutist regime to drag us back to the Dark Ages.

These include Manila’s famous Mendiola bridge, where farmers and youth had faced truncheons, tear gas and bullets in defense of their basic rights and liberties; Plaza Independencia in Cebu, which has chronicled so many noble struggles, each one worthy of its historic name; Crocodile Park in Davao, which has carved a tradition of its own despite its terrible-sounding appellation.


There are other less storied places from Baguio up North to Bongao in the South. In all these places, what is being heard today is not the familiar wounded cry for freedom by the powerless and the persecuted, but rather the shrill unreasoning rage of those who would like to overwhelm us with the demented belief that the only way to save our failing state is to raise its failing head to the summit of absolute dictatorship.

This is not us

This is so contrary to our nature, to our breeding, to our basic political beliefs. It denies everything consecrated in our Constitution and our basic moral code. But it is the most invasive message that demands to be heard. In previous weeks, I had felt like Don Quixote battling windmills as I tried to point out the utter madness of the “revgov” idea; I would have welcomed being declared mad were I shown it was all a phantom inside my head. But it wasn’t, and today we’re seeing it.

As a people of faith, we pray for rain when drought threatens our crops and our poor farmers with famine. We implore God’s help when other calamities strike. As a child, I watched my grandmother live on her bended knees as the Japanese soldiers on retreat breached our island’s peace. As an adult, a newspaperman and Cabinet official and senator at that, I saw young men throw themselves at the riot police to resist the slightest hint of dictatorship.

Demanding dictatorship

This is the first time I am seeing full grown men and women take to the streets, with the pride of conquerors, not to denounce any arrogance or misuse of power but rather to demand that the authoritarian ruler, who has presided over the killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects, without due process or proper documentation, and without creating a dent in the illegal drugs traffic, now turn himself into an absolute ruler without any duty to protect our rights.

What has happened to us?

Certainly, they do not represent the majority, but they try to make it appear that their loony idea has overwhelming popular support—and the crooked surveys will eventually show it—even though not even one in 10 has a sufficient understanding of what “revolutionary government” is all about.

By definition, a “revgov”, as DU30 himself knows, is proclaimed by a successful revolution against a sitting government, never by a sitting constitutional government against itself. In 1896, we revolted against Spain after nearly 400 years of being a colony, and established a revolutionary government. Then the United States intervened and took over where Spain left off. The French journalist Jean Wetz called it living in Hollywood for 50 years after 400 years of living inside a convent.

In 1986, Cory Aquino declared a revolutionary government after the Armed Forces of the Philippines, supported by civilians on EDSA, ousted President Ferdinand Marcos in a bloodless coup. The military victors could not preserve the 1973 Constitution, which Marcos had promulgated, because it did not provide for Cory, who had earlier lost the snap election, to succeed Marcos.

Now the “revgov” proponents would like to see DU30, who was elected president in May 2016, remove himself as a constitutionally elected president, and run the country as a “revolutionary president,” without any constitutional line of succession, without the Congress, the judiciary, or the free press, and without being accountable to anybody, including the international community to whom we are bound by civilizational and historic ties and formal treaties.

A danger to self

Not only has this no moral, political or constitutional basis, it also constitutes a grave danger even to DU30 himself.

To begin with, how does he formulate an acceptable legal and political basis for his own ouster and simultaneous power grab? Does he make a solemn declaration that his constitutional presidency has failed, therefore he has decided to terminate it, and henceforth make himself a revolutionary president?

Would he not be making himself the world’s laughingstock? And would it not open the floodgates for every political challenger to try and grab power for themselves, without fear of consequences?

My darkest fear is that, even if DU30 were able to swing it, it could immediately usher in an unspeakable period of instability, abnormality and unrest, in which neither his own political longevity nor the legitimacy of the state could be firmly guaranteed.

A pariah state?

For one, what is to prevent conscientious members of the international community from withdrawing their diplomatic recognition of the Philippine state, as soon as it loses its constitutional bonafides? Wouldn’t this reduce us into a pariah state?

Some will argue this has not happened to Thailand, Myanmar or any African rogue state, why should it ever happen to the Philippines? I am not saying it would or should, but no constitutionally elected president anywhere has ever before junked his constitutional legitimacy in order to install himself as an extra-constitutional president. Do we have to know Newton’s third law of motion to know this?

For another, whether or not anything happens on the international diplomatic front, what is to prevent the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as the constitutional protector of the people and the State, from withdrawing their allegiance and support from the self-delegitimated President and Commander-in-Chief, and setting up their own revgov?

Will the AFP do nothing?

For yet another, with or without the Armed Forces taking the lead, what is to prevent patriotic civil society forces from wanting to establish their own revgov?

At press deadline, I had yet to hear of DU30’s personal response to the rallies.

An earlier statement from presidential spokesman Harry Roque had tried to douse cold water on the “revgov” idea. On Monday, DU30 completely skipped the subject when he spoke to a huge Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) assembly in Maguindanao which was pressing for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Some Mindanaoans had expected DU30 to assure the MILF that the BBL would pass, even if it meant declaring a “revgov.” But all he said was he “might” —not “shall”—call Congress to a special session, if needed, to act on the proposed law. The crowd dispersed disappointed.

I tried to focus on the Davao City rally more than on Mendiola or anywhere else. There were two reasons for this. First, the rallies, according to reports, were personally organized by Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio, the President’s daughter, who had asked other mayors to come and all barangays in the city and beyond to contribute at least 50 warm bodies each to the activities.

How determined was Sara to make the Davao rally a great success, so that she could influence her father to respond positively to it? This was a critical point.

Enter Archbishop Valles

Second, Sara’s and DU30’s first immediate and critical audience is not just Davao or Mindanao but above all, the Roman Catholic Church whose gentle Archbishop of Davao, Most Reverend Romulo Valles, assumes the presidency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) the day after the rallies. For the first time in the nation’s history, the president of the country and the president of the CBCP are coming from the same city in Mindanao.

Of course, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the new chairman-designate of the Commission on Elections are all from Mindanao. But that is not half as important for now as the fact that the two presidents are from Davao. Valles and DU30 are personal friends, and despite the rising condemnation by the clergy of the summary killings in DU30’s drug war, the archbishop has managed very tactfully to stay out of DU30’s crosshairs.

But as CBCP president, he will now have to speak out, whenever necessary, not so much for himself as for the College of Philippine bishops, which has some 100 members. It may no longer be possible for him to say nothing while his immediate predecessor Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, or his own vice president Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan City, or his fellow Mindanaoan, Cardinal Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato City, and other bishops raise their prophetic voices in defense of the faith, which DU30 habitually attacks, the sanctity of human life and human dignity, which is the central issue in the summary drug killings.

After More and Becket

Should DU30 finally decide to throw all caution to the winds and declare a “revgov,” despite its obvious dangers to the nation and to himself, patriotic constitutional forces, including Church militants, could take a frontal stand, which might find the CBCP at its lead. This could put Valles’ personal friendship with DU30 to a severe test. He is a soft-spoken and gentle priest, but he is above all a strong man of faith, and he could find inspiration in the outstanding examples within the Catholic Church.

In 1170, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, refused to yield the rights and privileges of the Catholic Church in his conflict with King Henry II, and was murdered by the King’s men on the steps of the altar of the Canterbury Cathedral. Both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion revere him as a saint.

In 1535, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England and counselor to King Henry VIII, despite his deep friendship with the monarch, opposed the King’s separation from the Catholic Church, and refused to recognize him as Supreme Head of the Church of England, and the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He was sentenced to death, by decapitation. His famous last words were: “I die the King’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” Pope Pius XI canonized him as a martyr in 1935; St. Pope John Paul II proclaimed him “heavenly patron of statesmen and politicians” in 2000.

But there may be no need for this. Valles could probably tell his friend gently that he could still avoid doing anything that could be interpreted as an invitation for others to consider setting up their own revgov themselves.

fstatad@gmail.com

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