Philippine politics

Are the revived calls for revolutionary government legal?

Lian Buan
Are the revived calls for revolutionary government legal?

Supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte troop to the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on December 21, 2019. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA), and other attendees from different parts of the Philippines show their support for Duterte and call for both federalism and a revolutionary government. Photos by Lito Borras/Rappler

Lito Borras/Rappler

Does calling for a revolutionary government violate the anti-terror law? Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra withholds comment and says 'the issue is more political than legal.'

The calls to declare a revolutionary government have been revived through an assembly of hundreds in Pampanga on Saturday, August 22, but the same questions as before linger – is it legal to call for a revolutionary government?

Asked whether these calls amount to inciting to sedition, or a terror act, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra withheld comment and said “the issue is more political than legal.”

“I reserve further comments on the matter,” Guevarra said in an exchange with reporters Saturday.

Guevarra agreed that a revolutionary government would “set aside the existing Constitution altogether to pave the way for the drafting of a new one.”

In the heat of the same calls in 2017, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) national president at the time, Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo, said “some lawyers might say [he is liable of] inciting to sedition as defined under Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code.”

The passage of the anti-terror law also gives rise to new legal questions.

Does calling for a revolutionary government fall under Section 4 of the law which defines a terror act, among others, as “engaging in acts to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure”?

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University of the Philippines Constitutional and Political Law Professor John Molo told Rappler “yes.”

The Antonio Carpio petition against the anti-terror law, of which Molo is the lawyer, argued that because of the law’s vague language, “critical infrastructure” can be anything from diplomatic relations to government websites or social media channels.

The anti-terror law defines critical infrastructure as “an asset or system, whether physical or virtual, so essential to the maintenance of vital societal functions.”

Molo agreed the Constitution, which a government revolution would set aside, counts as that vital asset.

‘A joke’

The assembly on Saturday was led by the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-National Executive Coordinating Committee (MRRD-NECC).

The Duterte supporters want a revolutionary government – with Duterte as head – to usher in charter change.

It’s “a joke,” said elections commissioner Rowena Guanzon on Twitter.

“The joke going around is that some groups are going to topple the government and install the President as head of a revolutionary government. Creative. There is no model for this anywhere in the world,” said Guanzon, a lawyer and a former local government professor at the UP College of Law.

Duterte himself had once buoyed these calls, saying in 2017 that if his perceived destabilization plots don’t stop, “I will not hesitate to declare a revolutionary government until the end of my term.”

That is also exactly what his supporters want, saying in their manifesto that “the revolutionary government that we are pursuing shall reign over our country and people, only up to June 30, 2022.”

“Public officers took an oath to protect the State. You can’t have the same people plotting revolts. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Anything that does not follow the strict letter of the Constitution is an assault on the State itself,” said Molo.

The group invited several public officials to the assembly, including police chief General Archie Gamboa who later said in a statement that he was “in no position to confirm its veracity or to attest to its credibility.”

In the past, Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III was visible and vocal in these calls.

In a Facebook video he uploaded Saturday, Densing is seen saying onstage: “In 2017, ako po ang unang nagsabi (I was the first to say) that the only true way for us to go to a federal system of government, we have no other choice but to undertake a revolutionary government.”

Molo said that when government officials start to join these calls, or these meetings, for revolutionary government, “that’s already a dangerous ground.”

“Public officials are not immune from a charge of terrorism no more than they are immune from charges of coup d’etat. If anything, the fact that they are officers makes it worse,” said Molo.

Charter change

The issue of charter change per se is a different one. As Guevarra said “there is nothing wrong with advocating charter change, except probably the issue of proper timing.”

Former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te said that the Duterte supporters’ call for a revolutionary government in relation to charter change is “confusing.”

“I’m a little confused about the revolutionary government that they’re talking about because they’re talking about revolutionary government in relation to charter change,” said Te during a webinar on Saturday organized by the Free Leila Committee.

“I don’t disagree per se with charter change as a principle. At the appropriate time, when the need is there, maybe for the Constitution to be amended, then maybe we talk about that,” Te added.

“Perhaps pushing for charter change may not be optimal at this point. It will be spending a lot of resources that we would need for other things, which includes addressing this public health emergency,” said International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Senior International Legal Advisor Emerlynne Gil in the same webinar. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.