Can Duterte declare a revolutionary gov’t? Here’s what you need to know

Jodesz Gavilan

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Can Duterte declare a revolutionary gov’t? Here’s what you need to know
Under a revolutionary government, a person or a group can express dissent through a 'counter revolution' – an opening for civil war, says UP Political Science associate professor Aries Arugay

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, November 21, denied he has plans to establish a revolutionary government, adding that the country will not get anything out of it. 

But critics are wary because Duterte is known for his tendency to flip-flop on important issues – evident in the build-up to his presidential candidacy. 

In August 2017, Duterte said it will take a revolutionary government for the Philippines to “really go up” but it won’t happen under his watch. Yet two months after on October 13, the President changed his tune and warned that he will declare one once he senses that a destabilization plot is afoot to replace him. (READ: Duterte warns of revolutionary gov’t amid ‘destabilization’) 

Last Tuesday’s statement, however, saw Duterte pulling back on his threat. 

But the President’s supporters are not giving up as they continuously call for the declaration of a revolutionary government. Several rallies are expected to happen on November 30 – the birth anniversary of Filipino revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio – to urge Duterte to pursue his “plan.” (READ: Pro-revolutionary gov’t rally to pave way for Duterte reforms – organizer)  

Amid all the noise about a supposed revolutionary government, here’s what you should know.  

Can Duterte really declare a revolutionary government? On what basis? 

Duterte can set up a revolutionary government but a declaration would mean “throwing out any semblance of constitutionality,” according to University of the Philippines Political Science Associate Professor Aries Arugay.

The concept of a revolutionary government is not stated in any existing legal documents – such as the 1987 Philippine Constitution – in the country. 

Wala ka talagang makikita sa Constitution,” he told Rappler. “There’s no law kasi ang importante doon sa phrase na iyon is the revolutionary part. Hindi iyan provided, kasi if nilagay mo iyan sa batas, hindi na iyan revolutionary.” (You won’t see anything about it in the Constitution. There is no law because the important phrase is the revolutionary part. That’s not provided because if you put it [in the Constitution], it’s not anymore revolutionary.)

While Duterte often cited destabilization and threats against national security as possible bases for declaring one, UP Law professor Dante Gatmaytan said that emergency powers are enough to address these possible problems in the Philippines.  

“There are no reasons to depart from the constitutional order,” he explained. “That’s the reason why they put in those emergency powers to deal with everything and there’s really nothing else that we can think of that we did not write in the Constitution.”

Article VI, Section 23 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that Congress has the power to authoritize the President “to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy.”  

These emergency powers, however, are for a limited period and are subject to restrictions. 

Arugay also pointed to a contradiction: the threat of a revolutionary government comes from Duterte and in effect, abrogates the government he is heading. It’s like ousting himself. (READ: [OPINION] Revolutionary government, yes, Duterte-style, no)

Parang nagpalit ka ng damit kasi iyong suot mo damit, democratically-elected ka eh, so this is a bit strange kasi sa ibang bansa, ang revolutionary government is always imposed by outside (It’s as if you just changed clothes, you’re democratically-elected, so this is a bit strange because in other countries, the revolutionary government is always imposed from outside),” he said.

But then again, the legitimacy of a revolutionary government “is no longer legal and rational” as it is something that “feeds on emotions and rage like discontent. It is important to always be wary of the real reason why it is being floated in the first place. 

“What is needed to look for in a revolutionary government are the consequences like, what are you using it for? What are your goals? What do you want to establish?” Arugay said. 

What happens if a revolutionary government is declared? 

A revolutionary government, if declared, will bring large-scale change in institutions and structures in society. This means that all branches of government – even the judiciary and the legislative – will be axed and the Constitution will be thrown out the window. 

A leader can change the existing structure “to his liking”, according to Arugay, as a revolutionary government cannot operate on existing institutions because “it just won’t work.” He can issue executive orders to put a semblance of system within the government.

Kaya nga nag-revolutionary government kasi you want to change everything at talagang magbabago ka (That’s why you go into a revolutionary government because you want to change everything and you’ll definitely change),” he said. 

Gatmaytan, meanwhile, said that a revolutionary government is “going to disregard the Constitution because it is constraining.” 

“But that’s the reason why we have the government, that’s the reason why we have the Constitution, precisely to constrain government actions,” he said. 

Will there still be check and balance under a revolutionary government? 

Since the leader can redo the government from top to bottom, it is highly unlikely that there would be institutions or mechanisms in place for check and balance purposes.  

He or she may set up an institution supposedly to act as a watchdog, but it is important to note that its independence may be compromised. This is precisely why revolutionary governments end up in tragedies, according to Arugay.

“[Revolutionary governments] might have the best intentions but the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” he explained. “The revolution kills its own children because they are actually embarking on a process that has no checks and balances, no institutional controls.”

Are my rights still protected under a revolutionary government? Can I still dissent?

The beauty of a democracy is that there is freedom of speech that one can use to voice out opinion – whether against or for the government. The 1987 Philippine Constitution also includes the Bill of Rights which covers all Filipinos. (READ: Hate human rights? They protect freedoms you enjoy) 

If a revolutionary government is declared, the existing Bill of Rights will be axed. But since the new government put in place may also set up a new set of institutions and laws, they can again reinstate a new legal document spelling out these rights. 

However, the problem lies in these rights being seen as an “obstruction” to revolutionary goals. This may result in a watered down Bill of Rights that may lead to more constraints than freedom.  

Under a revolutionary government, a person or a group can express dissent through “counter revolution,” according to Arugay, which might lead to a civil war. 

Civil war na iyan, mas magulo kasi (That’s going to be civil war, and will be more chaotic because) society will be halved,” he said. 

Can we stop the possibility of Duterte declaring one?

The defense against a revolutionary government “lies in the strength of your democracy” as strong institutions can repel any kind of threat.

However, according to Arugay, the problem is that the political arena in the Philippines did not invest in building strong institutions.

“We cannot take that picture out, the possibility of a revolutionary government, because we know that institutional strength in the country leaves much to be desired,” he said. 

Government institutions such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Supreme Court, and Congress, among others, should see to it that they explicitly voice out opposition to the threat of a revolutionary government. (READ: ‘Paranoid’ Duterte hit for eyeing revolutionary gov’t)

They should continue saying that “there is really nothing we cannot deal with by following the law,” according to Gatmaytan. 

“For our part, we can band together and continuously say why it’s not really an option,” Gatmaytan added. –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.