When the ruler becomes the law
Invited to speak in a recent military event, President Rodrigo Duterte challenged the soldiers to shoot him if he would dare to trample the Constitution, such as when he becomes a dictator one day. It’s his typical hyperbolic (or hyper – “bola”, mind you) speech similar to when he promised to ride a jet ski to plant the Philippine flag on an island in the West Philippine Sea that China might encroach. China has been building airfields and artillery batteries on our islands and the President never took that jet ski ride.
That not so shocking (it wasn’t the first time, of course) shoot-to-kill-me order he gave the army came at the time when his allies in the Congress supermajority were trying to railroad the deliberations for Charter Change, even pushing to do it unicameral or without the participation of the Senate, as the current Constitution requires.
Of course, the President pretends that he has nothing to do with the current debate on the proposed Con Ass. He is confident that he will get what he wants, thanks to his minions in the Congress supermajority, who at the sight of the Strongman are ready to hail him with a snappy fist salute.
So, the President can feign neutrality as to the squabbles between Congressmen and Senators. He is confident that his supermajority minions will work hard to deliver him the goods: a brand new Constitution, one that will transform the Philippines into a parliamentary federal nation.
With the Senate gone, those in the Lower House will likely enjoy extended term as members of the new parliament. It is feared that the new Charter will also dissolve the office of the Vice President and extend the term of the current President. And, following the steps of President Ferdinand Marcos, who appointed a Prime Minister to lead his own version of Parliament, the Batasang Pambansa, it was proposed that former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will be appointed to sit as Prime Minister.
Other major changes being proposed include the abolition of the Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the Ombudsman which, out of the trauma of Martial Law and the Marcos dictatorship, were created to safeguard citizens from abuses of those in power.
Duterte’s allies in Congress also proposed to revise provisions that guarantee the rights to free expression and press freedom, using cases of fake news as an excuse to push for state censorship. Right now, even without amendments to the Constitution, press freedom is increasingly being attacked, as we have seen in the government’s own move to close down Rappler, the online media outfit that is critical of the Duterte administration.
In fact, dissent is increasingly being undermined in this country as critics of the President are being removed from their positions in government, accused of all sorts of crimes, or subjected to all sorts of threats and insults. On the other hand, some of the most loyal supporters are being rewarded with lucrative positions in the bureaucracy, tagged along into foreign junkets, or even given prestigious awards.
The whole system of check and balance, an essential feature of modern democracy, is being compromised with the rise of a supermajority in Congress and the recent moves to dominate the Supreme Court, Office of the Ombudsman, and other independent institutions in government.
But the greatest threat to our democracy, where only the Constitution rules over all branches of government as a kind of secular magisterium, is the current plan to change it. With the basic law of the land now set to be revised to suit the wishes of the President, he can rest assured that the allegiance of the military will always be on his side. After all, by then, he and the Law has become one and the same.
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