There is no legal authority that allows the leader of the Philippines to declare a revolutionary government. If President Rodrigo Duterte carries through his threat to do so, he would be abandoning the 1987 constitution that established the system over which he presides and governed the elections that brought him to power.
Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay offers the right perspective on the revolutionary government option. If Duterte insists on using it, the constitutional response is to recognise that the president has abandoned his office, and to swear in the vice president as his rightful successor.
Duterte has said the entire system of government needs to be changed. “For the Philippines to really go up, I said: What the people need is not martial law. Go for what Cory [Aquino] did – revolutionary government.”
If he wants to change the
system, Duterte must follow
Article XVII allows three modes of changing the constitutional order: through a constituent assembly, through a constitutional convention, or through a people’s initiative.
If there is genuine popular clamour for a thorough revamp of the system of government, the third option looks like an appropriate medium: amending or revising the constitution “upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein.”
Previous attempts to mobilise so-called supporters of the revolutionary government option, or “RevGov”, have fizzled, however. The next one, ironically enough, is scheduled for November 30, the day the country honours the father of the Philippine Revolution, Andres Bonifacio. Ironic, because the supposed popular support for RevGov looks decidedly artificial.
If he wants to assume more powers, Duterte must again follow the constitutional procedure.
His powers as commander-in-chief are provided for in Article VII, Section 18: “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”
This is important, because the president’s reasons for declaring a revolutionary government fall under this provision.
“If your destabilisation attempt is worsening and it has become somewhat chaotic, I will not hesitate to declare a revolutionary government until the end of my term, and I will arrest all of you and we can go to a full-scale war against the Reds [communist rebels],” Duterte has said.
Even if one assumes that the destabilisation threat is real and imminent (in fact, the security agencies say they have not monitored any destabilisation moves), the legal option open to him is to invoke his commander-in-chief powers. To be sure, these powers are delimited by congressional and Supreme Court oversight. That’s the price we pay, the lesson we learned, from the excesses of one-man rule.
And even if one assumes that the task of ridding the country of pervasive corruption and wholesale criminality is as serious as Duterte says (in fact, the statistics from different government agencies paint a varied picture), the legal option open to him is to invoke the powers granted to him by the constitution.
“I have to stop criminality and corruption. I have to fix this government. I won’t do it if you want to place me there with the solemn pledge to stick to the rules,” Duterte said when he was testing the waters for a presidential run.
That’s his dilemma. He needs to stop criminality and corruption and fix the government, but he needs to do so by sticking to the rules.