Thank you, Inquirer’s DJ Yap and Rappler for writing about my talk
I was invited to be part of Friday’s panel to discuss the topic
THE RELEVANCE OF THE 1ST EDSA PEOPLE POWER TODAY
at the University of the Philippines School of Economics auditorium. As part of my full disclosure, the person who invited me was Senator Francis Pangilinan. I accepted for the following reasons. First, it was a chance to talk to UP students. Second, Senator Pangilinan was one of my late dad’s students as were Senator Dick Gordon and former Senator Francisco Tatad. Third, the topic was very relevant and as a journalist I felt competent enough to speak on it.
DJ Yap of Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote about what I said in his piece,
I have inserted Rappler’s video of my speech below.
I am greatly honored to be here with all of you today.
UP holds a special place in my heart. It is where my mind was deeply challenged and where I held my first job as a student assistant of an esteemed English professor, the late Concepcion Dadufalza.
UP is where seeds of political dissent and also seeds of authoritarianism germinated. Jose Lava, founder of Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, studied law here. So did the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. According to Marcos’ late-lamented propagandist Primitivo Mijares, Marcos told him that while a senior UP law student, he had written a thesis on the need for “strongman rule” which he called “constitutional authoritarianism”.
The clash of diametrically opposing ideas and views has invigorated UP for over a century. It is in this spirit that I join today’s discussion on “The Relevance of the 1st EDSA People Power Today.”
It’s quite relevant, especially today.
The fact that President Rodrigo Duterte may be skipping the Edsa celebration altogether; the fact that Malacanang Palace has ordered the Edsa celebration to be “quiet” and “simple” and a “day of reflection” – whatever that means; and the fact that the Palace will not stage the traditional Salubungan – which commemorates the coming together of renegade forces that had broken away from the Marcos dictatorship and which culminates with the jumping for joy of General Fidel Ramos at the false news that Marcos had fled – All of these show a concerted effort on the part of the Duterte administration to dumb down the significance of Edsa in Philippine history and erase Edsa from the collective memory of the Filipino people.
Duterte is a politician who cherry picks from history to suit his political purpose.
Yesterday, on the eve of the Edsa commemoration, he chose to give a speech before the Knights of Rizal, extolling the national hero for advocating a federal form of government for the country.
The Palace saw no contradiction in the fact that their excuse for celebrating Edsa quietly was that “it’s time to move on from just celebrating the past, remembering the past” when here was the president dwelling on an even more distant past.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella’s explanation, on why Edsa should be celebrated quietly, actually hit the nail right on the head why Edsa remains very relevant to this day.
Abella said it is time to move on from Edsa, and – to quote him – “move on to the whole aspect of national building, to give it a more positive outlook and to give a more positive understanding.”
This implies that Edsa was not about nation building and its outlook was not that positive.
Why does the Duterte administration look at Edsa that way?
Perhaps because Edsa is all about making abhorrent leaders accountable and booting them out if they abuse their power.
Perhaps because President Duterte IS a Marcos loyalist, and an admirer of the strongman. His dream seems to be to bring back various aspects of the Marcos rule.
Ramos, the hero of Edsa, was right on the money when he said that the subdued celebration was not “moving on” but “moving back” in time. And he observed, “That is also I think by design to subdue it further.”
What does the design consist of? In the last few months, details have been emerging.
For instance, the planned parliamentary-federal form of government that has been presented to congressional leaders would have a “dual executive”, according to University of Sto. Tomas Assistant Professor Edmund Tayao.
Meaning, there would be a president elected directly by the people for a five year term. He can run for re-election for another five year-term.
At the same time, there would be a Prime Minister who is a member of Parliament and who will serve as head of government. He will be elected by fellow members of Parliament. He will run the day-to-day operations of government.
That set-up is definitely moving back in time. That set-up copies the Marcos-Cesar Virata tandem, where Marcos was a strong president and Virata was the workhorse Prime Minister who ran the government.
What exactly was the role of the President in Marcos’ parliamentary system? Pretty much what he’s doing under the current presidential.
And what was the Prime Minister’s role under Marcos’ parliamentary system? Article IX of the 1973 Constitution defines the Prime Minister’s role. It states that “there shall be a Cabinet which shall be composed of Ministers with or without portfolio appointed by the President.” Most of the Cabinet members who head ministries should come from Batasang Pambansa, meaning the Parliament.
Article IX then adds that “the Prime Minister shall be the head of the Cabinet. He shall, upon the nomination of the President from among Members of the Batasang Pambansa, be elected by a majority of all the Members therefor.”
Under such a set-up, what you will have is a very strong President without checks and balances.
Unlike the Marcos system, Duterte’s set-up, according to Prof. Edmund Tayao, will scrap the position of the Vice President. Tayao’s group has not explained the succession formula in case the President dies.
Who do you think Duterte’s Prime Minister and successor is likely to be? Most probably Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos. During the vice-presidential debate in April, Bongbong disclosed what Duterte had promised him: “Sinabi ni Mayor Digong, kapag hindi nalutas ang problema ng krimen in three to six months, ibibigay na raw niya ang pagka-Pangulo kay Bongbong. Hindi niya sinabing ibibigay niya kay Senator Alan.”
On the part of Marcos, his 1973 Constitution provided for a Vice-President but this post was only made available during the snap election in 1986. Marcos was allergic to vice-presidents, having quarreled with his vice-president, Fernando Lopez, whom he accused of plotting against him. Sounds familiar?
The 1986 Edsa People Power put an end to Marcos’ semi-presidential-parliamentary set-up and restored the presidential form of government with all its checks and balances.
Duterte has made no bones about his deep dislike for checks and balances. In August last year, Duterte threatened to declare Martial Law if Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno stopped his war on drugs. In the same month, Duterte also threatened to shut down Congress if it bungled his plan to change the Constitution and set up a parliamentary-federal system.
The fruit of the 1986 Edsa people Power is the 1986 Constitution.
He wants to change that, too.
In August 2015, Duterte told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that “the wellspring of corruption is the Constitution itself” because the Constitution limits presidential powers on “all money matters and budget appropriations”.
Duterte said that in contrast, a mayor – like he was in Davao City – was not hamstrung by the Constitution in shaking up state bureaucracy “from the head down to the janitor”.
His own presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo has openly talked about Duterte setting up a “constitutional dictatorship”.
By the way, Marcos called his form of government “constitutional authoritarianism”.
What Panelo had in mind, he told Karen Davila on her show Headstart on September 15, 2016, close to the anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law. Panelo told Davila that what he was proposing would be constitutional because – and I quote – “you revise the constitution, give the powers to the president, legislative and executive powers. So in a sense parang dictatorship kasi dalawa ang powers niya, pero constitutional eh.”
In effect, Panelo is proposing to bring back for Duterte Ferdinand Marcos’ Amendment 6 power. Amendment 6 enabled Marcos to legislate laws on his own.
Amendment No. 6 was the sixth amendment that Marcos himself introduced to his 1973 Constitution. It stated that “Whenever in the judgment of the President (Prime Minister), there exists a grave emergency or a threat or imminence thereof, or whenever the interim Batasang Pambansa or the regular National Assembly fails or is unable to act adequately on any matter for any reason that in his judgment requires immediate action, he may, in order to meet the exigency, issue the necessary decrees, orders, or letters of instructions, which shall form part of the law of the land.”
Panelo said that setup of what he called a “constitutional dictatorship” will not be illegal because such powers will be embedded in the new Constitution to replace the present one.
Panelo rationalized giving Duterte such sweeping powers this way: “Kaya ko pino-propose iyon because palaging nagpe-fail ang presidente natin, eh at iyon ang palaging sinasabi, ‘We need this power, we need that.’ So sabi ko di bigyan na lang natin, so there is no more excuse not to fail.”
But the problem with that argument is, Marcos himself failed devastatingly, despite wielding such awesome powers.
Duterte and Panelo’s pronouncements have indicated to me that both men are firm disciples of Ferdinand Marcos’ ideology of unbridled arrogant power for its own sake. In Ferdinand Marcos’ book entitled In Search of Alternatives: The Third World ii an Age of Crisis, published by the National Media Production Center in 1980, he expounded on his idea of “constitutional authoritarianism. On page 154, he said,
“So constitutional authoritarianism is the third way: not a compromise between dictatorship and democracy, but the disciplined way to democracy.”
Marcos called “constitutional authoritarianism as “the third alternative for developing nations”.
You can also see, from presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo’s explanation that the “constitutional dictatorship” they have in mind will be dressed in a parliamentary-federal garb. What they have in mind is not really a parliamentary-federal set up like that of France.
What they have in mind is a strongman rule just like what Marcos had.
The parliamentary-federal plan will just be the come-on to get people like former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., his son Senate President Koko Pimentel, the Muslims particularly the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to support the scrapping of the present 1987 Constitution with a new one tailored to Duterte’s desires for more powers.
I would like to clarify that both Pimentels – father and son – have long lobbied for a federal set-up but never for a constitutional dictatorship.
In fact, when I once asked former Senator Nene Pimentel why the late President Corazon Aquino never wielded the awesome powers she had as head of a revolutionary government under the 1986 Freedom Constitution in order to carry out sweeping reforms, his reply to me was that “we wanted to be the opposite of Marcos”.
Ironically, Pimentel has just fielded someone who wants to be Marcos Version 2.
And it’s easy to do that, too.
As I told a recent international conference of the UP Third World Studies, a sweeping change of the Constitution will necessitate a transition period. During that transition period, whoever is in charge will wield awesome powers, just like what Marcos had in 1973 and just like what Cory Aquino had in 1986.
Marcos used his awesome powers to transition from a presidential democratic form of government to a dictatorship disguised as a semi-presidential-parliamentary set-up.
Duterte says he is changing the Constitution for the good of the Filipino people and the next generation. But he defines “good” in a different way. For instance, to him, killing drug addicts, pushers and traffickers without due process is good for society.
Finally, there is another thing I observed about Duterte, only because I was writing my book Marcos Martial Law: Never Again.
After he won the presidency last year, I was startled to hear him say a particular phrase which I had encountered during my research on my book on Marcos atrocities.
On May 17,2016, after the New York-based Human Rights Watch had raised an alarm over the Davao Death Squad, Duterte sarcastically said:“If criminals in the book of these foreigners have their human rights, peace-loving citizens should also be entitled to some human wrongs to protect themselves.”
His use of the phrase “human wrongs” rang a bell in my mind. I knew I had read the exact, same phrase “human wrongs” somewhere.
Going back to the mountain of documents I had used, I found the narration of 36-year-old Noel Etabag which he had secretly given to the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines about his arrest and torture in 1982.
“I was dragged into another room, and the tactical interrogation began. The man who first approached me said: ‘Don’t think that we will not hurt you. We have no human rights here, only ‘human wrong’. Carter is no longer President. It’s Reagan now. You talk and we will not hurt you. Do you know that we can easily liquidate you now? Nobody knows that we have arrested you. And nobody knows that you were brought here.” Then the round-faced man rained powerful blows on my abdomen and ribs. Several others joined in hitting me on the chest, ribs, stomach, arms and shoulders. I was also repeatedly slapped.”
Duterte shares the same mindset as Etabag’s torturer. He has buried Marcos at the Heroes’ Cemetery saying the charges of abuse against the dictator have yet to be proven.
All these are points to ponder on this “Day of Reflection” on the first Edsa People Power.