Analysis by Raïssa Robles
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez today confirmed the scenario I laid out on New Year’s Eve about President Rodrigo Duterte turning from a democratically elected leader into an authoritarian ruler.
Let me decode for you what Alvarez and his Senate counterpart, Senate President Koko Pimentel, said today about the planned constitutional changes of Duterte’s ruling PDP-Laban party.
I said in my post entitled “2018 is key to Duterte’s grab for authoritarian powers” that I was pretty sure they would place the proposed charter change as a rider to the barangay elections this year.
Alvarez confirmed what I wrote that a transitory government would be needed to shift from one form of government to another. I wrote that Duterte would head that transitory government. And by doing so, this would open up the possibility of Duterte setting up authoritarian rule.
Alvarez told Karen Davila,
“I have to be frank…Anything is possible.”
“You know why? Let’s be practical.
Pag nag shift ka into a different form of government, unitary to federal, you need a transition government. hindi mo pwedeng basta inaprubahan mo ng Mayo, implement mo agad yan.” [When you shift into a different form of government, unitary to federal, you need a transition government. You can’t just approve it this May, and implement it at once.]
Davila did not follow up by asking Alvarez whether this could lead instead to a shift to one-man rule. Still, Alvarez’s answer that “anything is possible” under a transitory government is pregnant with meaning.
Senate President Koko, separately told reporters in a mobile text message that President Duterte would need to head the transitory government and his term may be extended if necessary and—according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer—if he’s “amenable”.
In his text message to Senate reporters, Senate President Koko said:
“2, If he’s amenable to it and 3. Since that extension will be part of the new Constitution, the new Constitution is approved by the people themselves.”
President Koko implied that there was nothing sinister planned. He stressed that “The objective is federalism. That’s all.”
Duterte government extends to senators the carrot to ‘No-El’ next year
Senate President Koko of course denied that mid-term elections next year would not push through. He said,“We can shift to federalism and allow all scheduled elections under the existing constitution to go on and be held.”
But House Speaker Alvarez bluntly said: “I have to be frank…Anything is possible.”
Alvarez instead extended a carrot to the senators whose term would be expiring next year but who wanted to run again:
“Remember ha, yung senators kasi yung termino nila, hindi sabay-sabay mag e-expire. May mag e-expire sa 2019, may mag e-expire sa 2022. In fairness siguro mas maganda pag pina-expire mo lahat sa 2022 para wala ka ng utang…” [Remember, the term of the senators do not expire all at the same time. Some or 12 seats expire in 2019, and the other 12 seats in 2022, so let’s extend everybody’s term to 2022 so that we won’t owe any of them any unexpired tenure.]
Because anyway you look at it, who in his right mind would spend millions of pesos running for a position that was just abolished by a newly-approved Constitution?
Alvarez’s formula seems such a neat way to avoid political squabble and impasse. Just extend the tenure of the 12 senators whose terms are expiring in 2019.
It is also a clever way to avoid the possibility of the Senate having more opposition senators being elected into office come 2019. This would keep the present balance of power in Congress, which is today heavily tilted toward President Duterte.
Speaker Alvarez’s answer to the question—whether the Senate would be dissolved—was very revealing. He replied that senators could run for other posts.
“Kelangan ba Senado lang ang kanilang tatakbuhan? Pwede ka namang tumakbo kung ano man yung legislative branch na maki create ng bagong Saligang Batas, dun sila tumakbo. Tumakbo silang Presidente…” [Is it necessary that they run only for the position of senator? Anyway you can run for a seat in the legislature that’s going to be created under the new Constitution. That’s where they should run. They can run (as well) for President.]
From what Alvarez said, we can infer that their proposed legislature is a one-chamber or unicameral body without any Upper House or Senate.
From our experience with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, a unicameral assembly is easier to manipulate and control than the present two-chamber body.
And from our experience with the Senate, it is mainly that body that makes the sitting President accountable; that checks the abuses of the Executive branch because the Constitution gave it ample oversight powers.
The Cha-Cha train is now in motion. Only the people can stop it.
You might be wondering why I am against this kind of constitutional change when Duterte means well.
The short answer is—because this form of government is so prone to abuse and corruption. To those challenging me to prove it, just read my book Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, a brief history of torture and atrocity under the New Society.
The abuse and corruption will take your breath away.