Earlier this week, a substantial portion of a citizens group highly supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte met in western Luzon to announce their support for installing a “revolutionary government” over the Philippines to ensure that the Chief Executive keeps his promise of shifting to a federal system before the end of his term. The MRRD-NECC stated, too, that this proposed change should be to trigger a “cultural revolution”.
Reactions were mixed, with some netizens stating that the pandemic would be no excuse for a change in governmental institutions. Others were more supportive, noting that the Philippines is suffering from the negative effects of its institutional framework and would therefore argue that a shift is necessary sooner or later. But as to the main focus of their clamor in Luzon, what exactly is a revolutionary government? What does the declaration of one entail?
It must first be established that a shift to the federal-parliamentary system forms the central part of the President’s promises and agenda for government upon assuming office four years ago. Since his inauguration, much of his term was spent on pursuing everything except this promise to reform the constitution save for tepid attempts in 2018. As the impact of COVID-19 also revealed the true state of the nation, some chapters of MRRD-NECC reacted to remind the President of his campaign pledge.
Contemplated and embraced by the concepts of revolutionary governments are an upheaval and abrogation of the existing constitutional framework in operation over a particular state or territory. From a historical lens, a declaration of revolutionary government, normally produced by the popular will rising up to take control of the state apparatus, has proven a chaotic and risky experience, with outcomes often being disputed by power groups at play in the wake of the previous government’s collapse such as in France in the 1790s.
A revolutionary government as envisioned by the MRRD-NECC is akin to a “self-coup”, or when an existing head of state or head of government arrogates to himself and his position the legislative powers normally held by the lawmakers. Examples of these include Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Ferdinand Marcos during the declaration of Martial Law in 1972.
Antonio La Viña, a lawyer and political analyst, along with many other lawyers, holds that the declaration of a revolutionary government is tantamount to the president forsaking, resigning from, and abandoning his office in favor of a constitutional succession by the Vice President. Meanwhile, Orion Perez Dumdum, a constitutional reform advocate, indicated that the impetus for a drastic move is part of “exasperation with the current lousy system” and the glacial pace of reform in the Philippines.
Revolutions mean the upending and discontinuity of any given nation’s political order as enshrined in its basic law. Although the sentiment to create a new order in the wake of the frustration with the existing one is warranted and legitimate, there is great cause, too, to be aware of the risks and potential instability entailed by such fractious moves.