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Revolutionary government

I am not surprised that autocracy has strong support in some Asian countries including the Philippines. A global Pew Research Center survey reveals that “In Asia, 55 percent of Indians, 52 percent of Indonesians and 50 percent of Filipinos favor autocracy.”

In a report released last month, Pew Research found out that “despite strong satisfaction with the way democracy is working, five in 10 Filipinos are still open to an autocratic form of government.” This goes against “a global trend in which only around three in 10 people support a system with a strong leader who can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts.”

So we are split down the middle. “Almost half of the Filipinos polled think that rule by a strong leader will be bad, and of this figure 21 percent opine that such as system will be ‘very bad.’”

I guess we are simply frustrated with our oligarchic-led democracy. I am almost certain that if Lee Kuan Yew was alive and decided to run for the presidency here, he will win hands down.

Filipinos want results and we are getting tired of waiting for our institutions to bring needed reforms. That explains why people seem ready to trade the freedom enshrined in our Constitution to get long awaited reforms. We are just tired of corruption, a rent-seeking economic elite and an uncaring bureaucracy. 

Many voted for Duterte with their eyes closed on everything other than his persona that promised drastic change. Unfortunately, we have very little sense of history.

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We blame our democratic system for our problems and think an authoritarian leader will deliver a Singapore quickly. Indeed, the son of our despised dictator had the temerity to say that if EDSA didn’t happen, we would have been a Singapore by now. He forgot his father left the country’s economy in shambles and the treasury dry so that we had to pay cash before our oil imports were loaded to our tankers.

Authoritarianism didn’t work for us. Authoritarianism failed us. Mr. Marcos was as authoritarian as LKY in the same 30 year period. But LKY delivered progress and a corruption-free government that delivered services the people needed. We retrogressed.

What did we get for all the human rights violations committed by the Marcos dictatorship? We got a Marcos family and some cronies still refusing to acknowledge hidden wealth. We got a Philippines that was left behind by practically all our regional neighbors so that Filipinos have to work abroad for a living.

Some say Mr. Duterte is different from Mr. Marcos. He would be the “benevolent” dictator many of us have been dreaming of. That is taking quite a big risk. His year and a half in power as a duly elected President does not support such hope.

I will not even mention human rights abuses because any discussion of that now leads nowhere. Let us even assume that Mr. Duterte has no psychological hang-ups, is not prone to foul language and can be expected to behave in a manner expected of heads of state.

A big problem with Mr. Duterte is the company he keeps. How can anyone trust an autocrat surrounded by the likes of the House Speaker and Majority Floor Leader? They are bullies already while we are still a democracy. They would be simply unbearable as mini-autocrats attached to the principal autocrat that is Duterte. 

Why give revolutionary powers to political lowlifes like the Speaker? Mr. Duterte has not shown an inclination to restrain his bullies.

Declaring a revolutionary government is seen as a short cut offering quick relief. That’s a mirage. I have had long exchanges with Jose Alejandrino, the Duterte adviser who conceived of revolutionary powers even before Mr. Duterte took his oath of office. The idea grew out of his understandable frustration over how difficult it is to do anything good in government.

One of the reasons for RevGov is supposedly to scrap the Constitution and write a new one with less fuss. But can one honestly trust the allies of the President in the current Congress to draft a new Constitution unrestrained by public opinion?

If the new Constitution is drafted while the country is being ruled by Duterte’s decrees, one can expect no real discussion of issues. Federalism will be adopted just because Duterte says so. The Speaker and his allies will protect political dynasties.

Expect self serving representatives of the old oligarchy to protect their interests, Duterte’s claimed antagonism to the oligarchy notwithstanding. Like what happened during the Marcos Martial Law era, Duterte will just replace some oligarchs with those of his own, like that Chinoy high flier from Davao who is busy buying businesses in Manila.

 One other reason given for RevGov is the opportunity to declare all government positions including in the Supreme Court vacant. Will  Duterte name better officials? That’s wishful thinking, given the quality of many of Duterte’s current appointees. 

Duterte has to go beyond his comfort zone to ensure that the best and the brightest are appointed.  He has to go beyond San Beda, Davao and traditional politicians in PDP-Laban as sources of presidential appointees.

Maybe the better way to allay fears about a revolutionary government is for Duterte to produce a list of things he wants to do that are difficult to do under our present laws. Then he should first exhaust his political capital and use his clout with his so called allies in Congress to get the projects on that list done. 

If it can be convincingly shown he tried hard, but failed, he can declare his revolutionary government. At least we know what he wants to do, even have a draft of the new Constitution he wants to pass. Doing all these things only after a RevGov has been declared is a formula for chaos. If you think our politicians are bad in a democracy, imagine how awful they will be as appendages to an autocrat.

Finally, Duterte must convince himself he isn’t biting more than he can chew. Even with those awesome powers, change will still take time. How much time does Duterte really have to do the reforms he wants before he can say mission accomplished?

If something happens to him, after all he is past 70, while he holds revolutionary powers, the country will be thrown into a period of political instability no one wants to imagine. With no Constitution to guide succession, there will be a power grab that will kill hopes of a return to normalcy soon. The economy will be a wreck because political risk is high for so long as a revolutionary government holds all powers. 

Sure, a strongman can theoretically move faster, if his heart is in it. But it can also be tempting for those whose intentions are not so honorable to be tyrants.

Difficult and frustrating as our current democracy may be, we can at least complain and put public pressure on our leaders to deliver the goods. Under an autocrat, we just have to suffer it. We experienced that before under Marcos, or so people so quickly forget.

The rumor going around is that the RevGov will be declared on Nov. 30, to coincide with Bonifacio Day. That’s too soon. They have homework to do to ensure success.

Anyway, they shouldn’t be such Grinches as to deny us a happy holiday season… that’s unFilipino. Maybe they should target end of March or around Holy Week when school is over and students are out of Manila and less chances of street protests.

We really have to be careful what we wish for. A revolution is no tea party, as Chairman Mao once wrote in his little red book.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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