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Media's critical lens spotlights call for "revolutionary government" | CMFR

Media’s critical lens spotlights call for “revolutionary government”

Photo from Bobby Brillante’s, national coordinator of the revolutionary government committee, Facebook account.

THE POINT of a “revolutionary government” seemed lost on a group of Duterte supporters who trooped to Clark Freeport in Pampanga on August 22 to support the People’s National Coalition for Revolutionary Government and Charter Change.

Historically, revolutionary government involves the insurgent or seditious takeover of state power from an incumbent administration. Over the weekend, some 300 people, led by a group that calls itself the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-National Executive Coordinating Committee (MRRD-NECC), called on the sitting president to declare a revolutionary government.

Media could have ignored the story. But many journalists could not help recall  President Duterte’s talking about setting up a revolutionary government early in his presidency.

Reports did more than just break the story on the assembly of Duterte supporters. Coverage highlighted criticism expressed by different sectors. Some news organizations sought expert views from academics, prominent lawyers and framers of the 1987 Constitution who focused on the illegality of a revolutionary government. More critical reports provided analyses on whether the instigators could be held criminally liable.

Lawyer groups flagged the move as a violation of the Constitution. Opposition and administration lawmakers alike slammed the call for being untimely and divisive amid the pandemic. Military and police officials, who received invitations for a meeting with the MRRD-NECC, rejected the call. The Palace also distanced itself from the RevGov proposal. But Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque noted the group’s freedom to express their opinion.

On August 25, the president disowned the call. He denied knowing the people behind the group.

Media also picked up how other officials were vague in responding to the question of whether this movement could be considered seditious. DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing echoed Roque and told ANC that members of the group are just “freely expressing themselves.” DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra, when first asked the question withheld comment and said that “the issue is more political than legal.” Days later, he affirmed that a revolutionary government would be unconstitutional.

Reports also checked the president’s denial of any knowledge about the movement or the persons involved, by pointing out that Duterte talked about the possibility of his establishing a revolutionary government. Some accounts noted that individuals identified with the movement had also received appointments in DAR and DILG.

CMFR monitored reports from the three major Manila broadsheets (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star); four primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, CNN Philippines’ News Night, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and TV5’s One Balita); as well as selected news websites from August 22 to August 25, 2020.

“Against the Constitution

While most reports merely quoted lawmakers and officials, some carried the views of legal and constitutional experts.

During an interview on GMA News TV’s Dobol B sa News TV, Christian Monsod, a lawyer and one of the drafters of the 1987 Constitution, tagged the call  as “extra-constitutional” and urged the justice department to investigate the matter “with the end purpose of filing a case of sedition against these people.”

Media also carried the statement of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) which denounced the proposal, calling it “repugnant to constitutionalism.” IBP National President Domingo Egon Cayosa said there is “no legal, factual, practical or moral basis for a revolutionary government under the present circumstances.”

“Inciting to sedition”

As officials from the Palace and DILG downplayed the call as a mere exercise of expressive freedom, several reports called attention to the possible basis for criminal charges.

A Rappler report recalled the statement of IBP’s then president Abdiel Fajardo in the heat of similar calls in 2017 arguing that Duterte may be held liable for inciting to sedition as defined under the Revised Penal Code. Rappler and Interaksyon cited John Molo, a professor of constitutional and political law at the University of the Philippines, who said that the call may  fall under the new terror law’s broad definition of a terrorist act.

A critical report from Philstar.com took issue with Roque’s argument that without “clear and present danger,” the call could not be considered illegal. Reports from Philstar.com and Onenews.ph noted that the administration’s inconsistency, the stark contrast of official reaction to the call for “RevGov” from the quick arrests of netizens who posted criticism of government during the quarantine as well as the charges filed against those blamed for the Bikoy controversy. In both cases, the expression of criticism was deemed incitement to sedition.

“I don’t know them”

Wala akong pakialam niyan, wala akong kilala na mga tao na ‘yan at hindi ko ‘yan trabaho,” the president said of the group calling for a revolutionary government.

(I’m not involved in that, I don’t know those people and that’s not my job).

Some news outfits, including Interaskyon, were quick to flag his dismissal of MRRD-NECC, pointing out that it was actually one of the more prominent groups supporting his 2016 campaign.

Rappler’s Pia Ranada identified four MRRD-NECC members who were appointed to key government positions by Duterte. One of them, DILG’s Densing, who denied that the group was inciting to sedition, was even caught on camera during a 2017 RevGov rally.

Ranada also said that DAR Secretary John Castriciones, a former DILG Undersecretary, who sits as the group’s national president, has yet to comment on the issue. According to an Inquirer report, DAR Undersecretary Emily Padilla, also a former DILG Undersecretary, publicly denied any involvement in the RevGov proposal and urged “genuine members” to speak up. Along with Castriciones and Padilla, former Undersecretary Jesus Hinlo, and MRRD-NECC co-founder, was also previously appointed by the president to DILG. CMFR adds DILG Undersecretary Martin Dino to the list of Duterte appointees who are also members of the group.

Duterte first dangled the idea of a revolutionary government during his presidential bid in 2016. Media recalled the other instances when he threatened to use it against his critics for alleged “destabilization plots.” Most notable was Philstar.com’s effort to timeline the president’s previous remarks that contextualized how the renewed RevGov call stemmed from Duterte’s own threats. 

Did the call have anything to do with the recent absence of the president from the public eye, fueling speculation about his state of health? This angle was pursued only in social media and a few reports.

A report by Raisa Robles in South China Morning Post’s This Week in Asia noted that the call came mere weeks after rumors about the president’s health swirled online. As Inquirer columnist Randy David said, “some quarters are pushing it not so much to install federalism by shortcut as to manage a crisis of succession in the face of Mr. Duterte’s rumored declining health.” The administration was quick to distance itself from the RevGov call. But the media should nevertheless sustain public attention on what the Constitution says to maintain order and stability in government including the constitutionally mandated one of succession. A strong and vigorous democracy after all requires a well-informed public that can take a stand against sinister scenarios initiated for the protection of self-serving political interests.