top of page

The Future of the Liberal Order in the Philippines, Final Part

President Rodrigo Duterte has turned the Philippine liberal order upside down. Blunt and irreverent, Duterte constantly attacks the liberals, the Catholic Church and the opposition for the constant criticisms his administration is getting. The country’s economic and financial woes add peril to the liberal order through Duterte’s pursuit of illiberal policies.

External forces also play major roles in adopting illiberal policies for the exigencies they bring. Take for instance, China’s relentless efforts in the South China triggers a domino effect as Duterte grapples with thorny issues such as foreign debt, territorial sovereignty, and the country’s need to modernize its infrastructure.

Thirty some years post martial law and the Cory Constitution, the country has enjoyed a liberal order that nurtured prosperity (although disproportionately with the oligarchs who now added more names to Fortune 100) and relative peace amidst persistent poverty and social upheavals. The liberal order is definitely under constant threat but the question that begs an honest answer is whether what we are seeing today is truly taking shape or just an aberration that will self-correct by itself?

Clearly, many liberals think the order is in deep crisis and that the gravity of the situation is such that it needs saving. The constant deference to a higher body outside of the Philippines gives the impression that the situation in the country is beyond resolution at the local level. The sacking of Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno added to such uncertainty.

VP Leni Robredo’s video message to a United Nations commission about Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, Karapatan’s filing complaints to the UN about Duterte’s tagging of legal (leftist) organizations as rebel fronts or NUPL’s complaint to the International Crime Commission’s (ICC) on behalf of the extra judicial victims of Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs campaign are examples.

Consequently, ICC investigators’ preliminary investigations of the complaints, the European Union’s call for Duterte’s restraint or the five bipartisan United States senators who filed a resolution condemning the continued incarceration of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima adds credibility and legitimacy to such impression.

But is the country’s liberal order really in trouble? Or is it that what we’re seeing is really more of the norm as part of the tit-for-tat political payback or combat that often takes place whenever there is a change of administration? Like Sereno’s ouster was payback for CJ Renato Corona’s ouster who ruled against the Aquino’s Hacienda Luisita? Or former president Benigno Aquino’s political persecution a payback for former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s years of hospital arrest? That perhaps as long as the notion of self-righteousness (we good, they bad) being furthered by every administration that we still have to see the end of it?

Sure uncouth Duterte is a strongman but perhaps his antics are adding to the fog of war and contributing to a liberal default of sounding the alarm about saving the democracy. When Duterte verbalized his disdain for the critical opposition and angrily announced that if the criticisms continue unabated that he might suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus and declare a revolutionary war (read: suppressing dissent). VP Robredo and her election lawyer’s opinion were non-sequitur.

First, suspending the writ is within the powers of the presidency provided he has the legal justification for it. Why put it in the constitution if the president cannot exercise it? Surely, such declaration will be challenged in court. Duterte’s Martial Law declarations were feared by liberals and challenged in court but were upheld twice by the Supreme Court. Such is the nature of the changing times.

On the revolutionary war comment, perhaps what Duterte meant was that he would declare a revolutionary government. The president cannot wage a revolutionary war against itself – only revolutionaries declare a revolutionary war. So for Robredo or Macalintal to opine that she could take over from Duterte if Duterte follows through with his threat is rather presumptuous.

For Duterte to declare a revolutionary government, he must stage a constitutional (or bloody) coup for him to declare a revolutionary government. And when he does, the constitution is voided and the presidential succession provision is mooted. For Robredo to be president in such scenario, she and her forces needs to stage a counter coup and if successful, the spoils of war.

The opposition’s constant harangue of the Duterte admin is painting an ugly picture that liberals are trying to sustain or salvage the Cory order from a dissatisfied authoritarian who is trying to revise it? It is often said that elections have consequences but that nobody really believes much less respects it. Presidents have executive appointment prerogative and he or she is not always right about a presidential appointee. They all have their share of bad or corrupt appointees – weather-weather lang yan!

But when will politicians truly begin to care for the people? When will politicians learn that when they speak ill or begin doubting the judiciary that their followers will pick up the mantra that the system is corrupt? Since the ouster of Sereno, that has been the belief thus CJ Lucas Bersamin’s court’s decision to require the government to release all related files to Operation Tokhang thus effectively ending Solicitor General Jose Calida’s winning streak at the Supreme Court, went with a yawn.

Siling Labuyo believes that everyone should take a deep breath and work together conservatively to advance a grand strategy that everyone can live with. It is time for the Liberal Party and partylist allies to gird for a prolonged period of co-existence with Duterte’s powers that be, given the impending election victory of Hugpong Pagbabago comes May.

A conservative strategy allows leaders to explore their best options. Everybody has their own idea of how to make the country great but often with self-interest as part of their agenda. After all, here are some hard truths: Duterte has not really altered or undo long-standing alliances and institutions. The Mutual Defense Pact with the United States is very much intact. The three branches of government still functions in an unwieldy democracy. The Central Bank is able to function independently and elections are held like clockwork. How democratic can that be?

Times have changed thus the liberal order cannot remain locked in Cory’s time. Cory’s order was good as it lasted; this era calls for solidarity and personal sacrifice. A conservative approach will allow a pause, to reconsider whether federalism is right for the country given the diverse interests of every region. The Muslim rebellion is ebbing and the New People’s Army (NPA) Maoist struggle (or banditry) is becoming irrelevant with a renewed push for a finale to the decades’ old armed struggle.

By co-existing with Duterte, the opposition can infuse some degree of independent influence and liberal norms in human rights, economy, or even politics. Illegal drugs continue to wreak havoc on the country, there is real need to modernize the country’s infrastructure and the ballooning foreign debt are real concerns. The opposition needs to be part of the conversation and solution.

bottom of page