Co-authored with Joy Reyes
The most basic tenet of constitutional law, and in fact one of the most fundamental lessons taught even in social studies classes in grade school and high school is that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
Today, however, in the midst of both a global pandemic and an economic recession, this foundational truth is being shaken and violated – first with the manifesto that seeks to declare a “peaceful and non-violent” revolutionary government (RevGov) to be headed by the President, and second, with the continuous extrajudicial killings of “activists, political dissenters and members of the opposition.” These, among others, completely go against the right of people to their life as protected by the Bill of Rights.
As a response to these concerning and downrightly unconstitutional actions, two statements have been released and signed by individuals and groups questioning the legality and warning against the consequences of such moves to demean the Constitution.
Professors of Peace condemn all proposals that undermine the Constitution, its processes, and its institutions
The Professors for Peace, a group of academics, researchers, and educators, said that they are gravely alarmed by the recently revived call for a RevGov. To recall, this call to declare a RevGov, the main agenda of which is to shift to a federal system of government, is not novel, as a similar call was made in 2017. However, a greater danger lies in the current call in the face of the pandemic and a concurrent economic recession.
The Professors of Peace, in its statement, mentioned that legal practitioners and scholars have warned as early as 2017 that a revolutionary government entails a violation of the Constitution, because a call for a RevGov is “no less than a call for the overthrow of the existing constitutionally mandated government, notably all of its democratically elected leaders xxx and democratic institutions.” It poses an existential threat to the checks and balances and the bill of rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The statement also said that even if the call to declare a RevGov were well-intentioned, it is a shortcut, the end of which (the shift to federalism) cannot be used to justify the means because it “will consolidate power to a few with no assurance of accountability.” It also said that if the President supports the installation of a RevGov, he or she will be deemed to have resigned from the presidency under the Constitution, in which case constitutional succession under Section 8, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution will come into play, and the Vice President will have to serve the unexpired term.
With over 200 signatories from educational institutions all over the country, the group, through its statement, said that they support the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the Department of National Defense for the swift and unequivocal rejection of the RevGov, as the protectors of our democracy and our people.
The statement ended with a warning that in the middle of the pandemic, the call for a RevGoc is a “divisive distraction” from the President’s own call for a more successful whole-of-society response to the pandemic.
Human rights advocates call on President Duterte to denounce and order a stop to the killings of activists
In the midst of the call to declare a RevGov, and even more alarming, is the continuous spate of killings of activists in the country. More than 500 human rights defenders, ranging from lawmakers, artists, academics, environmental defenders, to medical professionals, religious leaders, and social activists, both locally and internationally, in a statement, called on the Philippine government to end the killings that have claimed the lives of several individuals over the past few months.
According to the statement, the recent killings of “peasant rights advocate and peace talks consultant Randall Echanis, human right defender Zara Alvarez, and Bayan Muna regional coordinator Jory Porquia have highlighted the increasing use of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) against activists, political dissenters and members of the opposition,” all of whom were publicly vilified and tagged by police and military authorities as “communists” and “terrorists” prior to their killings.
The statement provided that around 27,000 individuals have become casualties in the violent drug war, and more than 300 political killings have been done, mostly of activists and persons tagged as communist rebels or sympathizers by agencies under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC).
Further, the statement warned its readers of the dangerous consequences of the recently signed anti-terror law, which “provides another legal weapon to maliciously tag activists, critics and dissenters as terrorists, attack civil liberties and freedom of expression, and provide another pretext for even more EJKs.”
The statement ended by demanding an impartial, thorough, and independent investigation of all the victims of extrajudicial killings, asking the President to denounce and order a stop to such killings, and by demanding that the perpetrators of these killings and their protectors be held accountable and punished. “Only then,” according to the statement, “will the reign of tyranny and impunity end.”
Distractions amid the pandemic
The call for a RevGov and the continuous red-tagging and killing of activists and even individuals who are simply helping out – on top of the passage of the anti-terror law and other efforts in the legislative – are both not just ways by which the supremacy of the Constitution is being undermined. They are also distractions amid the continuous rise in our infection rates caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of creating a comprehensive plan that is health-based in response to the pandemic, the Filipino people are distracted, and in fact left disenfranchised, by the government’s militaristic approach to the rising number of cases and its other priorities.
Instead of working together to uphold the Constitution, the Filipino people are being presented with manifestos to sow division and demean the very law that reigns supreme in our land. Instead of being empowered to speak up and voice out legitimate dissent, a right embodied in the Constitution, the Filipino people are silenced and even killed.
Now is not the time for confusion and disempowerment, especially from the government and its instrumentalities, and certainly now more than ever, the Filipino people deserve the protection of the rights guaranteed them by the highest law of the land.
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