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“Constitutional” Dictatorship, Anyone?

In an interview with Karen Davila last 15 September 2016, Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo reiterated his view that the President should be granted additional constitutional powers; powers which are not necessarily executive in nature. “So what I am saying is, it’s constitutional. You revise the constitution, give the powers to the president, legislative and executive powers. So in a sense parang dictatorship kasi dalawa ang powers niya, pero constitutional eh,” Panelo said.

This is not the first time that Panelo has shared the idea of a “constitutional dictatorship.” In June of 2016, Panelo already suggested that having a constitutional dictatorship would benefit the country, and that there is a need to give additional powers to the President, powers that can be exercised without any checks and balances from the two other branches of government, the legislature and judiciary. Yes, you read that correctly; without any checks and balances from the other branches of government.

The Philippine system of government is patterned after the theory of separation of powers espoused by the French philosopher Montensquieu. Montesquieu argued that if the three fundamental powers of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) were wielded by a single entity or individual, the people being governed would be deprived of their political liberty. In other words, the tripartite system of government itself a safety-measure against a potentially-tyrannous government. Therefore, such powers must be exercised by three separate, co-equal, and independent branches of government, that would serve as “watch-dogs” of each other through the system of checks and balances established by the Constitution.

In effect, Panelo is suggesting the establishment of an “unbalanced” tripartite system of government, in which the President will undoubtedly have supremacy over the judiciary and the legislature. Panelo sees the two other branches of government as roadblocks that the President must overcome in order for him to have more power, basically.

The fact that representatives of the government itself are sending the message that a dictatorship is acceptable, is both depressing and terrifying. As mentioned earlier, the rationale behind the establishment of a government system with co-equal and independent branches, and with a system of checks and balances, is the safety of the people against the government itself. With a proposed “unbalanced” tripartite system, what is our assurance that our political liberties as citizens will be maintained? What is our assurance that Rodrigo Duterte will not abuse the additional grant of legislative, and even possibly judicial powers, via a constitutional revision? It is surprising, to say the least, that just thirty years after we ousted Ferdinand Marcos, we are slowly but surely becoming open to the idea that a dictatorship is acceptable.

Panelo assures us that Rodrigo Duterte is “a man of integrity beyond corruption, who has a political will and he walks his talk.

Will you take his word for it?

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