As early as 2015, when he was still a reluctant contender for the top post in the country, President Rodrigo Duterte had already floated the idea of establishing a revolutionary government, or RevGov in current parlance in the Philippines.
In an interview in June of that year, he said: “I will give myself six months to one year to do the reforms I want to do. If the system becomes obstructionist and I become inutile (useless), I will declare a revolutionary government.”
This arguably outlandish threat did not elicit a howl of protest as Duterte was still seen as having only an outsider’s chance of winning the presidential race. But a good number of Filipinos appreciated the decisiveness animating this bold declaration.
RevGov plan was a Duterte election pledge
Early into his term, Duterte expressed his dangerous pre-election promise again. In October of 2016, responding to perceived destabilization plots against his government, he said: “I will not hesitate to declare a revolutionary government until the end of my term.”
As it was when first articulated by Duterte, the idea of establishing a RevGov seems ridiculous. The Philippines’ system of democracy and liberal economic regime are not perfect. But the country has certainly achieved much since ousting the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Just a few months after Duterte declared his openness to becoming a one-man ruler, Philippine social media exploded with posts and testimonies aggressively promoting the RevGov proposition.
Nonetheless, just a few months after Duterte declared his openness to becoming a one-man ruler, Philippine social media exploded with posts and testimonies aggressively promoting the RevGov proposition. Interestingly, some personnel from the government bureaucracy itself openly and actively pushed for this anti-democratic option.
This online campaign went on almost unabated this year with only a few political commentators raising the alarm in op-ed pieces in various newspapers. Opposition to the RevGov proposition only grew strong and loud when its main proponents called for all the president’s supporters to gather en masse in various cities in the Philippines on Nov. 30, the day when all Filipinos commemorate Andres Bonifacio, the principal instigator of the revolution against Spain in 1896. This was to be the day Duterte would declare his RevGov.
However, crowd numbers expected by RevGov advocates did not materialize. Gatherings of supporters in different regions of the country were sparse. Only the most loyal Duterte devotees, and those keen for the free food provided by the organizers, heeded the call to rally behind RevGov.
Ironically, the low turnout could be attributed to a statement days before the scheduled mass assemblies by Duterte that he no longer intends to move toward RevGov. This equivocation from the president follows the reiteration of Secretary of National Defence Delfin Lorenzana that the military will never support any effort to subvert the present constitution.
With no clear support from the armed forces and the people, the RevGov idea is discredited. But this episode forced many Filipinos to take stock of where the Philippines is as a democracy.
Democracy in the Philippines a work in progress
While many revel that only a few people are willing to destroy constitutional institutions and forgo hard-earned freedoms, the hard reality is that the democratic struggle of the Philippines is not yet done. There is still a lot of work to be done, and Filipinos don’t need moves such as RevGov to set them back.
Consider the fact that the population of the Philippines by 2020 will be 110 million. More critically, the school-age population (3-21 years old) of the country by that point will be about 44 million.
By 2045, the same demographic will be about 41 million. This means that Filipinos who are currently in the education system will be responsible for roughly the same number of citizens 25 years or so down the line.
Hence, how the 44 million young Filipinos in school now are treated will not just determine what the Philippines will be in 2045, but it will also deeply influence what the Philippines will be beyond that.
The fact is, the Philippines does not have an aging population. On the contrary, it is both blessed and burdened with a young and productive demographic. And it will enjoy and endure this reality for a long time.
Fortunately, there are still serious thinkers in government and they recognize this grave challenge. The National Economic Development Authority, the agency tasked by the national constitution to craft and implement programs for national development, has released a long-term plan for the country called Ambisyon Natin 2040, literally translated “Our Ambition for 2040.”
Ambisyon Natin 2040 is the outcome of a public consultation process which began in 2015 in which Filipinos expressed their views on what they want their lives to be 25 years from now. It expresses a set of goals extrapolated from this comprehensive survey.
This video succinctly explains Ambisyon Natin 2040.
The detailed implementation of this long-term vision, or at least the first phase of it, is embodied in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022. This covers the extent of Duterte’s term of office.
This video gives an overview of the plan.
Notably, there is no mention of any RevGov in these documents. But the solutions being offered by the government are plainly expressed. And all were conceived to be implemented under the current democratic political order.
Nonetheless, there is clearly a lot to unpack in these government initiatives. More importantly, it is necessary to look at these specific proposals through a critical lens. For Filipinos to study them intently and decide what role they can play in the execution of the plan. For the media, Civil Society Organizations and even the international community to hold the Duterte government accountable for the attainment of these aspirations.
Ambisyon Natin 2040 heralds the truth that there can be no short-cuts in nation-building. This will always be an evolutionary process where government must not have a monopoly. Indeed, it is the mobilization of the people to carry it through that is indispensable. This is a historical lesson no developing country should ever take for granted.