Certain words have a distinct aura to them that immediately arouses a specific response from people. Take the word “dictatorship,” for example. Use it and people immediately think of Hitler and Stalin and Idi Amin. It is a most distasteful word, to be avoided by a leader at all costs.
Former President Ferdinand Marcos was accused of exercising dictatorial powers during the martial law years when there was no Congress of respected political leaders and no free press to take issue with him. But he would never have called his rule a dictatorial one. After he officially lifted martial law in 1981, he replaced it with what he called authoritarian government.
It was, therefore, surprising to hear President Duterte’s presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo proposing what he termed a “constitutional dictatorship.” It would be constitutional, he said, because the absolute powers would first be made part of the Constitution.
He assured that since the President is “a man of integrity, beyond corruption,” he can be trusted with all possible powers, including those exercised by the Legislative and Judicial departments, the two departments of our democratic system co-equal with the Executive.
Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Bagulat Jr. fumed at the presidential legal counsel’s suggestion. “Claims of a state of lawlessness, the supposed pervasive drug problem, and the desire to hasten the speed of reform do not justify the rebirth of a dictatorship,” he said.
President Duterte himself has chosen to ignore the suggestion for a “constitutional dictatorship.” He does not need additional powers; he is doing very well with the powers he now has under our Constitution and our laws. He may have been criticized by international observers who fear human rights are being violated but he has quite capably responded to the criticisms and, more important, he continues to enjoy the support of the people.
He wants to amend the Constitution to carry out the goal of more equitable, a more balanced development of the various regions of the county through a federal system of government. But not to amass more powers for a “constitutional dictatorship.” He does not need additional powers. And he would not relish being known as a dictator – constitutional or not.