If there exists an actual, substantive, and strong basis for the people to call for Duterte’s resignation, ouster, or removal from office by whatever means, the people have the right to exercise their sovereign will to do so.
By GERIFEL CERILLO*
In light of the alleged ouster plot recently revealed by Dr. Dante Ang of the Manila Times and purportedly sourced from the Office of the President, discussions on Duterte’s ouster has been in the news. The Duterte administration is intent on identifying the alleged movers behind this so-called plot, but is likewise insidiously trying to delegitimize calls to resist an already repressive and increasingly intolerable government by demonizing any legitimate expression of dissent.
News on this alleged conspiracy theory comes at a period where criticisms are being raised due to violations to our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), pork insertions in the 2019 budget, questionable spike in the Duterte family’s wealth, the ineffective yet bloody war on drugs, the seemingly relentless assault on people’s rights and fundamental freedoms, among other anti-people policies. These are legitimate and substantive issues deliberately ignored by the Duterte administration by choosing to play the victim, while altogether viciously attacking its critics.
This is not the first instance when the Duterte government attempted to peddle an alleged ouster plot. The Red October conspiracy was foisted by the Duterte’s men during the latter part of 2018 in a purported attempt to douse the growing united broad opposition to his misrule. However, the recycling of such tactics can be seen as an acknowledgement of the crisis situation that Duterte and cohorts have created in the Philippines.
The convoluted matrices and witch hunt rhetoric can indeed impact on civil liberties of individuals and groups mentioned. However, the more important issue needs to be asked – so what if people are clamoring for the ouster of Duterte? If there exists an actual, substantive, and strong basis for the people to call for Duterte’s resignation, ouster, or removal from office by whatever means, the people have the right to exercise their sovereign will to do so.
Even the 1987 Philippine Constitution provides an accountability clause that allows for the impeachment of the President for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. Clamor for accountability or calls to oust current officials thus stand on legitimate grounds.
Issues of civil resistance, the right to rebel and the right to resist have been proscribed, even criminalized by many governments. However, this is an integral component in the exercise of people’s rights by which the people can seek accountability from repressive governments. The use of democratic processes to install an undemocratic governance tantamount to dictatorships is not unheard of in global politics. Many remedies to this, including the particular provisions on the people’s exercise of their right to self-determination in certain national constitutions and international agreements, function as a last alternative to tyrannical regimes. The overthrow of governments, when they cease to uphold their function and mandate, and when the general public sees no other recourse to their redress as governments act contrary to the interest of citizens, is justified. All around the world, much of our modern constitutions are anchored on, and are largely influenced by the revolutions waged against despots and oppressors.
The right to resist is enshrined in various international agreements, whether explicitly or indirectly, and supplemented by various succeeding papers and conferences tackling the issue of civil resistance, rebellion, and resistance. Core human rights agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, among others, stipulate the no State has a right to engage in any activity or to perform in any act aimed at the destruction of the rights and freedoms that are enshrined in these agreements. This includes the right to due process, the right to self-determination, freedom of expression, peaceable assembly, and association, among others. What, then, when your government has systematically violated these fundamental human rights and killed thousands, actively prevents any investigation, filters documents that are available, and attacks those who seek any semblance of accountability?
Generally, to resist against repressive regimes is a declaration of the centrality of justice, and a refusal to let injustice reign. It is, thus, an open challenge to an unjust system. Definitively, experts convened during the 1981 Conference of the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization asserted “the notion of a right to resist violation of human rights is inseparable from human rights.” Thus, acknowledgment of human rights also inherently translates to acknowledgment of the means people can exercise to defend and protect said rights.
Unfortunately, despite the existence of legally binding agreements such as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), governments have continued with their criminal conduct and have initiated acts of reprisals against those who expose human rights violations. International law recognizes such situations and have set up mechanisms for redress. In the event of the failure of these processes, political theorists, such as in the case of John Locke, a breach of the social contract makes revolution a duty, a necessity to frustrate tyranny. This is mirrored in many constitutions and have led to an international recognition that there exists an individual and collective right of resistance against governments who are found to be violating human rights.
The United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization Experts’ Conference in 1981 also strengthens this by adding:
The means of resistance must be proportionate to the gravity of the human rights which are being violated; and the violent resistance may only be relied upon as a last resort in extreme situations after all nonviolent means of resistance have been exhausted.
International agreements and conferences have recognized this entire spectrum of response against repression and oppression. Acts of reprisal such as those perpetrated by the Duterte regime has been a common response. We reiterate that lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders are well within their rights and advocacy to expose the truth and demand answers. Lawyering and journalism are not crimes. What is apparent though, after two alleged ouster plots, is the regime’s is increased vindictiveness, triggered by insecurities, which stem from its inability to solve the country’s problems.
The government is accorded with power and resources, but always with accountability and duty to realize a life of dignity for its citizens. The exercise of the people’s right to resist is a reminder to governments, particularly the Philippine government, that their effort to criminalize people raising legitimate demands betrays their own insecurity and fear of accountability.
The movement built by the Filipino people for justice and accountability, whether it be on the calls for Duterte’s ouster, Duterte’s resignation, investigations by international and domestic courts, widespread protests, among others, is a valid and legitimate recourse that the Filipino people can exercise. Let us not let repressive forces make us believe otherwise. When history teaches the world that power emanates from the people, it is not mere rhetoric, but a warning to tyrants that repressive regimes.
* The author is the coordinator of Tanggol Bayi, an association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines, and a member of Karapatan’s National Council.