Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for The Diplomat

Proposed constitutional amendments in Cambodia and the Philippines could worsen impunity and legitimize authoritarianism in both countries.

Criticized for persecuting the opposition and political dissenters, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are now accused of imposing dictatorship through constitutional reforms.

Unfortunately, tinkering with the constitution seems to be the preference of many Southeast Asian generals and power-hungry leaders who wanted to legitimize their authoritarian governments.

This was done in Myanmar when Burmese generals passed a constitution that reserved seats for the military in the cabinet, parliament, and other agencies of the bureaucracy. Thailand’s junta also passed a constitution that guaranteed military influence in the bureaucracy even if civilian rule is restored in the future.

So what Hun Sen and Duterte are doing is not exactly new. But nor does it excuse them for their undemocratic actions and for attempting to undermine the civil liberties in their countries. This actually makes it more important to closely monitor the efforts of civil society and other forces that are opposing the rise of authoritarianism whether it is in Cambodia, the Philippines, or the rest of Southeast Asia.

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Will Duterte’s ‘Cha-Cha’ Train Lead to Dictatorship in the Philippines?

Written for The Diplomat

The Philippine House of Representatives passed a concurrent resolution that would transform Congress into a Constituent Assembly and empower it to amend the 1987 Constitution. While proponents of charter change (known as “cha-cha” in the Philippines) have hailed it as a positive step in achieving President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to turn the Philippines into a federal state, critics have warned it could lead to authoritarianism or even dictatorship, sparking fears dating back to the rule of strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one of the authors of the resolution, said it is time to review the 29-year old Constitution “to make it more attuned and responsive to the demands of present conditions and economic realities.”

The ruling party wanted to finish the charter change deliberation this year and hold a plebiscite for the ratification of the new constitution. The next few months are therefore crucial for both the proponents and opponents of charter change to mobilize public support for their cause.

If Congress is able to convert itself into a Constituent Assembly, its members should reflect on these questions posed by Senator Richard Gordon: “Are we empowering ourselves or are we empowering the people? Are we enabling ourselves or are we enabling the people?”

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