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Fears of looming dictatorship grow in Philippines

Duterte threatens to set up ‘revolutionary government’ to fend off efforts by opponents he accuses of trying to destabilise his rule

Gulf News

Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned he is prepared to establish a “revolutionary government” to fend off alleged efforts to oust him, fuelling fears of a looming dictatorship.

He issued the warning on state television late Friday as he railed against the press, European lawmakers and other critics of his drug war that has left thousands dead and led rights groups to warn of a crime against humanity.

Duterte said he would resort to a revolutionary government, as opposed to martial law that would require congressional approval, if communists and other opponents tried to destabilise his rule.

“If your destabilisation is taking place and there is chaos already, I will not hesitate to declare a revolutionary government until the end of my term and I will arrest all of you and we can go to a full-scale war against the reds,” Duterte said, in reference to communist rebels who have waged a nearly 50-year insurgency.

Duterte cited the precedent set by Corazon Aquino, who established a revolutionary government soon after leading a ‘People Power’ uprising in 1986 that ended the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

Aquino sacked all elected officials, abolished Congress and tore up the 1973 constitution in favour of a provisional charter.

She hand-picked a commission to write a new constitution, which was ratified by plebiscite in 1987 and paved the way for elections. She is revered by many Filipinos who continue to see her as a heroine of democracy.

Under the post-Aquino constitution, presidents are limited to a single term of six years.

Duterte’s critics fear the 72-year-old, who has repeatedly threatened to impose martial law, is intent on dragging the country back into dictatorship and allow himself more freedom in prosecuting his drug war.

Duterte was elected last year largely on an incendiary law-and-order platform in which he promised to eradicate illegal drugs in society by killing 100,000 people.

Since he took office 15 months ago, police have reported killing 3,850 people in anti-drug operations while thousands of others have been murdered in unexplained circumstances.

Many Filipinos continue to support Duterte, seeing the charismatic politician as a saviour fighting corruption and crime.

But opposition has started to build, with the influential Catholic Church and leftist groups taking a prominent role in speaking out against his drug war.

Rare street protests broke out last month after police involved in the drug war killed two teenagers in controversial circumstances.

The Philippine military, which backed Marcos until the last days of his dictatorship, did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on Duterte’s warning.

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