OPINION: Night falls on PH's fragile democracy

Inday Espina-Varona — scaRRedcat

Posted at Dec 13 2017 05:16 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte honed the edges of his bloodlust on Operations Tokhang and Double Barrel. These twin anti-narcotics programs responsible for the deaths of thousands of mostly poor Filipinos are infamous for displays of contempt for due process and the absence of accountability.

In the year-and-a-half crackdown on suspected drug addicts and dealers, Duterte practically made impunity a state policy. He egged on law enforcers to go forth and kill more, offering them presidential protection. He vowed to block any impartial third-party probe in extra-judicial killings (EJKs). 

The President also threatened rights advocates, including lawyers and activists, with the same treatment accorded narcotics suspects.

Now, having perfected the high art of mass murder, the regime leaps from one twinned campaign to a three-pronged program.

Even as the deaths in Tokhang continue to mount, the President and the Armed Forces now train the guns on Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency—and practically all groups and individuals engaged in legal dissent.

One-man rule

Duterte’s supermajority in Congress approved on December 13 his request for a one-year extension of Martial Law in Mindanao, 240-27.

The extension of Martial Law follows Duterte’s proclamation for the use of draconian anti-terrorism measures on the 70,000-strong Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA).

Both measures are linked to another important thrust of the regime: overhauling the Constitution to concentrate all powers of governance in the hands of one dictator.

The draft Resolution of Both Houses No. 8 does not merely propose a shift to federalism. It grants Duterte legislative powers, dilutes people’s rights, and paves the way for allowing foreign ownership of land and control in extractive industries. While Duterte has just acknowledged reluctance for federalism, his Cabinet has been pushing for doing away with limits on these economic activities.

Duterte paints his new focus as yet another way to save the Republic. What he’s after is a free hand to lay down the red carpet for foreign powers, oligarchs and cronies—all of them willing to turn a blind eye to, or maybe even cheer on, the next wave of killings and human rights violations. All this from now till 2019.

Real targets

It’s no surprise that Duterte includes legal activists in his terrorism catch.

Proclamation 374 on December 5 cites as basis RA 10168 (Anti-terror financing law). That law, in turn, gets its definition of “terrorist” on RA 9372 (the Human Security Act).

RA 9372 allows authorities to hold any suspect for three to five days without a warrant. All they need is a claim of an “imminent” terrorist attack. The police may have been caught flat-footed in Marawi, but they’re enthusiastic in conjuring fantastic scenarios— like that September tale about boatloads of NPAs allegedly headed for Manila.

Any of its hacks can provide some cover for a crackdown.

The Human Security Act does not only cover armed rebels. It also punishes other individuals and groups for “sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace.”

Duterte favors one word—“destabilizers”.

His definition of a terrorist conspiracy includes all dissent against his tyrannical ways, selectiveness in dealing with corruption, and his cavalier approach to foreign policy and the defense of the national interest.

Autocrats have a natural urge to stretch the reach of already draconian laws. Duterte isn’t just aping the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. He is following the playbook of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose top security boys are now his to command.

These good friends share an intolerance for criticism and a penchant for paranoia. Arroyo had her bloodbath, too, but went through the motions of using democratic processes. Duterte has no such pretensions.

His is the inchoate rage of a ghoul that draws power from blood and gore. He has a monster’s greed for instant gratification; thousands dead even as he now claims another year won’t be enough to fulfill the macho pledge to wipe out narcotics in the country.

He expected the Lumad, indigenous peoples of Mindanao, to drop to their knees and bow to all his whims because he once pretended friendship with them. When they didn’t, he threatened to bomb the schools of children who are the first in generations to get an education, no thanks to the government.

Indigenous peoples and farmers, from Mindanao to Luzon, are the prime targets of this new Duterte offensive. It’s not hard to see why: they are the fierce guardians of our remaining pristine land, water and air. They need to be brought to heel and forced to turn over these natural resources and ancestral legacies to the current occupant of Malacanang and his cronies.

Duterte, of course, claims he can’t be a tyrant because social media is noisy.

Whatever freedom of expression enjoyed today is not a gift owed him but the assertion by citizens of their democratic rights. The exercise of the right to organize and assembly is carried out by people cognizant of the dangers faced under the Duterte regime: More than 130 activists killed at the end of November, a dozen from then till now; more than a hundred arrested on trumped-up charges.

You can call a dictatorship by any name. You cannot hide its nature.

Duterte may now have the legal framework for a full tilt to dictatorship. He would have done it under any circumstance.

Darkness has fallen. We can expect nothing from this government. As in that long Marcos night, Filipinos will just have to fall back on their courage and commitment to democracy and freedom.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.