OPINION: Human rights in PH: How the Marcos dictatorship made Duterte happen 1

OPINION: Human rights in PH: How the Marcos dictatorship made Duterte happen

Raissa Robles

Posted at Oct 25 2017 03:57 PM

(My speech sponsored by the Gallatin Human Rights Initiative and Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University in New York City on October 24, 2017. The discussants were: Dr. Jerome Whittington of the NYU Department of Anthropology and Ruben Carranza of the International Center for Transitional Justice. Dr. Whittington specializes in the study of climate change and how it affects societies, particularly in Thailand and Laos. Atty. Carranza was once a commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government and an undersecretary at the Department of National Defense.) 

In Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, we hear a lot of eerie echoes of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Duterte has not bothered to hide his admiration for Marcos. Duterte has repeatedly expressed his gratitude to the Marcos family for supporting his candidacy and has said he wants to see Marcos’ son Bongbong succeed him. 

Politically, Duterte behaves like he’s following the dictator’s playbook. He repeatedly says he wants to declare martial law and set up a revolutionary government - which in effect would make him accountable to nobody. He is slowly eroding or suborning the various branches of government and is placing increasing reliance on the Philippine National Police. 

President Duterte shares the same language as Marcos and the same strongman ideology that Marcos laid out as a dictator.

Marcos described his dictatorship with the coined phrase “constitutional authoritarianism”. He did not define the word “authoritarianism. But on page 51 of his book, "In Search of Alternatives: The Third World in an Age of Crisis" published in 1980, Marcos argued that his form of of governance “is not the traditional textbook form of martial law or authoritarianism.”

Writing during martial law, Marcos asserted that “ours is the only authoritarian state, the only regime under martial law that has allowed its policies and programs to be questioned in open court. Our Supreme Court has, on many occasions, questioned us and even caused us to suffer reversals.”

Marcos was right of course. He allowed the Supreme Court to function because he had already stacked the cards in his favor. While the Supreme Court did question some of his decisions, the major ones were never reversed. And as a further guarantee of good behavior, all justices of the Supreme Court were required to submit a pre-signed letter of resignation which Marcos kept in his Palace drawer. Few dared to oppose him, the entire judiciary was cowed. 

On page 50 of the same book, Marcos explained the use of the word “constitutional”. He said: “I rush to submit, first of all,the distinction that the authoritarianism we exercise is constitutiona-- it is based on the Constitution and it is limited by he Constitution.

Marcos called “constitutional authoritarianism “the third alternative for developing nations”. He described constitutional authoritarianism on page 154 of the same book as “the third way: not a compromise between dictatorship and democracy, but the disciplined way to democracy.”

He enumerated the two other ways of governing as “the liberal, consensus type of democracy and the totalitarian form of government. He said the first type resulted in stalemates and deadlocks, and consequent delays, animosities and stagnation.

The second alternative, he said, “is likely to be abjured, being too extreme in its conduct and precepts. Its chief vice, of course, is its brutal denial of human rights,” Marcos explained in his book.

Apparently, Marcos did not see any “brutal denial of human rights” in his third way. He wrote: “The inescapable choice is authoritarianism for a limited time, the legitimate exercise of authority proceeding from law or the Constitution.”


Now why do I bring up “constitutional authoritarianism” 30 years after the Marcos were booted out of power.

I am bringing it up because the very same words are being uttered right in the heart of the presidential palace. No less than Duterte’s presidential legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, has elaborated on Marcos’ brand of dictatorship as the kind of government that Duterte should form.

Panelo, on September 15, 2016 - the eve of the anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law - said on TV that Duterte should form a “constitutional dictatorship”.

He said, and I quote: “You revise the Constitution, give the powers to the president, legislative and executive powers. So in a sense it’s like a dictatorship because he has powers of two branches, but it’s constitutional.”

Panelo, who once ran under Marcos’ Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan or Movement for a New Society”, was right. Just like Marcos said in his book, once authoritarianism is embedded in a Constitution and is seemingly ratified by the people - even by a fake ratification as what happened with the 1973 Constitution, then the dictatorship becomes constitutional.

Both the Marcos and Duterte governments allude to the formation of a revolutionary government as a good thing. On page 36, Marcos said that “what we see in the Third World, therefore are political revolutions of the experimental kind.”

Following Marcos’ example of ruling by decree, Duterte plans to do the same by instituting a “revolutionary government” where he will have unrestricted powers. 

Duterte himself has alluded to wanting to form a revolutionary government as early as June 2015, or one and a half years before he ran for president. He said on national TV: “I will give myself six months to one year to do the reforms I want to do. If the system becomes obstructionist and I become inutile, I will declare a revolutionary government."

That same month of June 2015, Duterte invited then-Senator Ferdinand Bongbog Marcos Junior as his special guest in his "Guikan sa Masa" TV program. In that episode, Bongbong Marcos advised Duterte to amend the Constitution early on during his presidency and not wait.

Just like what his father did. The elder Marcos steam-rollered the writing of a new Constitution so much so that in fourth months’ time, it was put in place after a sham ratification using village assemblies instead of the secret ballot.

Echoing Marcos, Duterte in August 2015 told reporters and editors of the Philippine Daily Inquirer that a revolutionary government was the only way to fast-track federalism, stop criminality and fix the government. He bluntly told Inquirer reporters: “I won’t do it if you want to place me there with the solemn pledge to stick to the rules. If you don’t want that, OK, look for another son of a bitch.”

On October 2015, a year before the filing of the certificate of candidacy for president, online news site Rappler asked Duterte what he intended to do if he ran for president.

Duterte replied:

“It’s going to be a dictatorship. It’s the police and the military who will be the backbone. If they agree with you - if the right-thinking policemen and military men agree with you - then after six years, there will be a new set-up: maybe a federal type, less corruption, and a fresh air for the next generation.”

Last week, chief presidential legal counsel Panelo asserted that Duterte’s landslide win as president shows that “the electorate factored that. You must remember that during the campaign he already said that.. He said ‘do not vote for me. I will have a bloody presidency and I will declare a revolutionary government if all things fail, if the forces against the government will work against it, I will be forced to declare martial — er - a revolutionary government. The electorate factored that. And when he was voted overwhelmingly, the electorate gave him the overwhelming mandate to declare a revolutionary government if there is a need for that.”

Panelo’s assertion is a Marcosian way of justifying the imposition of a revolutionary government even without a plebiscite, as provided by law.


Another thing that Marcos and Duterte shared is the gross disregard for human rights. Duterte’s tension with the United States with regards to human rights was also experienced by Marcos, at least with the Carter administration. Marcos wrote in the same book: “I say, too, that I know whereof I speak for the principal issue levelled against my government is that it has been anti-democratic and suppressive of human rights. Hence, the human rights ‘test’ has been applied in our case.”

Marcos claimed that part of the reason for America’s “undertaking noble crusades in the name of foreign policy…is I suspect…that the imposition of constitutional authoritarianism shattered, once and for all, the initial foreign policy crusade, William McKinley’s vision of America’s Manifest Destiny to spread the blessings of democracy and education.”

The Marcos dictatorship had what Dr Alfred McCoy has called a theater of terror - or dead bodies with gunshot wounds or missing parts, dumped overnight on the streets outside Manila.

Apparently, Duterte seems to have the same scriptwriter as Marcos but with an added feature - corpses wrapped in garbage bags and packing tape, accompanied with a sign claiming the victim was a drug addict or drug lord and should not be emulated.

Marcos called the human rights reports “a waste of newsprint” but good propaganda. He denied that there were 150,000 political detainees. “In the first place, we do not have that kind of space in any place in the Philippines,” he said.

However, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines found out that detention centers had been scattered all over the country inside military camps. Marcos in his own devious way, was right. There was no single detention place that housed 150,000. 

Marcos also justified the arrest of 60,000 men and women when Martial Law was proclaimed. He said these were merely “unserved warrants”. But he did not say why prominent Philippine senators like Benigno Aquino, Jr. and Jose Diokno as well as over a dozen delegates of the ongoing Constitutional Convention had unserved warrants and for what crimes these were issued.

Using the excuse of the threat posed by a vaguely defined class of people, Marcos arrested those he called “subversives” and “communists.” 

Today, with Duterte, it’s “drug criminals”, “drug lords” and “destabilizers.” He will probably soon include “communists” and the media.

Both the Marcos and Duterte governments also tend to make sweeping generalizations when it comes to the subject of human rights. In 1974 - two years after declaring Martial Law - Marcos asserted that “no one but no one has been tortured”.

Later on, He modified this saying killings do occur but these are “isolated cases.”


I was taken aback when I heard Duterte utter the following statement on May 17, 2016 after the New York-based Human Rights Watch raised an alarm over the Davao Death Squad. Duterte sarcastically said: “If criminals in the book of these foreigners have their human rights, peace-loving citizens should also be entitled to some human wrongs to protect themselves.”

The phrase “human wrongs” was so striking and tabloidish that the media picked it up.

The phrase rang a bell in my mind.

I knew I had read the exact, same phrase “human wrongs” somewhere among the documents I had used to write my book Marcos Martial Law: Never Again.

Sure enough, I found the narrative of 36-year-old Noel Etabag’s arrest and torture which he had secretly given to the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.

Etabag wrote: “I was dragged into another room, and the tactical interrogation began. The man who first approached me said: ‘Don’t think that we will not hurt you. We have no human rights here, only ‘human wrong’. Carter is no longer President. It’s Reagan now. You talk and we will not hurt you. Do you know that we can easily liquidate you now? Nobody knows that we have arrested you. And nobody knows that you were brought here.” Then the round-faced man rained powerful blows on my abdomen and ribs. Several others joined in hitting me on the chest, ribs, stomach, arms and shoulders. I was also repeatedly slapped.”

Like Marcos who denied there was torture going on in his regime, the Duterte government, for its part, has completely denied that extra-judicial killings are taking place. It has also banned the media and the Philippine Senate from obtaining police reports on the “deaths under investigation” - or killings blamed mostly on those riding-in-tandem. Riding-in-tandems are perpetrated by two men on a motorbike. One drives, the other one shoots the intended target.

Three media outfits in Manila - Reuters News Service, Rappler and Vera Files, have been visited separately by police officers demanding to know whether certain journalists - one of them a foreign national - worked with them. The reporters had been asking for copies of police reports on deaths under investigation on Duterte’s “war on drugs”.

Both Marcos and Duterte are also using the excuse of the threat posed by a vaguely defined class of people. During Marcos’ time it was “subversives” and “communists.” With Duterte it’s “drug criminals”, “drug lords” and “destabilizers.” He will probably soon include “communists” and media men.

Marcos justified the imposition of Martial Law by saying, I will not preside over the death of democracy.

Duterte is justifying a revolutionary government saying, “I have always maintained that my duty, my sacred duty to preserve and defend the Filipino does not emanate from any constitutional restriction.”


Like Marcos, Duterte apparently sees himself as THE LAW.

This attitude might have been instilled by the fact that both got away with the law. Marcos was accused of shooting to death his father’s political rival Julio Nalundasan but the judge who wrote the decision let him off because he was too young and too bright to send to jail and death.

In Duterte’s case, he had shot and wounded a classmate whom he said was bullying and making fun of him. A board of inquiry, set up to investigate the incident and mete the punishment, merely gave Duterte a slap on the wrist. It allowed him to graduate but not march during the rites, former Senator Rene Saguisag said. Saguisag, who was part of the inquiry, told me that he had voted to expel Duterte for what he did but he was outvoted.

Saguisag claimed this incident could have given Duterte the attitude that “he could get away with anything [and] that’s what’s happening now. Thousands are being killed” in his war on drugs.

Still, Saguisag maintained that Duterte could still change.

Duterte, like Marcos, knows how to manipulate the law for his own ends. Duterte has talked about fabricating evidence while he was a prosecutor in Davao City. He said, “we planted evidence. We arrested persons but we released them.”

Little else is known about Duterte as a lawyer or a prosecutor. However, a retired military general whom I talked to on three separate occasions told me some more about Duterte.

According to General Ramon Montano, former head of the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police which later became the Philippine National Police, Duterte was the state prosecutor in Davao City, southern Philippines. “He was the state prosecutor. So all our cases he prosecutes,” Montano told me.

Montano described Duterte then as “a protector of the police who was assigned there” in Davao. Montano told me that “all the graft and corruption, drugs (cases), he was the one who prosecuted them, and of course he defended them.”

By way of background, I first interviewed General Montano back in 2016 for my book Marcos Martial Law because after Marcos’ Martial Law, he was the only general who spoke out against the torture and human rights abuses.

I also knew that the 80-year-old Montaño would not mince words.

He was also uniquely placed since he is a die-hard Duterte supporter and was a senior military officer during Marcos’ Martial Law. Montaño was once Marcos’ chief of the military’s Philippine Constabulary anti-narcotics unit, and was once even given a financial sideline by Imelda Marcos. He told me he was given the janitorial services contract for Philippine Plaza Hotel.

And yet, he was the first and lone military general to write against the massive human rights abuses by the military during Marcos’ martial law.

In a book he co-authored on the history of the Philippine Constabulary, Montaño wrote: “While martial law allowed the constabulary to flex its muscles and battle rebels and criminals who stood in the way of peace and order, it was sadly an occasion too, for unspeakable abuse as a number of them succumbed to the intoxicating effects of power.”

He lamented that “Marcos had turned the country’s erstwhile democracy into a system where star chamber methods were reportedly used to literally torture evidence into existence, and to instill fear among the fainthearted.”

During Corazon Aquino’s presidency, while he was head of the command guarding the nation’s capital, Montaño abruptly resigned after a farmers’ rally in Mendiola outside Malacanang Palace resulted in 13 deaths. He went on to hunt down coup leaders against Mrs. Aquino.

Later, though, when his former PC boss Fidel Ramos became President, he was promoted to head of the Philippine Constabulary- Integrated National Police which replaced the Philippine Constabulary from 1988 to 1990..

Given all these, he is uniquely positioned to comment.

He recalled that during the height of communist insurgency in Davao City, Duterte was the mayor.

Montaño told me that he once removed the bodyguards from then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. I asked him why. He replied it was because Duterte was using the bodyguards “to kill people”.

“The bodyguards are with him and he used them to terrorize or kill,” Montaño said.

He recalled laughing that after Duterte’s bodyguards were removed, Duterte quickly scooted to Manila to have them reinstated because he was afraid.

Montaño said: “Our creation is Duterte. He made himself a champion. He was backed up by Commander Parago (of the communist New People’s Army).

The retired general then described Duterte as “brave only when the enemy is in handcuffs.”

Duterte himself acknowledged his close ties with the communist rebels in his area during a forum at the APEC Summit held in Manila in October 2015. He said he had allowed the rebels to extort provided they did not ask for much from the various corporations in the area.


How can Duterte, with no training in national government, win the top post?

Aside from instilling fear regarding crime among voters, dropping so many promises and having a vast army of vicious online trolls patrolling the social media sites, I believe that Duterte also had a hidden ace up his sleeve. He had the political backing of three former Philippine presidents - Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joseph Estrada plus the Marcos family.

Ramos apparently saw himself as a kingmaker. Arroyo and Estrada had unspoken favors. Arroyo wanted to be released from jail. Estrada also wanted his son Jinggoy released.

The Marcoses had previously backed Estrada when he ran for president in 1998. When he won, Imee Marcos rapturously said they “we are over the moon”.

“Many professionals were appointed by my father. So you have this immense bedrock of Marcos appointees who keep moving up.” Among those were Duterte’s father and Duterte himself. In 1972, Duterte was appointed to the city prosecutor’s office despite the fact that he had shot a classmate.

Later, Duterte disclosed that the Marcoses had helped him a lot. In truth and in fact, the Marcos family helped make the Duterte presidency happen.

In any case, Duterte’s presidential inauguration was the very first time after fleeing in 1986 that the two siblings, Imee and Bongbong Marcos, set foot in Malacanang as guests of honor.

One of the first presidential acts of Duterte was to bury his idol, the dictator, a hero and to start negotiations with the Marcos family for the return of some assets.

To many of those with no memory of Marcos’ Martial Law, it was no big deal.

And there were many. By 2010, more than half of Filipino voters were born after 1986 when the Marcoses fled. There was no extensive book written on that period. In fact, the only Philippine history used as a college textbook stopped with 1972 before the declaration of Martial Law.

Meanwhile, to fill the gap in history, the Marcoses were quietly building up support in social media and revising history, projecting the dictator as the greatest president and Martial Law as THE golden age of Philippines politics.

They were making the ground fertile for another strongman rule.

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