PH plunging into fascism, protesters warn
Canberra—On New Year’s Eve, Filipinos were warned by a coalition of civil society groups that President Duterte’s war on drugs is plunging the country into the maelstrom of fascism. The war has resulted in the killing of more than 6,000 people since Mr. Duterte took office midyear of 2016.
The mounting death toll has revived protests in the midst of the Christmas holidays, calling for an end to the slaughter blamed by activists on vigilantes. The latest of these protests came from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which urged other dioceses in the country to follow the example of the archdioceses of Jaro in Iloilo and of Nueva Segovia in Ilocos Sur. In a statement issued by the bishops, Fr. Erwin Gariguez voiced support for the activities of the two archdioceses and said: “Killing of drug traffickers without due process, even in the name of a just cause, is morally unacceptable.”
The statement emphasized that while the bishops are supportive of the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, “the method used is unjustifiable.” What is alarming is that the poor are most vulnerable to loss of life as well as violation of their rights, the statement pointed out.
The archdiocese of Jaro had at least 97 parishes putting up streamers calling for respect for life and an end to the extrajudicial killings. The archdiocese of Nueva Segovia held similar activities to condemn the killings.
Gariguez noted that most of those killed were poor people living in slum areas. “President Duterte’s claim of … protecting those who have less in life becomes mere lip service should the state continue to violate and disregard the rights of the poor,” he said in the statement. “We support and encourage all forms of campaigns by the dioceses to stop the extrajudicial killings and other morally unacceptable acts of the government.”
The statement marked the intervention of the Church and put it at loggerheads with the administration and its brutal antidrug policy. The intervention appears to be a sign that the Church is using its influence and preparing the ground for a mass movement that would end the reign of terror, similar to the call of Jaime Cardinal Sin in 1986 that was instrumental in launching the People Power revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.
Whether or not Mr. Duterte will heed this call to lift his mailed-fist policy and forego violence as a preferred approach to intimidate critics who stand in the way of his crackdown is a matter of conjecture. There is no sign that he is backing off from violent confrontation.
The grim reality in this seeming standoff is that the road is wide open for more killings, in which innocent noncombatants are at risk as “collateral damage.” The worst-case scenario is the prospect of military intervention to end the mayhem in the streets or a coup attempt against the Duterte regime. Toward the end of 2016, the options for nonviolent solutions seemed to be narrowing, and the atmosphere was charged with loose talk of nondemocratic options, such as the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and the declaration of martial law.
But days after complaining about the safeguards against martial law in the 1987 Constitution, Mr. Duterte said he had no plans of placing the country under martial rule. But he was far from reassuring. In a quick turnaround in a live TV interview, he said martial law would “lead to the downfall of the country.” He added: “Me, I don’t need to do it.” He also said he would just tell the people of the occurrence of lawless violence and the steps he would take to stop it.
It was in a speech in Pampanga before Christmas that Mr. Duterte revealed his true colors. He said he wanted to change the provisions in the 1987 Constitution that requires the Congress and the Supreme Court to review a president’s proclamation of martial law. If the two institutions had conflicting findings, there could be trouble, he said, and added that only one person should be giving directions in a situation requiring martial law.
In short, that’s one-man rule.
Amando Doronila was a regular columnist of the Inquirer from 1994 to May 2016.