“Destabilization” has been used so many times in the political realm that it is now as fatuous and meaningless as that other favorite term by politicians, “demolition job.” It would seem like whenever an administration finds itself under siege by a critical public and under pressure to account for its conduct, its reflex move is to play victim and claim a grand conspiracy in the citizenry’s demand for better governance.
For example, among many instances in her tumultuous nine-year tenure as president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cried destabilization in 2006, when the Senate used the budget hearings then to try to seek answers about how public funds were being spent in the light of various controversies involving her administration. The controversies included the P728-million fertilizer fund scam and the overpriced $500-million Northrail project. But rather than clearing the air on these questionable transactions, Arroyo chose to employ the political feint of sidelining the issues and claiming that the senators were politicizing the budget proceedings to “destabilize the administration.”
The administration of President Benigno Aquino III leaned on the same ploy when it found itself having to answer uncomfortable questions after the Supreme Court struck down and declared partially unconstitutional its Disbursement Acceleration Program. In a bit of preemptive narrative framing, then Malacañang ally Sen. Antonio Trillanes sounded an alarm about an alleged cabal of retired generals linked with the previous administration that, he claimed, was plotting to take advantage of the volatile situation to launch “destabilization moves” against the government.
These days, against the backdrop of a public increasingly weary of a mismanaged war on drugs and wanting answers on the unresolved P6.4-billion smuggling of “shabu” through Customs, among other flashpoint issues, the term is back in fashion.
For one, and earlier on, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre accused Senators Bam Aquino and Trillanes of plotting with the Maute terrorists to attack Marawi City as part of an alleged plot to destabilize the Duterte administration—a charge swiftly debunked. He has also denounced the “yellows”—the catch-all term for anyone seen by the Palace and its supporters as on the opposing side—as engaged in a conspiracy to oust the President. Aguirre has even lent his presence and the seal of his office to a newly formed group called the “Citizens National Guard,” which is egging people to join its ranks against other groups it deems “enemies of the state.”
Movements like these are important, Aguirre said, “in case there is a destabilization plot…” Among the five “enemies of the state” the shadowy group listed: Islamic State terrorists, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, drug syndicates, foreign intelligence agencies “generating international support for regime change,” and “the seditious political opposition (Yellowtards).”
Alarmingly, Solicitor General Jose Calida has warned not just the so-called Yellows but groups of “various forms and colors” that attacks on the government constitute “subversive activities … and we can send them to jail for that.”
Is dissent by the citizenry now destabilization, even subversion?
In 1950, US President Harry Truman warned: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
Why are government officials branding dissenters, opponents and anyone with legitimate concerns as “enemies of the state” and “subversives”? It is these tactics of fear and intimidation that are destabilizing Philippine democracy.