Military and police support for Duterte
What is the extent of military and police support for President Duterte, almost three years into his controversy-filled presidency?
From the day he assumed office on June 30, 2016, the President has steamrolled his way from one controversy to another. The controversies are intentionally generated by Mr. Duterte himself. He has cursed God, blasphemed the Church, scorned priests, mocked women, badmouthed foreign powers, slurred critics, and threatened human rights advocates.
The most controversial undertaking that Mr. Duterte has mounted as the centerpiece mission of his presidency is the bloody war on drugs. This has resulted in over 4,000 deaths in the hands of policemen, and 23,000 more victims by masked vigilantes suspected of being state agents.
Another highly controversial move of the Duterte administration is its complete reclassification of ally and enemy in our international relations. He has assumed a posture of hostility toward the United States and has groveled to become a close ally of China. This, despite China’s occupation of land features and water territories belonging to the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
What has been the effect of all these controversies, and several other scandals, on the extent of support by the police and military establishments for President Duterte?
The police force has always been completely servile to whoever occupies the presidency. This is in full display under the Duterte administration where policemen are the fawning enforcers of the bloody drug war. The police will stick it out with whoever is president until the tide shifts in favor of a change in power. The police force never creates the tide of change; it merely rides the tide to benefit from the resulting change.
It is the military establishment that has served as the fulcrum of power in our history. People power succeeds or fails when the military tilts its weight one way or the other. We have seen this in the successful ouster of both Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada, and in the failed attempts to overthrow Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The military has largely been enigmatic in its reaction to the many controversies surrounding the President. But there’s one controversy where the military has clearly made known to Mr. Duterte that there are limits to his excesses. When the President issued Proclamation No. 572 voiding Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s amnesty, he ordered the military to arrest the senator and to commence court martial proceedings against him. In a clear act of defiance, the military refused to implement the presidential order. The President has been forced to go to court and apply for a warrant of arrest against Senator Trillanes.
The virtual rebuke stung the President. He accused the military of ingratitude, reminding them that he has doubled their salaries and that he gave them new firearms. He challenged soldiers to stage a coup against his administration.
Whether the military “pushback” is due to self-interest (many top military officials are amnesty beneficiaries) or because soldiers sincerely feel that their “loyalty is to the Constitution,” it has been demonstrated to Mr. Duterte that his propensity to misuse power has limits.
There’s rising people’s discontent because of the worsening economy. Poor families have increased, and even the middle class is complaining of high prices. There are unanswered questions on the President’s health. His pivot to China is not resulting in any kind of benefit for our country. His approval rating is plummeting, very soon emboldening opportunistic politicians to reinvent themselves as government critics when they see the tide turning.
All these developments will increase the people’s intolerance for the President’s self-inflicted controversies, and they will make the ground fertile for a people’s unrest. If he refuses to heed the virtual warning made in the Trillanes fiasco, President Duterte may end up giving the military an excuse to tilt the fulcrum of power away from him.
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