Authoritarianism here and now
Apparently, the first criterion for a community opening up the economy after a lockdown is that the community should have a “downward trajectory of positive tests” or a “downward trajectory of documented cases” of coronavirus over a 14-day period. The second criterion is that there be robust contact tracing, and “sentinel surveillance” testing of asymptomatic people in the community. That’s what Anthony Fauci told the US Senate, and coincidentally, that is what the White House guidelines on “Opening Up America Again” (although US President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have read it) also say. The White House guidelines came out on April 16, 2020, and the UP School of Economics (UPSE) published its discussion papers on COVID-19 at about the same time (how the country should open up geographically and sectorally). The UPSE did not use the term “sentinel surveillance,” but it certainly focused on it as the primary means to mitigate succeeding waves of COVID-19.
As I said before, and I say it again, we ignore its recommendations at our peril.
But, Reader, at this point, I may be suffering from some form of COVID-19 fatigue (as in debt fatigue or aid fatigue). Because there is now an overpowering desire to dwell on other problems which have been ignored for too long, and which may prove to have at least equally dangerous consequences to our country and our people.
I mentioned two last week—the case of Sen. Leila de Lima (the Senate refused to permit her to attend their online sessions), and the ABS-CBN lockdown (pardon the pun), which are indicative of an ever-weakening legislature and constant obeisance to the executive, so that the former no longer serves as check or balance to the latter. Democracy in name, but authoritarian in substance.
As if to emphasize this development, there has been a use of police (and/or the National Bureau of Investigation) power to “protect” the President by arresting people on charges of “inciting to sedition,” relating to cybercrime, and even of violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Republic Act No. 6173). I am talking, of course, of the recent arrests of a 25-year-old male public high school teacher (who was caught on cam by the arresting officer, weeping copiously) in Zambales, a 40-year-old habal-habal driver in Boracay, and a 26-year-old housewife in Cebu.
What was their “crime”? They posted on Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever, that they were offering P50 million or P75 million or P100 million to anyone who would kill President Duterte.
Should anyone have taken them seriously? Come on. Where is a habal-habal driver to get P100 million, a public high school teacher to get P50 million, or a housewife to get P75 million? So no one in their right mind should take them seriously, right? Besides, how influential, in terms of public opinion, could they have been?
But the police did. The NBI did. In a burst of unholy zeal, they hunted down these people (in one case from Pangasinan to Zambales), using (wasting is more like it) scarce public resources to do so, and scaring the bejabbers out of them.
I think the public school teacher is still in jail, even if as he was picked up, he was already crying and apologizing to the President. And the justice secretary was supposed to have said “apologizing doesn’t erase the crime,” or words to that effect. This poor young man is the one being charged with violating the code of conduct of public officials, aside from inciting to sedition.
But wait. Was it not President Duterte who started the trend of offering money for killing people, even telling them where to aim (at their vaginas, when it came to female soldiers of the New People’s Army)? And the latest, for killing people who “cause trouble” with respect to lockdown rules?
“Shoot to kill.” “I will protect you and/or I will reward you.” So why didn’t the police arrest him? Or at least caution him, saying, as NBI Dagupan chief Rizaldy Jaymalin did, “Freedom of speech and expression is not absolute, it has limits, especially when you are inciting people to commit horrific deeds.”
And the President is a public official/employee, is he not? Why hasn’t he been brought to book for his threats to others, or his gutter language, so unbecoming of his position?
The President must be above the law then. That is authoritarianism, not down the road, but here. And now.
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