Emergency powers: quick fix to mask death squad’s toll
A few days before Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s inauguration as president of the Philippines, his incoming administration announced plans to declare a “traffic crisis” in Metro Manila and to seek emergency powers that it could use to break the traffic gridlock in the National Capital Region in the next two years. The plans come as a quick fix to an issue that has exacted a heavy toll on the national economy. The decision followed a meeting between Duterte and the business community.
According to incoming Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, legislation was being drafted to back the measure with legal basis. It will be filed next month as soon as Congress opens.
Tugade pointed out that the Philippines loses P2.4 billion each day from traffic congestion. No issue has been raised over the factual basis of the economic toll. The issue, instead, is whether the incoming administration is justified in using emergency powers to cope with this economic problem.
The incoming Duterte administration has other “reasons” that have nothing to do with national emergencies and these reasons have left the perception that the incoming administration is trigger-happy in creating “crises” (and in crisis-mongering) to stampede Congress into fast-tracking the grant of emergency powers to the government, powers that could be used, as well, to protect itself from political challenges over its controversial political decisions.
Tugade said, “We should no longer lose money to traffic.” He added that the incoming administration would also aim for “dramatic reduction” in queues at airports and metro train stations. He said a traffic crisis must be declared and acted upon, given that the daily costs of running the MRT could balloon to P3 billion.
Tugade exaggerated the issue beyond the economic toll, saying, “our quality of life has been bastardized,” pointing out that more hours are spent commuting between home and workplace. “If our life has been bastardized and this is not a crisis, what is crisis?” he asked, then stated matter of factly: “Internationally, the image of the Republic of the Philippines has deteriorated because of the Edsa traffic jams.”
Tugade has to be warned that he is trespassing the territorial area of responsibility of the foreign affairs secretary. Since when has Tugade been appointed as spokesperson for foreign affairs. Too many people are speaking on behalf of the President-elect—many of them Duterte Cabinet nominees—resulting in a medley of mixed messages on economic and foreign policies, which is causing confusion and embarrassment in international quarters. This fog over policies has been aggravated and compounded by Duterte’s decision to centralize and censor the flow of information from the Cabinet to the public.
A mindset hugely inclined to an information blackout was revealed by the communications secretary-nominee, Martin Andanar, who said last week: The administration would print its own tabloid and create its own website, in addition to existing government propaganda organs and facilities. Andanar also said that a weekly radio and television talk show with President-elect Duterte was being considered so he could discuss issues directly with the people like the way he had been doing as mayor of Davao City.
What the administration is doing is to replicate a practice of holding a dialogue between local officials and their constituents on the national scale. Duterte’s provincial cohorts are trying to indoctrinate the entire nation with the Davao political subculture, forgetting that the national electorate and that of Davao do not speak the same language and idiom. An uncouth and vulgar politician, Duterte brought into the vocabulary of national discourse baggage of obscene pronouncements that degrade civilized debate and offend public sensibilities.
When Duterte’s minions from the Davao hinterlands clash with the national electorate in a national debate, they talk past each other. This is why the clash of cultures in the May elections was so divisive and vicious, leaving a deep chasm of bitterness that’s hard to bridge. Duterte is now navigating his transition through this minefield of acrimony. This cleavage cannot be healed by quick-fix solutions, such as fabricated crises and national emergencies.
Under the present circumstances, it appears that the public has not become sufficiently aware of the reality that a curtain of censorship has been clamped down on the issue of the killing fields created by government-sponsored vigilante squads.
Amando Doronila was a regular columnist of the Inquirer from 1994 to May 2016.