I have always fancied myself a lover of freedom, and by extension, the idea that the only justified rule is rule by the people through their elected representatives in a democracy. But when demagogues are swept to power riding the crest of populism, I see that noble idea corrupted and democracy take on a tendency that causes the erosion of the very liberties it upholds.
See, I never thought that so soon in my life I would witness a demagogue use his vast political capital to enable and embolden vigilantism. I never thought I would witness one guaranteeing protection to state agents who would throw due process and rule of law to the winds in an effort to end lives deemed undesirable.
I never thought such a campaign would actually succeed. I never had an inkling that the country would be gripped in a witch-hunt, whether in the streets (where people are waylaid in the dark with their blood drenching both the sidewalks and their loved ones) or in the highest offices of the land (where those perceived to be hindrances to the war on drugs are shamed in public trials, with their offices’ rules used by the political networks to persecute and render political opposition inutile).
I do not make judgments on allegations, for they are just that. But opposition is crucial in any democracy; the voice of dissent must always be heard lest we become a nation of yes-men. I shudder at the thought that precious few are willing to offer their voices of support to those persecuted, but that is politics, something I would never understand.
It gives me shivers that ranking politicos publicly declare their desire for the executive branch to wield greater power by suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, or amending the Constitution drafted with the intention of precluding a dictatorship to allow for a “constitutional” one. A dictatorship by any name is still a dictatorship, and if it is democracy that will see to its inception, that is the height of irony.
I never thought I would hear people talking in the office and during my commutes about their indifference (at best) or contentment (at worst) that summary executions have become the norm. Would it require that someone they actually know is shot dead in a dark alley—with duct tape and a cardboard sign decorating the body when first light touches it—before all these murders cease to be mere statistics to them?
I never thought that just as the Supreme Court deliberates on this administration’s bullheaded desire to bury a despot in the heroes’ cemetery, it would also announce its intention to revive the Philippine Constabulary, an instrument of that despot’s reign of terror.
Most of all, I never thought that I would call “President” someone who has no qualms comparing himself to Hitler, a madman with a messiah complex, and saying outright that he would commit genocide if only to succeed in his war. I ask: Must every crusade be like the very first, leaving heaps of bodies in its wake? Surely Hitler, too, thought he was on a just mission because he thought of his victims as parasites of the European economy. But the international tribunals after the war concluded otherwise, and forever marked the Holocaust as one of the greatest crimes in history.
Crude language is one thing—I am guilty of it one way or another—but the willingness to commit murder wholesale, I am certain is the mark of a sociopath and not the leader of a democracy. Apologies cannot unmake the offense inflicted on the dignity of the descendants of victims of the Holocaust.
But many are willing to let it pass, as they have let pass so many remarks already. Perhaps they do want a despot, and it is exactly a democracy that allows for one to be elected. Maybe killings are a norm for them because that is exactly what they put him in office for.
But are they willing to shed other liberties as well, for it seems they have tossed away their right to question authority when it is abused? Would they be so cavalier when the time comes that they are asked to squander their rights to due process, to peaceable assembly, to the petition of government for redress of grievances, their protections to privacy, against warrantless arrest, search and seizure, and cruel punishments? Is the removal of these protections from state violence really the solution to achieve a safe environment?
We are all only protected from the awesome, terrible and wanton powers of the state through those words in our Constitution called the Bill of Rights. Those words protect all, and they cannot be surgically but only universally applied. If we wish them to be disregarded for an undesirable portion of society, we are also allowing them to be disregarded for ourselves. If the Bill of Rights was not applied to the 3,000 dead, or at least half if we only count the ones killed in “legitimate police operations” (if killing poor sods in their cots as they sleep in their shanties can ever be legitimate), how can we be certain it will be applied to us? Because we do not belong to communities counting among their number the poorest of the poor who seem to be the only targets of Tokhang operations? That is another story, but it is not a stretch of the imagination to think that mayhap one day, our own doors will be knocked on in the dead of night, too.
In our desire to be insulated from the killing of the undesirables, it seems we would throw ourselves under the fearsome gaze of a state apparatus with powers a thousand times more awful and the capacity to be applied wholesale. I ask: Would we be truly safe then? Maybe we would be safe from petty crime, but never would I trade that for security against state surveillance, forced disappearance, torture and summary execution.
And so commences the doubt that gnaws at my faith in democracy. This is as certain as the fact that the high approval rating of an administration that progressively never fails to display its authoritarian tendencies is eroding the very democracy that brought it to power. But I must admit, I also wonder if this is even the apex or only the beginning of its ascent.
Gino Leocadio S. Paje, 26, is a law student and government employee.
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