PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III called on Filipinos Sunday to fight attempts to take away their freedoms as he prepared to hand over power to president-elect Rodrigo Duterte, who has vowed to kill tens of thousands of criminals.
Duterte won last month’s elections in a landslide largely on a pledge to suppress what he said was rampant crime, and has since vowed to award large bounties to police as well as civilians who kill drug dealers.
Speaking on the 118th anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence from Spanish colonial rule, Aquino said Filipinos must prevent a repeat of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ 20-year rule.
“Let us remember that just a generation ago, the Philippine government itself was the one suppressing the freedom of our fellow Filipinos,” Aquino told foreign diplomats at a formal reception.
“A fellow Filipino deprived us of our freedoms. It means that if we are not vigilant, this can happen again,” Aquino added.
Aquino had warned last month during the election campaign that Duterte, the then frontrunner in the race to replace him as leader, carried similar dangers to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Duterte has promised to end crime within six months of his presidency by ordering security forces to kill tens of thousands of suspected criminals, then pardon himself if he is found guilty of mass murder.
Duterte, who takes office on June 30, has been accused of running vigilante squads that have killed more than 1,000 suspected criminals in Davao City, where he has been the long-time mayor.
At times he has boasted about his involvement—but on other occasions denied any links to the vigilantes.
Duterte has also warned that as president he will shut down Congress and establish a revolutionary government if lawmakers do not endorse his policies.
During the election Marcos’ son and namesake narrowly lost the separate vice presidential contest.
“Now that we’re entering a new chapter in our history, let us not forget that freedom must be guarded and nurtured. We must strive to achieve and fight for all things that matter,” Aquino said Sunday.
“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” he said, using a quote usually attributed to British statesman Edmund Burke.
At the celebration in Rizal Park, where Aquino led the flag raising and wreath laying rites, the President was welcomed by Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gloriosio Miranda at 8 a.m.
New military aircraft flew in formation over the park.
Vice President Jejomar Binay and outgoing Cabinet officials were among those who were present at the ceremony.
Aquino also attended the launching of the coffee table book, “A Sense of Nation: The Birthright of Rizal, Bonifacio and Mabini,” by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
Simultaneous flag-raising rites were also held in key cities nationwide, including Kawit in Cavite, Malolos City in Bulacan, Angeles City in Pampanga, Davao City, Cebu City and several parts of Metro Manila.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales led the flag-raising ceremony at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite.
Independence was declared at the house of the first president of the republic, Emilio Aguinaldo, in 1898.
Aquino’s speech before foreign dignitaries included a video presentation of his experience as a 13-year-old during the Martial Law years, which included a reenactment of his father’s detention in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.