"One has to ask why we have been so cursed as a country."
One of the first acts of President Duterte when he assumed office was to order the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Despite howls of protest by the families of the Martial Law victims, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Duterte. This was not surprising considering that on various occasions Duterte expressed his admiration to the strongman whom he considered an idol.
According to Amnesty International, the Marcos Martial Law regime killed more than 3,000 people. Some 34,000 were tortured, and 70,000 were imprisoned. Similar developments occurred in Duterte’s campaign against War on Drugs where an estimated 20 thousand or so victims have been executed, mostly through extrajudicial killings. Hundred have been illegally arrested and detained, although the exact number cannot be fully determined for lack of available recording.
Duterte has his share of acts to undermine the opposition and democratic institutions. He controls the Lower House through a supermajority which readily kowtows to his bidding and intimidates, files cases and hurls ad hominem attacks and insults against the opposition and the more independent members of the Senate. They sought the impeachment of the chief magistrate who dared question his policies, particularly the war on drugs. To date, Senator Leila de Lima remains in detention for what many perceive as, trumped-up cases.
Lately, Duterte’s vitriol is directed against Senators Ping Lacson and Richard Gordon for probing an ex-economic adviser over alleged anomalous transactions in relation to the government’s pandemic spending. Like Marcos, he tried to clamp down on media outfits such as Rappler and with his allies in Congress, instigated the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise. Just like Marcos, Duterte used the military and the police force as instruments of repression and oppression. Both appointed military and police officers to plum posts and sinecures, enticing them with material inducements as well as encouraged security forces to exterminate the enemies of the state resulting in impunity, abuse of authority and the breakdown of the rule of law.
For Marcos the enemies were the political opposition, Communists and its armed guerrillas and the Muslim separatists in the South whereas Duterte’s perceived enemies are the drug users/pushers, common criminals and the political opposition. Both regimes weaponized the laws to demobilize the opposition and suppress dissent.
Despite the dismal human rights records of the two regimes, what set them apart is the extent of popular support. Marcos’ repressive acts were quite unpopular with violent protests and widespread condemnation from opposing groups but there also was relative acquiescence from the general populace in part due to the control of media and other state apparatuses.
On the other hand, Duterte’s drug war and the fight against miscreants and criminals remain popular even after incidents of extrajudicial killings became prevalent. In part, Duterte’s popularity may be ascribed to the legions of supporters, resembling a cult following, and citizens, tired of well-nigh rampaging and seemingly insoluble criminality, attracted by his direct and straightforward approach to societal issues. The dominance of fear and violence in effect makes Duterte’s regime a de facto dictatorship, akin to the Marcos-era -- sans martial rule.
Much has been said about the corruption and extravagance of the 20-year Marcos regime. The plunder of the economy was such that the Marcos years was characterized as a kleptocracy earning the dubious record in the Guinness book of world records as “Greatest Robbery of a Government” to the tune of $5 billion to $10 billion. Corruption then was so rampant not just in the public sector but also reared its ugly head – more insidiously – in the private sector. Monopolies and profitable businesses were apportioned to the relatives as well to favoured cronies who pillaged the country’s coffers as if their own personal account such that by the time the Marcoses fled into exile the economy was moribund.Duterte’s campaign promise was to, among others, eradicate corruption in government. “If I fail, kill me.” This was Duterte’s dare should he fail to curb corruption within his first six months in office. Yet despite half-hearted measures to run after the corrupt, the Duterte government has its own share of controversies of corruption and anomalous transactions involving public funds, like the smuggling of meth in 2017 and 2018, freedom for sale in the New Bilibid Prisons, PhilHealth plunder, pastillas human trafficking scheme and the most recent one -- the procurement of allegedly overpriced face masks and face shields. This is now being investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
Some have said we are seeing corruption of epic proportions today. Many are of the view that crimes against humanity have been committed in these last five years. This is not the first time in our history that human rights and integrity in government has been so wantonly destroyed. With Marcos and Duterte, one has to ask why we have been so cursed as a country.
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