This from the perspective of a journalist looking at non-theoretical realities
(I delivered this short piece at the just-ended International Conference of the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center to mark its 40th year. I was part of a panel to discuss “Authoritarianism and Democratic Governance with particular focus on the current socio-political conditions of the Rodrigo Duterte administration”. – Raissa Robles)
I am greatly honored to be part of this prestigious international conference with such distinguished speakers and controversial topics.
Normally, I would be in the audience scribbling notes trying to meet a deadline.
But today, here I am before you due to several serendipitous events in my life.
First, I was finalizing my book, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again: a short history of torture and atrocity under the New Society, just when the 2016 presidential campaign was heating up. So when candidate Rodrigo Duterte started sounding like the way the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his minions did, I was among those who noticed it.
Second, during Marcos’ Martial Law, I wrote a 14-part investigative report in Business Day newspaper on how Marcos manufactured his own Constitution via a duly-elected but co-opted and cowed Constitutional Convention. Fortunately, I was not arrested, perhaps because I interviewed in great detail Marcos’ allies inside the Convention. Besides, who would bother reading a 14-part series in a business paper. The late Raul and Leticia Locsin who founded the newspaper generously gave me months to do the report.
Third, as a long-time foreign correspondent for Asia’s oldest English language newspaper South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, I’ve had to cover arrests, trials and convictions of accused drug traffickers from Hong Kong or China or Filipinos who had fled to Hong Kong.
And fourth, part of my post-Marcos reporting necessitated writing about five Philippine presidents including the incumbent Rodrigo Duterte.
Knowledge obtained from these four serendipitous events triggered alarm bells in my mind about what President Duterte is really up to. After examining for months what he and his closest aides have been doing and saying, I am forced to conclude the following:
His “war on drugs” is based on a gross and deliberate misinterpretation of the Dangerous Drugs Board’s “2015 Nationwide Survey on the Nature and Extent of Drug Abuse in the Philippines”.
On July 1, 2016, the first full day of Duterte’s presidency, Philippine National Police Director-General Ronaldo de la Rosa issued “Command Circular No. 16-2016, launching Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign called Oplan Double Barrel. [Note: My thanks to Oscar Franklin Tan for pointing out this circular to me.]
Section 3 of the Circular quoted statistics from two sources: the “2015 National Household Survey” of the Dangerous Drugs Board or DDB, the policy and strategy-making agency in the fight against illegal drugs; and the arrest data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency or PDEA, which conducts buy-busts and raids.
The Circular said that according to the DDB 2015 survey, “there were around 1.8 million active drug users in the country”. “Active” means they had used drugs in the 12 months before the survey was taken. Of this 1.8 million, roughly a third or 38.36% were unemployed.
Then it noted that while much had already been done, “apparently, in the quest to go after high level drug traffickers, the government seems to have overlooked the worsening drug problem at the grassroots level.”
In other words, Oplan Double Barrel was directed mainly at addressing the “worsening drug problem” in poor communities. It was not meant to go after high level drug traffickers.
However, if you look at the figures of the DDB 2015 Survey, they give a totally different conclusion. For instance, the police circular said drugs – not just shabu but all drugs – have “victimized mostly the underprivileged and impoverished sector of the society.”
On the contrary, the DDB 2015 survey surprisingly found that among the active drug users, there were more employed than unemployed.
The same DDB survey also found more people with high school, college or doctorate degrees abusing drugs compared to those with only elementary or vocational schooling.
Now you might say, maybe most of them were using marijuana. What about shabu? Interestingly, on that point, the police circular does not quote the DDB survey. It quotes data of the number of arrests made by PDEA. Based on PDEA’s arrest data, it concludes that shabu “reportedly tops the list of most abused illegal drugs, followed by marijuana.”
Why didn’t Director General Bato’s circular use DDB’s 2015 Survey data for this? Because the DDB survey actually showed marijuana topping the list of most abused illegal drugs. Shabu was only second.
In fact, the DDB survey stated that of the estimated 1.8 million active drug users, 1.27 million were smoking marijuana and only 859,150 were taking shabu.
I have other findings of deliberate data manipulation which I promise to post on my website, raissarobles.com: inside Philippine politics and beyond. [Note: I reiterate my promise after I finish my work deadlines.]
In any case, 24 days after this police circular was issued, President Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation Address where he inflated the drug figures even more.
He said that in 2013, PDEA had stated there were 3 million drug addicts. He added, “Give it a liberal addition. Maybe, gawin mo na [700,000]. So three million seven hundred thousand [3.7 million]. The number is quite staggering and scary.”
In other words, President Duterte extrapolated out of thin air the number of 3.7 million active drug users as of 2013. .
Now, I’ve had occasion to interview no less than the former PDEA chief retired General Dionisio Santiago – whom Duterte has quoted on several occasions. PDEA is not the agency in charge of doing surveys so they would not know the number of drug addicts. They do arrests, which by the way they do well because they have very few fatalities. It is the DDB that commissions surveys on the number of drug users.
And the DDB said that in 2013, there were 1.3 million drug users, not 3 million which was what Duterte said in his SONA.
But the President chose to cite the number of PDEA arrests, which centered on shabu trafficking, not marijuana trafficking.
Duterte’s further pronouncements that the drug problem had turned “pandemic” and was causing a “national security crisis” – all these led me to suspect that his so-called “war on drugs” was intended to lay the predicate for more draconian measures – very possibly the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and/or the declaration of Martial Law which he, his justice secretary and his presidential legal counsel have repeatedly warned about.
No other president after Marcos ever warned about needing to declare Martial Law.
But even without his war on drugs, Duterte can substitute his battles on four simultaneous fronts – the communist rebels, the ISIS, the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf – to justify suspension of the writ or imposition of Martial Law. To this day, Duterte has yet to lift the state of national emergency following one bombing in Davao City.
No Philippine president after Marcos ever declared a state of national emergency after one bombing.
Parallel to all these, President Duterte has also been pushing for drastic changes in the 1987 Constitution as “the” solution to the country’s nagging problems of poverty and peace and order.
And this is where I suspect Duterte is closely copying what Marcos did, but with much improvisation.
Duterte’s ultimate aim is to set up a revolutionary government where he can do anything he wants to.
Am I hallucinating?
No. Duterte himself said it on at least two occasions before he ran for president. My former colleague in Philippine Star, veteran reporter Jess Diaz wrote a news story dated June 25, 2015 – or more than three months before Duterte filed his certificate of candidacy. Jess quoted Duterte as saying on national TV: “I will give myself six months to one year to do the reforms I want to do. If the system becomes obstructionist and I become inutile, I will declare a revolutionary government.”
Duterte also said he would have to padlock Congress and the judiciary because “You have to close everything. It is anti-democratic, but how do you change society? Nothing seems to work in this country.”
He would do all these, he said, so he could establish a federal-parliamentary type of government that would devolve powers to the regions.
Duterte repeated the same sentiments during a wide-ranging interview at the editorial office of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on August 23, 2015 – or shortly before the October 16 deadline for joining the electoral race.
He told the reporters and editors of the Inquirer that a revolutionary government was the only way “to fast-track federalism”, “stop criminality” and “fix this government”. He frankly told them, “I won’t do it if you want to place me there with the solemn pledge to stick to the rules.”
“If you don’t want that, OK. Look for another son of a b*tch,” he also said.
Now. How can Duterte set up a so-called “revolutionary government”?
His various interviews indicated that he had closely studied how Marcos did it in 1972 and how Corazon Aquino did it in 1986.
Marcos had to call for a Constitutional Convention to draft a new charter, then arrest all possible critics while imposing Martial Law. Duterte’s first step was to issue Executive Order No 10, “Creating a Consultative Committee to review the 1987 Constitution” and recommend changes. I’m pretty sure a lawmaker can easily be found to file these recommendations as his own proposed amendments to the 1987 charter.
Duterte is apparently taking to heart what the late dictator’s son, Ferdinand Bongbong Jr., advised him to do during his television program called Gikan sa Masa Para sa Masa on June 14, 2015. The young Marcos guested on Duterte’s public service show and advised Duterte to change the Constitution in his first few months of office and not later.
Bongbong Marcos’ father had resorted to “Citizens Assemblies” to ratify the charter which legalized his dictatorship. Even as I speak, the Duterte government is frantically organizing in all barangays a group called “Kilusang Pagbabago” or Movement for Change. It will, among others, push for a federal type of government. Doesn’t the name remind you of Marcos’ Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan or Movement for a New Society?
I believe Kilusang Pagbabago will be used to get Duterte’s proposed Constitution approved in a plebiscite that will be added as a rider to the barangay elections, once these are held.
Now, this is where it gets to be very interesting.
Our history shows that on the two occasions that we switched from one form of government to another in an extra-constitutional manner, there was a transition period provided for. It was this transition period that Marcos exploited to entrench himself in power, so that the country never actually transitioned from the presidential to the parliamentary.
The Marcos Constitution provided Marcos with awesome powers through its “Transitory Provisions”. His transitory powers included making laws by issuing decrees even while the National Assembly was in session.
One of the things Marcos did in order to get members of the pre-Martial Law bicameral Congress and the delegates of the 1971 Constitutional Convention to back his planned switch to a one-chamber National Assembly was to promise them that they would all be members of that Parliament.
They fell for it.
Quite a number of them campaigned for the ratification of the Marcos Constitution.
Instead of a plebiscite, Marcos hastily convened Citizens Assemblies for this purpose. I call it the Marcos Constitution because insertions were made by the presidential palace and fed to the Constitutional Convention delegates to sponsor.
Marcos fooled them all. He never convened the National Assembly. Instead, he wrote a decree creating the “Interim Batasang Pambansa” or IBP and convening this in 1978. It wasn’t the same banana as the National Assembly stipulated in the 1973 Constitution so Marcos did not have to fulfill his promise to accommodate all the elected politicians there.
A somewhat similar betrayal happened during the transition period in 1986 after President Corazon Aquino replaced Marcos. Aquino’s tandem with opposition leader Salvador Laurel only became possible after she promised the post of Prime Minister to Laurel.
Laurel got to enjoy the post only for a month because on March 25, 1986, Mrs. Aquino issued Proclamation No. 3 putting in place a “Provisional Constitution”, also called the Freedom Constitution, which abolished the post of Prime Minister. From being in charge of the day-to-day running of government, Laurel became the Vice-President, a mere spare tire.
We can see from these two examples from our history that a transition period gives the person at the very top such awesome powers that could be used to establish authoritarian rule or a democracy.
In Duterte’s case, I believe he is more inclined toward authoritarianism because he doesn’t have a federalist bone in his body. He has demonstrated a top-down, I’m the boss kind of leadership.