By Raïssa Robles
This was a very difficult piece to write.
Not only because of the topic but also because of the viciousness of online supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte, especially the bots and the trolls.
The middle ground for debate on the President’s most controversial policies is rapidly shrinking. Soon, merely questioning the President’s actions could be branded cyberterrorism. And so, before this happens, I decided to write two pieces.
The first piece – excerpted below – discusses Duterte’s moves that eerily echo those of his political role model, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The second piece – which I will wait for South China Morning Post to upload – is an interview with a retired general and a military historian on Martial Law. The general who is a Duterte supporter told me why he is against imposing Martial Law nationwide. The historian explained to me how Martial Law is a tool that can be used legitimately.
Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from my main piece published by South China Morning Post (HK):
QUESTIONS ON HEALTH OF DUTERTE – AND OF PHILIPPINE DEMOCRACY
President’s brief absence from public view reinforces fears over nationwide martial law
BY RAISSA ROBLES
18 JUN 2017
As fierce fighting in Marawi City between government troops and Islamist militants enters its fourth week, President Rodrigo Duterte mysteriously dropped out of public view for a few days, adding fuel to the speculation long swirling in the Philippines about the possibility of nationwide martial law.
Duterte failed to show up to Monday’s Independence Day celebrations and the traditional vin d’honneur at the Malacañang Palace was abruptly cancelled. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said he was “not feeling well” but was “in excellent health”. On Wednesday, with the president still a no-show, Abella told reporters, “There is nothing to worry about in terms of sickness, major sickness.” Duterte just needed time “to rejuvenate” from a “brutal” 23 days of war.
Duterte finally resurfaced on Saturday after five days, and joked he had a “circumcision”.
He has in the past admitted to having Buerger’s disease, or narrowing of the arteries due to excessive drinking, a spine injury, acid reflux and daily migraine. So fears about the health of the 72-year-old president will not go away in a hurry, neither will concern about the health of the country’s democracy, which Duterte has long been suspected of subverting for an eventual autocratic takeover.
he speed with which the Supreme Court is moving on the vice-presidential electoral protest of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr, for example, has alarmed many. Without naming Duterte, Vice-President Leni Robredo – whom Bongbong accuses of cheating in the election and who belongs to a rival party – sounded the alarm on Monday at the “Defend Democracy Summit”. She warned: “We are already seeing our institutions being eroded. They are already weakening. We must move swiftly…to ensure they are strong enough for our children and our children’s children.”
Robredo is the constitutional successor to Duterte but he has treated her like a political pariah. During his state visit to China last October, Duterte said Bongbong could be the next vice-president – if he wins the electoral lawsuit. On Friday, the Supreme Court granted Bongbong’s request to appoint a three-man body to accept evidence and testimonies from witnesses. No election dispute for the top two posts of the land has ever moved this fast.
To add fuel to the fire, Duterte said this month that he would happily hand over the presidency to Bongbong or his defeated running mate, Alan Peter Cayetano. Duterte is unable to do that under the 1987 constitution and plans to scrap the charter. A team appointed by him has been drafting a new one that would put in place a parliamentary-federal system, effectively abolishing Robredo’s post and likely removing all the present safeguards on the president’s martial law powers.
The present constitution limits such powers. The Supreme Court began a review last week into whether Duterte was justified in imposing martial law in all of Mindanao after Marawi City descended into chaos due to a failed operation by security forces to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Islamist militant group, Abu Sayyaf. Marawi is the second most populous Muslim city in the Philippines, yet it would be easy now to mistake Marawi for a town in war-torn Syria. Over 200 people have been killed in the clashes there so far.
Cynics suggest Duterte’s raising of the Islamic State (IS) bogeyman is merely a pretext for taking a tighter grip on power. Their fear is not that the country is about to be overrun by black-flag-waving IS militants, but that Duterte is taking the country back to the past – harking back to a style of rule last employed by former president Ferdinand Marcos, from whose playbook Duterte has increasingly appeared to be borrowing.
The president’s chief government lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida, said as some magistrates expressed fears of human rights abuses: “[Duterte’s] order of martial law is markedly different from that issued by President Marcos.”
SHADES OF MARCOS
For those with long memories, a threat of nationwide martial law should not be surprising. In last year’s presidential campaign Duterte had said: “I have no interest in running for president…I will only agree if people allow me to declare martial law.” He also promised a revolutionary government because “I have to stop criminality, corruption, and I have to fix government.” Things would “be bloody” only for the criminals and corrupt, he had assured.
But to those with even longer memories, parallels between today’s situation and that of Marcos’ reign are likely to prove discomforting.
The southern island of Mindanao, home to about 21 million mainly Christian people, is the site of two long simmering conflicts featuring both Muslim rebels (thought to number about 13,000) and communist dissidents (thought to number several hundred) who have been locked in on-off fighting with state forces for decades. It was to stamp out both groups that Marcos first declared martial law in 1972.
In the following four years, the war with Muslim rebels resulted in an estimated 50,000 casualties. These came on top of the wider toll from Marcos’ dictatorship, estimated to have resulted in more than 3,200 people being murdered, over 35,000 tortured and more than 70,000 being illegally detained. The regime also left a colossal debt of US$26 billion (the Marcoses were accused of stashing away US$10 billion) while over half the citizenry slid into extreme poverty.
So perhaps it’s understandable that when Duterte warned, “those of you [who] have experienced martial law … it will not be any different from what President Marcos did. I’ll be harsh”, it shocked the victims of Marcos’ 14-year dictatorship.
It did not help that Duterte also signalled his intent to resurrect one of the most notorious features of Marcos’ tyranny: the Arrest, Search and Seizure Orders (Assos). Duterte, a prosecutor under Marcos, insisted the post-Marcos 1986 constitution empowered him to issue Assos. “As to Assos, I don’t know if they are illegal or not, but it is the practice. Martial law includes arrest without warrant, search without warrant,” said Duterte, who described martial law under Marcos as “very good” and the late strongman as “the best” and “brightest” Philippine president ever.
THE MARCOS PLAYBOOK
To read the rest, pls. click on this link.