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Filipinos protest against Duterte’s martial law

War & Peace

President Duterte’s face slowly disappeared in flames – bright, crimson, intense flames fuelled by anger and rage from Filipino protesters.

On 21 September, the 45th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in the Philippines by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Filipinos went to the streets to protest what they say is Duterte’s tyrannical rule. Outside the presidential palace, protesters burned an effigy of Duterte.

They called it the Rody’s Cube, which mimicked the popular 3D combination puzzle Rubik’s Cube. The 10-foot effigy depicted the ‘different faces’ of Duterte, now described by human rights groups such as Karapatan and the Human Rights Watch as an authoritarian leader, in the image of Marcos.

The effigy could be matched to the images of the Marcos family, German dictator Adolf Hitler, and a puppet – reflecting how many in the country now see the president.

It was a clear symbol of indignation against mounting issues under Duterte’s rule, including alleged abuses under martial law in Mindanao and the rising number of deaths due to the Duterte administration’s controversial war on drugs.

Effigies are nothing new in the Philippines but mark a turning point in Duterte’s government. During Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year, demonstrators, for the first time in 15 years, did not burn any effigy.

In fact, the left-wing National Democratic Front (NDF) led by exiled founder Jose Maria Sison forged an alliance with the Duterte administration last year. Duterte appointed some key players from Left to join his Cabinet, but they were later turned down by the powerful Commission on Appointments, composed of Senators and Congressmen.

Waves of protest

The 21 September protests came just days after Duterte’s Defence Secretary said the president may declare martial law across the entire country.

Every president has had his or her dose of protests from the public, especially left-wing campaigners. The issues range from perennial to new : higher wages, poverty, corruption and cronyism.

But in the case of Duterte, outcry is mounting to both left and right – and he doesn’t seem to care. For instance, Duterte has remained firm and has vowed to continue his controversial war on drugs — now estimated to have resulted in roughly 13,000 deaths.

His authoritarian tendencies are increasingly being seen. Last year, he allowed Marcos to finally be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, rubbing salt on the wounds of the tens of thousands of human rights victims during the 20-year dictatorial rule. To this day, not a single member of the Marcos family or their cronies have been brought to justice.

‘The [parallels] between the Marcos and the Duterte regimes are becoming more pronounced, as the latter not only aids the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses, but also employs the same fascist tactics and anti-people policies of the US-Marcos dictatorship, including threats to impose a nationwide martial rule,’ says Cristina Palabay, the secretary general of Karapatan, an umbrella organization of human rights groups.

‘Duterte and his security cluster have used narratives and tactics straight out of Marcos’s playbook of repression, repeating and justifying rights violations, with increasing frequency and intensity.’

Duterte’s declaration of martial law on the entire Mindanao also remains questionable – the ongoing war against Maute military in Marawi City in the southern Philippines has now remained unresolved for more than three months.

His son Paolo, vice-mayor of Davao, the second most populous city in the Philippines, located on Mindandao island, has been denounced by witnesses as involved in the smuggling of some $400 million worth of shabu – methamphetamine – into the country.

The activist blogger Tonyo Cruz thinks the waves of protests could trigger the beginning of the end for the Duterte administration.‘The public is starting to see the truth’, says Cruz. ‘The all-powerful Duterte can order killings, demand due process for his son, level Marawi to the ground, have a threesome with the US, China and Russia, give oligarchs what they want, consider the corrupt Congress as allies and so on. He is all powerful but he can’t do good for the Filipino people, except for a few palliatives that could be easily taken away.’

‘Tyrants and would-be tyrants could not have chosen a worse foe than the Filipino. Marcos made that mistake and it is not anybody else’s fault but Duterte’s that he has apparently made the wrong choice.

‘Only time can tell if we will come again to that point, and when,’ Cruz said.

High ratings

But some analysts believe Duterte’s popularity remains strong. Duterte had 16 million votes in last year’s Presidential elections – the highest number in the Country’s history.

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, says the protests are just a function of democracy and not a threat to the government.

Astro del Castillo, also an analyst, agrees.‘Protests like this happen to all administrations’ he said in an interview. ‘It’s democracy. What can be better gauge is looking at the pulse of the surveys, and there’s business confidence.’,’

Del Castillo said the there isn’t a risk that these protests will lead to a revolution, but they could add to the political noise.

‘These are not even risks but just bumps on the road,’ he said..’

Duterte’s recent trust ratings also show high ratings. According to Pulse Asia Research’s June 2017 survey Duterte is enjoying a majority approval score for his performance – 82 per cent nationwide – a four-percentage-point rise from his 78 per cent rating in the March 2017 survey.

But despite his high ratings, Duterte and his supporters can’t pop the champagne bottles just yet.

As blogger Cruz said, Filipinos don’t like tyrants and successfully fought Marcos, the worse tyrant the country has ever had. Duterte, unless he changes his ways, may suffer the same fate.

As human rights victims often tell the Marcoses, ‘never again!’


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