Duterte’s divided nation: Philippine institutions push back
By Joe America
I’ve written two prior articles that provide background to this discussion. One said that the fate of the Philippines is in the hands of its institutions (link). The other identified three major issues that are so fundamentally problematic that it is hard to get past them to give the Duterte Administration credit for constructive things being done (link).
The three major issues, which I likened to elephants in the Presidential Palace, are: (1) extra-judicial killings (EJKs), (2) the nation’s sovereignty pertaining to Chinese incursions into Philippine waters, and (3) government by propaganda instead of transparency.
How division has been created
The nation has been divided by efforts of President Duterte’s Administration to insult, diminish, or try to jail those who hold any contrary view to that of the Administration. The divisiveness can be witnessed in the vicious attacks on Vice President Robredo, former President Aquino, and Senator De Lima, among others. We can see it in accusatory or unverified charges from Administration Spokesman Andanar, Secretary of Justice Aguirre, Admin Attorney Panelo, and propaganda armies most popularly identified with the works of Mocha Uson, Sass Sasot, and online trolls.
The Administration makes the case that it has a mandate to do what it wants because it won the Presidency and is getting high satisfaction ratings. Objection is disloyal to the Philippines.
Critics make the case that the Philippines remains a nation of law under a Constitution. Free speech is one of the fundamental rights, under that law. They emphasize that more than half of all registered voters did NOT vote for President Duterte, and there are huge asterisks attached to his satisfaction ratings, most notably, the Public’s reservations about EJKs and Chinese incursions into Philippine waters.
The institutions pushing back
The institutions pushing back include:
- The left, whose organizations are front and center and in the streets (see photo, above) . . . and whose military wing has recently returned to the battlefields.
- The legislature . . . mainly the Senate . . . where a good number of members have expressed objection to EJKs, with Senators De Lima, Hontiveros, Trillanes, and Pangilinan, and Representative Baguilat, most outspoken among them.
- The mainstream media, who continue to report on incidents uncomfortable to or critical of the Administration; these reports become an offset to propaganda-inspired ‘fake news’. Opinion columnists issue frequent criticisms.
- International media, who continue to portray the Philippines as an inhumane killer state.
- Citizens, who are taking individual initiatives on social media, in street protests (Marcos burial), and via lawsuits.
- The Catholic Church, which is adamantly opposed to EJKs and proposed death penalty legislation.
- The Supreme Court and Ombudsman, both of whom continue to adhere to their Constitutional charter, resisting the Administration’s criticism of their works.
I can only speculate, but I think the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is doing a restrained, diplomatic push-back as well. Although the President complains mightily about the US military presence in the Philippines, training exercises with the US will continue (albeit transferred out of the conflict-ridden West Philippine Sea) and implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US is moving forward. Also, to the extent that Senator Trillanes represents the legislative mind nearest and dearest to the military, his critical voice may stand in as a proxy for what some generals think.
Evidence that push-back is a real force
During the past few weeks, we have seen remarkable evidence that the push-back is shaping the way the Administration works:
- The President has curtailed anti-drug activities of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) due to incidents of police involvement in killings, apparently including the hiring of paid executioners. The focus has been shifted to cleaning up the two policing organizations.
- The President has ended the cease fire with the New People’s Army (NPA), explaining that the armed forces would not accept the NPA peace negotiation terms demanding the freeing of prisoners.
- The Administration has said publicly that it has not set aside the Philippine win in a UN arbitration hearing against China, and has issued diplomatic (“note verbale”) protests with China over the militarization of the islands China has constructed in disputed territory.
- The Secretary of Justice has apologized to Senators De Lima and Pangilinan for erroneously accusing them of bad faith dealings. Public criticism of Aguirre’s comment was intense.
We also see rising public criticism about continued transportation breakdowns and congestion, and about ”fake news” and government sanctioned abuse of social media platforms.
Institutions that have clearly lost their independence
It seems pretty obvious that two Philippine governmental institutions no longer operate with the Constitution as their mandate, having replaced the Constitution with the President’s will:
- The House of Representatives
- The Philippine National Police
It is possible that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) will lose its independence with the recent resignation of its Head and a likely replacement appointment sympathetic to the Administration.
The Supreme Court remains substantially influenced by political concerns reflecting the advocacies of the Duterte/Marcos/Arroyo alliance.
The Philippines is not yet dead to civility and democracy
The Administration has tried to impose its will but has instead generated serious division and push-back. Unity seems a long way off.
The political persecution of Senator De Lima did not stop others from protesting EJKs. The current effort to persecute President Aquino on a rehash of Mamasapano is likely to sow deep division. President Aquino was, after all, a very popular president. For a great many people, his earnest and honest approach stands out as refreshing against the Duterte Administration’s gameplaying and sponsorship of death.
As I have written before, I personally find it hard to trust people who speak for the Duterte Administration. There are so many false and manipulative accusations flowing forth, a drive to hide information that does not paint a good picture, and very little forthright debate, devoid of insult.
It is easy to be skeptical about the halt to PNP and NBI drug raids. Critics observe that it may just be a way to cool the protests so that a new version of State Police can resume the imposition of deadly “discipline” and “unity” on the nation. Similarly, until the Philippines actually stands up to Chinese incursions, it is hard to see the official policy as anything but concessionary . . . and as a failure to defend Philippine sovereignty. Finally, ill-intended propaganda continues to flow forth freely, spewings of bad faith . . . not unlike emanations from a broken sewerage pipe . . . emanating from the Palace via its spokesmen and its social media army.
It is also abundantly clear that there are favored people. Ending impunity is not one of the changes brought in by President Duterte. The higher the rank of drug lord, the more compassionate the treatment. Furthermore, it is clear that the Marcos and Arroyo families, and the Duterte family, stand as royalty among the other elite families.
So the elephants may be wounded by the pushback, but they are still in the room.
It is heartening to know that there are well-meaning individuals and institutions keeping watch. The President does not operate with complete impunity, although he certainly has control of the nation’s destiny, and plenty of supporters . . . or enablers of death, to those of us who think human rights represent humankind’s best effort not to act like remorseless animals.
One is inclined to wonder what kind of results the Duterte Administration would get if it stopped trying to fool, manipulate, threaten, and kill people, and just set out to administer a productive government.