Dictatorship—Duterte’s ‘wish ko lang’

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IT IS truly ironic that the Philippines is celebrating the 32nd anniversary of the People Power Revolution in which Filipinos toppled the corrupt and repressive rule of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, but at the same time, facing threats of another dictatorship in President Duterte.

Recently, during a gathering with over 200 former communist rebels in Malacañang, Duterte shamelessly said that he must become a dictator to effect change and progress in the country.

“Muingon mo’g diktador, diktador gyud ko. Kay og di ko mag-diktador, putang ina, walang mangyayari sa bayan na ‘to (You say I’m a dictator, I really am. Because if I will not be dictator, son of a b*tch, nothing will happen to this country),” he said.

It seems that Duterte has forgotten the lessons of history. History has always shown that a dictatorship would get a country nowhere and is only self-serving to those thirsty for power. After Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, conditions only worsened in the Philippines. The Marcos dictatorship imprisoned thousands of Filipinos; its rule resulted in widespread killings and violation of human rights, and until today, its sins and scars are neither forgotten nor forgiven.

In past speeches, however, Duterte said he would not become a dictator as it would dishonor his mother, who was ironically a prominent activist against the Marcos regime. During an army base visit in January, he even instructed the army and the police to shoot him if he would become a dictator and stay beyond his six-year term. In spite of that, can anyone still trust the President’s pronouncements given that he keeps on contradicting himself?

Duterte also said that it is the army’s “solemn duty” to protect the Constitution. But there is really no clear and present danger to the Constitution except for Duterte and his lapdogs in Congress!

This is no time to remain apathetic and nonchalant. Duterte apologists and lapdogs are moving heaven and earth to implement the despot’s bid to revise the 1987 Constitution, changing the country’s form of government from unitary type to a federal structure, which may be a mask for dictatorship.

With the 1987 Constitution, which was crafted to prevent another tyrannical rule, Duterte would have a difficult time declaring and keeping martial law. Under the constitution, the declaration of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is allowed provided that an “invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.” A report must be submitted to Congress for voting and the legislative body may revoke its proclamation by a joint vote or at least a majority of all its members in a regular or a special session. The declaration can last only 60 days unless Congress votes to extend it. The Supreme Court may also review the declaration.

Because of the Marawi siege which was Duterte’s own undoing, martial rule had been declared in Mindanao. Upon his request, Congress has extended military rule until the end of 2018.

Duterte has appointed alleged experts of his consultative committee that will propose changes to the 1987 charter. According to Executive Order 10, the committee will “study, conduct consultations, and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution including but not limited to the provisions on the structure and powers of the government, local governance, and economic policies.” The committee is expected to complete its work in six months and should submit its reports, recommendations and proposals to Duterte. The parallelism is uncanny. Marcos used the same strategy, constitutional reform, to dodge term limits. And this led to more than a decade and a half of oppression and rape and plunder of the Philippines.

Proposed changes to the constitution cited in the House of Representatives hearings are appalling. Lawmakers have proposed the limited protection for the freedom of speech, possible abolition of the Judicial and Bar Council, Office of the Vice President, and Office of the Ombudsman. All of these proposals are self-serving to the interests of Duterte and the rapacious cretins of the House and Senate.

Duterte, who has admitted his admiration for Marcos, seems replicating what the late strongman did. This is the time to become more vigilant. We should protect the freedoms the Filipino people fought for and won 32 years ago. Celebrating the anniversary of the People Power Revolution is not only to remind us of those who risked and sacrificed their lives in order to overthrow a tyrant, but also to remind us of the present threats to our democracy, and how we must fight together as a nation to safeguard it.

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