President Duterte steadily marches towards authoritarian rule, with the Courts, the Executive branch and the Philippine Congress delivering one after the other, legislative, judicial and executive measures versus popular dissent and criticism. On February 10th Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a Quo Warranto petition before the Supreme Court seeking to forfeit the franchise of media corporation ABS CBN and subsequently sought a gag order against any public discussion on the issue. On February 14th the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court issued a warrant of arrest against former Senator and opposition figure Antonio Trillanes and 10 others on charges of conspiracy to commit sedition.
This week the Philippine Senate approved the Anti-Terrorism Bill, replacing the Human Security Act (R.A. 10354-2007). The bill seeks lesser penalties for erroneous arrests and human rights violations committed by law enforcement personnel in the pursuit of anti-terror operations. The soon-to-be legislation will utilize police powers over public and private communication and surveillance facilities, and allow the Courts to delegitimize civil society groups by tagging them as terrorist organizations. It also removed compensation to victims of illegal detention. The bill is the latest in the arsenal of repression pointed at human rights defenders and people’s organizations who continue to oppose political, social and economic policies of the Duterte administration.
Meanwhile, the University of the Philippines becomes a potential testing ground for a mandatory ROTC being finalized at the House of Representatives, for all senior high school and college students. The consolidated bill will eliminate the National Service Training Program (NSTP) which provided students the option to choose service programs that are relevant to them. Students and youth groups have raised the alarm over what they consider as another corrupt, sexist and abusive program designed to kill critical thinking among young people.
Alongside these measures are a string of legislation and executive issuances aimed at curbing civic spaces, among them- Executive Order No.70 establishing a “whole of nation” approach to counter-insurgency; cyber libel in R.A. 10175 (Anti-cybercrime law); DILG Memorandum Circular 2019-116 directing NGOs to submit their profiles and projects for review; and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Memorandum Circular no. 15 requiring non-profit entities to divulge information on all their partners, funders and local areas of operations, under threat of revocation of their SEC registration.
The systematic weakening of democratic institutions and processes did not start with signed orders or a proposed law; it started with a bullet to the head of the first drug suspect. Duterte does not want to eliminate a few opposition voices; he wants the population terrorized towards the annihilation of questions in the face of brazen corruption, foreign and elite economic domination, environmental destruction and tyranny.
However, we know that the fall of dictators also starts with a growing doubt, consistent voices of discontent, the whistleblowers, the small acts of defiance and courage, and finally the united stand of the people against injustice.
On the 34th commemoration of the power of the people to liberate themselves from oppressive rule, we renew our commitment to forge onwards, arms linked with freedom-loving sisters and brothers around the world, and realize a society where human rights, equality, justice, and peace drive the development of every citizen.
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