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Palace open to dialogue with anti-Rody groups

The anti-Duterte protesters – including young people, school administrators and faculty, entertainers, members of religious groups as well as the opposition and the Left – condemned drug-related killings, martial law in Mindanao, supposed attempts to rehabilitate the image of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the perceived dictatorial tendencies of the President. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration is open to a dialogue with groups that joined the anti-government protests last Sept. 21, Malacañang said yesterday.

Thousands joined rallies for and against Duterte in various parts of the country last Thursday, which was declared by the President as a national day of protest.

The anti-Duterte protesters – including young people, school administrators and faculty, entertainers, members of religious groups as well as the opposition and the Left – condemned drug-related killings, martial law in Mindanao, supposed attempts to rehabilitate the image of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the perceived dictatorial tendencies of the President.

“The President is the leader of all Filipinos,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement. “We have always kept the doors open for constructive dialogue with the strategic sectors of society, including those who do not share the stance of the administration on certain issues.”

The national day of protest coincided with the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by Marcos.

The military rule, which was supposedly intended to counter the threats posed by communist rebels, became notorious for torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances and warrantless arrests of government critics.

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The main message during the rallies last Sept. 21 was that history should not repeat itself and “never again” should martial law be imposed.

Protesters condemned human rights violations and the lack of respect for the rule of law amid the administration’s war on drugs. They said Filipinos should have learned their lessons and should be protecting freedoms gained after Marcos was ousted.

Marcos’ 20-year presidency was abruptly ended by the historic 1986 People Power Revolution, which installed Corazon Aquino, widow of the late opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. to power.

Last year, Duterte allowed Marcos’ remains to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (heroes’ cemetery), stirring outrage among martial law victims and human rights groups.

Duterte justified his decision by saying that Marcos deserved the honor because he was a president, a lawmaker and war veteran.

The Duterte administration is also facing sharp criticisms over its war on illegal drugs, which has left thousands of suspected drug offenders including teenagers dead.

Critics claimed that Duterte’s tough talk has created an atmosphere of impunity and has encouraged vigilantism and summary executions.

The President has denied endorsing extrajudicial killings and abusive practices and has vowed to “slaughter” policemen who commit criminal acts.

He also defended the brutal crackdown on narcotics, saying the drug problem has contaminated four million people, allowed some politicians to stay in power and funded terrorism in Mindanao.

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