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Winds of change

It’s not yet the tipping point. For a commemoration of the declaration of martial law, however, that was an impressive turnout of anti-government protesters yesterday in Rizal Park and other areas all over the Philippines.

Especially since it’s been 45 years since the declaration, and many of the participants yesterday were born about two decades after Ferdinand Marcos launched his dictatorship on Sept. 21, 1972.

In fact a common lament during previous commemorations of martial law was the progressively dwindling participation in the protest actions. Even the size of the crowd last year was not large enough to discourage the burial of the dictator two months later at his preferred site, the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

There the remains still lie. Only the “Big One” from the Marikina Valley Fault or a bomb attack by Maute terrorists might disrupt the peaceful eternal rest of Ferdinand Marcos and dislodge his remains from the tomb.

His heirs and cronies are just as entrenched in social circles, rewriting history and partying as if the abuses of the dictatorship never happened.

The Duterte administration sealed the full rehabilitation of the Marcos clan – with the dictator’s Libingan burial, the open friendship with the family, and now the plan to give them immunity from prosecution in exchange for their return of a fraction of ill-gotten wealth.

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The rehabilitation of the Marcoses, the continuing executions even of teenagers in the name of the war on drugs, the hubris of the House of Representatives super majority that gave the Commission on Human Rights just P1,000 as funding for 2018, warrantless police raids on private homes accompanied by robbery – these are just some of the factors that sent those thousands into the streets yesterday, vowing to block a return to abuses reminiscent of Marcos’ martial law.

“Abuses” have to be emphasized together with martial law circa Marcos, because a third of the country is in fact under martial law, with protests against it muted. And I’m not sure if the majority of Filipinos are opposed to governance by a strongman. Otherwise, Rodrigo Duterte would not have won by a landslide, and he would not be enjoying approval ratings in the dizzying 80s. Du30 believers, who like even his profanities and off-color, politically incorrect jokes, heard him clearly when he promised during the campaign that he would kill, kill, kill.

Duterte was brought to power by people tired of being left out of economic growth, people sick of injustice and lawlessness, and people who felt helpless about the breakdown of everything from the criminal justice system to the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

Obviously, only a miracle worker can make a dent in those problems within the time that Duterte has been in power. The MRT is in a worse state, with commuters waiting for those responsible to be subjected to Tokhang.

Pinoys can be a patient, fatalistic lot, especially when it comes to chronic problems such as the weakness of the justice system. Seeing no hope of structural changes, people are willing to opt for quick fixes. Public support, as reflected in all surveys, is one of the biggest boosters of the vicious method of waging war on illegal drugs.

As many quarters have pointed out, more people have been killed in this brutal war in just one year than during the entire Marcos dictatorship when the state went after political dissidents.

Such campaigns tend to implode from impunity, and it’s starting to happen. The minions of Dirty Rody turned summary execution into a gut issue. Seeing the corpses of Kian Loyd delos Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman, people began worrying: it could happen to my teenage son.

Today when people see an adult lying dead with multiple gunshots and the head wrapped in packing tape, the reaction is no longer, “there goes another troublemaker; good riddance” but “it could happen to me.”

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The government has moved to allay such fears. Duterte has threatened to “slaughter” abusive cops and acknowledged “gross human rights violations” and corruption during martial law under Marcos. Yet he also continues to waltz with the heirs of the dictator who imposed martial law.

It may not be accurate to say that the Duterte administration has been unnerved by the public outcry against the killings. The outcry for the most part has been missing since the war on drugs was launched, but now there is a palpable change in the public mood. To its credit, the government appears to be responding positively to the change, without abandoning the battle against the drug menace.

On the eve of yesterday’s mass protests, the House super majority blinked and gave the Commission on Human Rights an appropriation of about P500 million for 2018. That’s still lower than the P678 million proposed by the Department of Budget and Management and the P1.7 billion sought by the CHR, but a big improvement from the P1,000 that the House had initially approved.

The Philippine National Police, also sensing a change in the air, sacked the entire Caloocan police force after the teenage killings and that raid on a woman’s house followed by thievery. But fear of the PNP has been planted in the hearts of the public. The PNP will have to do more if it wants to regain public trust.

The institutional weaknesses and structural failures that combined to make the abuses possible also remain in place. In recent days, amid public outrage, there has been a lull in the killings. Without institutional reforms, however, the abuses could return with a vengeance.

Just like the return of the Marcoses.

 

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