This year’s EDSA people power celebration is turning out to be a very polarized one, despite the Duterte administration’s attempt to downgrade it. Two events have heightened the polarization: the retraction of former Davao police officer Arthur Lascañas who is now claiming that the Davao Death Squad did exist and that former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, now President, ordered the killings of drug pushers as well as broadcaster Jun Pala.
This might be the smoking gun that directly links President Duterte to the killings in Davao then, and, by extension, in the current government’s anti-drug war, which has now claimed the lives of more than 7,000.
The second event is the impending arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima. Sen. De Lima is not about to take this sitting down. She called President Duterte as “another criminal dictator,” a “mass murderer,” “number one criminal,” and has called on the people to launch another EDSA people power uprising. And, if government suspicions are true, the so-called “yellow” political bloc, who is being identified with the Liberal Party, may now have an issue to rally its forces to try to do so.
Then, there are the pro-Marcos and anti-Marcos groups who might have their own mobilizations, especially since the pro-Marcos group has had a new lease on life with the entry into the national political arena of Bongbong Marcos, son of the late dictator. On the other side are the anti-Marcos groups, who gained ground with the hero’s burial provided to the late dictator by the Duterte administration.
President Duterte, even when he was still Davao City mayor, has been known to publicly encourage the killings of drug addicts and pushers. He has been threatening to kill drug addicts and pushers in public. But he has been very careful not to be directly linked to the actual killings. Will the Lascañas exposé, coupled with the calls of Sen. De Lima and her eventual arrest, result in Duterte administration’s removal from office, either through a third edition of the people power uprising or through impeachment?
It is highly unlikely.
First, it took 14 years of generalized oppression, scandalous corruption, and massive human rights violations and about 11 years of mass mobilizations, from strikes to street demonstrations, before the Marcos dictatorship was ousted. The EDSA people power uprising was the culmination of people’s struggles and organizing efforts, especially led by the Left, and later by segments of the middle class that accumulated through the years. It did not happen overnight or in a few years.
The second people power uprising that ousted former President Joseph Estrada happened after three years. The issue was corruption i.e. the jueteng bribery scam and the alleged secret bank accounts of Estrada. But when Estrada entered Malacañang, the country, and the whole of Southeast Asia, was reeling from a financial crisis resulting in more hardships for the poor majority. By the time he was ousted, the world was convulsing with the bursting of the high tech bubble, which caused another financial crisis. The corruption scandals were made unbearable by the Filipino people’s sufferings.
However, gauging from the way former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was able to withstand a brewing people power uprising caused by strong allegations of cheating in the presidential elections, and numerous corruption scandals confronting the Arroyo family, one would think Estrada could have done the same earlier and succeeded.
Second, the killings are scandalously many and it should stir those who value life and human rights to action. But it still affects a specific segment of society, drug users among the poor, and an unpopular one at that even among urban poor communities. Shocking as it is, there are still people who support the war on drugs and the killings that go with it.
And then there is impunity. The impunity in killings and human rights violations, which should be blamed not only on the Marcos dictatorship but the succeeding “democratic” administrations, from Aquino to Aquino as well, for perpetuating this impunity.
Third, Sen. Leila de Lima, who has taken on the role of calling on the people to act on these killings and against President Duterte, who she calls as the “number one criminal,” should come clean on the charges being brought against her as well. The scandalous illegal drugs trade happening inside the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa is real and not merely a creation of the Duterte administration in order to use against her. And it was happening under her watch when she was Justice Secretary. At the minimum, she was guilty of negligence. The maximum of course is that what the government’s witnesses are saying is true. It should have been a major undertaking to manufacture such charges out of thin air.
Fourth, there is no solidly organized movement backing the calls for the Duterte administration’s ouster. While it is the spontaneous support of people that would tilt the balance, it is an organized force – in the case of the two previous people power uprisings it was the Left – that sustains it until the tipping point. The Liberal Party (if suspicions that it is behind the calls for ouster are correct), owing to its character as a traditional political party, does not have a solid mass base. Its membership expands and shrinks depending on its hold on power.
Impeachment? There has never been an impeachment case of a sitting president that prospered, except that of President Estrada, because of the ruling party’s dominance of Congress. The impeachment proceedings of President Estrada pushed through because the House leadership made a turnaround and passed it quickly when the Estrada Resign or Oust movement had gained a lot of ground.
Nevertheless, the Lascañas testimony is instructive of the need to fight for our rights because all the time, forces are at work to take it away from us. Impunity has no place in a democracy. We should continuously fight impunity as we fight crime, the illegal drug trade, corruption, oppression, exploitation and social injustices. Nothing justifies the killings, not even in the name of “cleaning up” society.
While we are at it, let us intensify our education efforts on the youth regarding the lessons of history, especially during the dark years of Martial Law. That is what the EDSA People Power commemoration should be all about.