Duterte’s militaristic drift bodes dire consequences

Of course, during the presidential campaign last year he already talked in a favorable light about martial law and expressed sheer admiration for the deposed dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.

But did anyone anticipate that within his first six months in office, President Duterte would facilitate Marcos’ political rehabilitation by allowing the burial of his remains with hero’s rites at the Libingan ng mga Bayani? And did anyone expect that before the end of his first year in Malacanang he would declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao?

Yes, he did just that on May 23, and extended the edict up to the end of 2017. Initially the stated aim was to suppress the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf terrorist groups’ “rebellion” in Marawi City. This was expanded to “suppress all acts of rebellion and lawless violence in the whole of Mindanao, [specifically] to “dismantle the NPA, other terror-linked private armed groups, illegal drug syndicates, ‘peace spoilers’ and other lawless armed groups.” Verily the widened objectives could be used to justify the further extension of the martial law duration and its coverage to the entire Philippines.

Why is President Duterte showing a militaristic and authoritarian predilection in his public pronouncements and actions?

He has repeatedly said he no longer wants peace talks with the Left (CPP-NPA-NDFP). Is he truly abandoning, in favor of “all-out war,” his avowal to work towards amity, cooperation and unity in resolving the roots of the nearly 50-year armed conflict? After “finishing” the Maute group, he said, the AFP would go after the NPA. (But it was the PNP that he mistakenly ordered to “wipe out the NPA.” Doesn’t he think the AFP, even after decades of failure, can do its job?)

Invoking the added threat of Islamic State intrusion in Mindanao, Duterte seeks legislative support for his plan to add 20,000 recruits to the 125,000 AFP troops and 10,000 Special Action Force recruits to the PNP’s 175,000 police force. He wants to double the Air Force fighter jets fleet of 12 FA-50H aircraft (purchased from South Korea for P18.9 billion).

Having warmed up to the US after the latter provided drone intelligence backing for the Marawi bombings, he welcomes the US providing more weapons to the AFP: 1,040 rocket motors and 992 rockets plus two Cessna planes with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for the PAF, and promised 250 more rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 1,000 M203 grenade launchers for the Philippine Army. Duterte is also looking forward to receiving more weaponry from China and Russia.

For criticizing his sustained bloody campaign against illegal drugs, violations of human rights and due process, Duterte has lambasted the Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Human Rights and threatened to abolish the two constitutional bodies. He has hit back at the human rights alliance Karapatan, whose secretary-general has received threatening phone calls, traced to the AFP Safety Battalion, warning her that the situation has changed as “we are now under martial law.”

And it’s worrisome that what has boosted the President’s Rightist drift has been the support by the Legislature and the Judiciary. Both chambers of Congress easily endorsed his martial law declaration and its extension by five more months. Ruling on the anti-martial law petitions, the Supreme Court, by a big majority vote, sanctioned the declaration and its extension as constitutional.

Duterte has designated defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano, as martial law administrator and implementer, respectively. Along with national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., they constitute the militarist troika that recommended the martial law declaration. He has since approved the troika’s every recommendation or action. For instance:

• In the war against the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi, he approved the almost daily aerial bombings and ground artillery firings targeted at the terrorists’ strongholds. These have impelled more than 400,000 people from Marawi and nearby communities to evacuate and caused the destruction of a wide swath of Mindanao’s main Muslim city and cultural center. Nearly all evacuee families have left behind their homes, their personal belongings and jobs or livelihoods. None of them have been allowed back to Marawi for two and a half months now.

He was against the bombings, Duterte explained to evacuees he visited in Iligan City, but he had approved its use in Marawi because the AFP asked for it to enable their forces on the ground to move closer to their assault targets and incur lesser casualties from the latter’s deadly firepower. It was a decision to save the government soldiers’ lives, for which he repeatedly says he is responsible as the commander-in-chief of all the state’s armed forces.

But ponder on the destruction of a city that would need P20 billion or more to rebuild. The valuable items of cultural heritage, such as pusaka or heirlooms, and rare ancient documents held for safekeeping by leading Muslim families in Marawi that have been lost or destroyed can no longer be restored. What of the lost homes, properties, and shattered livelihoods of the displaced families?

And what of the numerous evacuees reported to have shown signs of serious mental ill-health resulting from their stressful living conditions for six weeks now? And what of the schoolchildren experiencing discrimination, as confirmed by a Department of Education official, in various schools where they have been transferred?

Beyond Marawi, think of the Lumad (indigenous people) children terrified by Duterte’s threat to bomb their schools in the hinterlands, no matter that he later assured them that the bombing would be done at night after class (!). Note that his commander-in-chief’s statement was seconded, with alacrity, by AFP chief Ano.

Already about 200 Lumad students from the Caraga and Davao regions have fled to the National Capital Region. Of these, 109 now temporarily live and study in a “bakwit” school set up at the University of the Philippines International Center in Diliman, QC. Also, 22 volunteer teachers have left Mindanao to teach the student-evacuees in the NCR.

How all these problems will be solved remains unclear. Now it’s the people of Marawi and the Lumads who are being oppressed by a warmongering mindset. Who will it be tomorrow?

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in The Philippine Star
Aug. 12, 2017

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