3/14/2017
Nothing to declare

The fear is that, sooner than later, Rodrigo Duterte will declare martial law, consolidate power for himself and his cronies, and lord over us all for the years to come.

Well, it's not an unfounded fear, considering how often he uses martial law as a stick to beat everyone into following his bidding. "Do your work, or else I'll declare martial law," he often says, to the point - perhaps it is the point - that the thread has dulled, has lost its punch. It's not an unfounded fear, considering how often he ponders how much better things will be if the constitutional clamps on presidential power were removed altogether. Finally, no matter what some revisionists say about how the time of Ferdinand Marcos brought nothing but good tidings to the Philippines, the thought of martial law still spooks most, if only at the visceral level - the thought of being abducted, being found dead, or worse, not appearing anywhere else altogether.

I'm also pretty sure Duterte is smarter than some make him out to be. He would not declare martial law. He knows that, no matter who is in charge, the idea alone of martial law is not popular. Sure, people may yearn for the supposed peace and order of those days - "oh, things were just much better back then" - making a sweeping declaration to the effect will not go well for him. He may have noisy sycophants flooding the national discourse, but noise does not mean numbers. I think he knows that.

And besides, he doesn't really have to.

Just take his campaign against illegal drugs. Much has been said about his iron fist stance in stamping out a problem that he says is sending his beloved country to the dogs. But beyond the high number of casualties and the seeming bypass of legal processes to keep up with the perception of action, it's his single-mindedness towards the cause that should raise flags. It's in how his every speech, in every occasion, always ends up being about illegal drugs. It's in how he connects all of the plagues he believes is rotting the country - terrorism, poverty, perhaps the Liberal Party - to illegal drugs. It's in how he managed to take his proposals to bring back death penalty - with the still objectively unfounded claim that it is a deterrent to crime - as a means to squash that drug problem he is so obsessed with once and for all, to the point that the new death penalty proposals are essentially there only to punish anybody who finds themselves with even the smallest amounts of shabu, for example. Murder, rape, treason, plunder - no longer punishable by death, even if Duterte signs the law bringing back capital punishment to our pathetic justice system. (For now, they say.)

Add to that the rest of his actions and pronouncements - pivoting towards China in a ramshackle way, just because he said so; accusing critical parties of destabilizing him, of being behind that drug problem he so wants to end; the daily implicit pronouncements that he loves this country more than you - lend credence towards the idea of Rodrigo Duterte as an authoritarian in everything but name. His word is law, and if you don't get on it, no matter what you believe in, you'll get it, whatever that is, sooner or later.

Sure, you can say that any government needs a clear vision from its top man, and it is the responsibility of the head of government to outline priorities and set a direction to bring, ehrm, good tidings to his citizens. But it is also up to the head of government to ensure that this vision is in sync with the visions of the people that elected him. It is up to the head of government to sell this vision to a skeptical population - skeptical not because of past promises that never had a shot at being delivered, but because the political process inherently trades on hyperbole. But Duterte, powered by his love of country and his never-ending concern for the Filipino people, is pushing his vision for the country, questions be damned. If you don't like what he's doing, you must be out to destabilize him.

You might argue that Noynoy Aquino did that too. (Also, you might shout, "are you defending that yellow bastard?") But, to cite an example, he did turn his back on the Disbursement Acceleration Program. I am not defending it - it remains indefensible, to spend money that's not supposed to be spent - but he could have pushed it despite public opposition and the Supreme Court ruling to the contrary. Instead, he dropped it. He grumbled, but he dropped it.

Now, you have Duterte's singular vision being implemented by a legislature that believes in brute force, populated by kowtowers and nincompoops, and cheered along by masses of people - a plurality, not a majority - who share his beliefs and think anybody who opposes those beliefs are offending not just them, but their president, and their country as well. (You will not believe how many Duterte drones are butthurt whenever an opposing opinion shows up on their social media feeds.) He does not need to declare martial law to consolidate power. If that isn't authoritarianism, I don't know what is.

Ultimately, this is why Duterte was voted president. He was not voted because of the perception that he can get things done. He was voted because he can get things done no matter how much opposition there is. People are tired of the usual politics, so they went and voted for a different kind.

And your responses...

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