Protesters in Manila mark the 45th anniversary of Martial Law on Sept 21, 2017. Photo: WSJ.com
e Filipinos have to learn the hard way that in a properly functioning democracy, there are no shortcuts, no quick and easy way of doing things, no miracles—only hard work and constant vigilance. We said as much in an early editorial and we want to stress that point again today in light of the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
It seems that we Filipinos have learned nothing from the nearly 2 decades of martial law. Marcos, a wily opportunist who managed to get himself elected president, declared martial law on September 21, 1972 and remained in power until he was forcibly removed by “People Power” in late February, 1986.
Marcos’ achievements as president/dictator were miniscule compared to the nearly irreparable damage he caused to Filipino society and values. Even today, generations born long after Marcos was removed from power are nevertheless still affected by those dictatorial years. And it may take many decades for those martial law “wounds” to fully heal.
And yet, in 2016 Filipinos once again elected another strongman who is only too eager to “cut corners” and trample on his people’s human rights in order to achieve his stated goals—no matter how irrational or ill-conceived they may be. In his first year in office, President Rodrigo Duterte has already caused significant damage to the Philippines and its standing in the world. His crude vocabulary and thuggish behavior are the least of global community’s worries. Instead, his nearly complete disregard for the rule of law (in spite of his being a lawyer) and his apparent condoning of the extra judicial killing of those of those involved in illegal drugs, has shocked the civilized world and made the Philippines a pariah state.
Checks and balances exist for a reason. They prevent any one entity or individual from accumulating too much power. Checks and balances slow any process down and the pursuit of justice can appear long and complicated—however, righting wrongs outside the rule of law almost always backfires. The thousands of alleged drug pushers and users found dead on the streets have cheapened human life in the Philippines. And as in most tyrannical states, the police is now seen as the villain, not the public’s protector.
In addition, Duterte has turned the Philippines’ stunning legal victory into a defeat for all practical purposes. The unanimous decision by the UN Arbitral Tribunal in favor of the Philippines with regards to China’s ridiculous South China Sea claims should have been used by Duterte to get China to comply and leave the Philippine shoals and reefs they now occupy. Instead, Duterte has tried to appease the Chinese in the hope that they would throw some “scraps” his way. A loser’s strategy—to say the least— that did not work the way Duterte thought it would. In fact Chinese President Xi Jinping told him to his face that China would go to war if Filipinos tried to drill for oil or gas in an area that the UN tribunal’s ruling said legally belonged to the Philippines.
President Duterte meets President Xi in Beijing. Photo: Simon Song/SCMP.com
The unfortunate reality is that China appears to be playing Duterte like a fiddle. On the one hand they are supplying him with loans and foreign aid, and on the other hand their triads are flooding the country with narcotics in order to destabilize it. And if the latest allegations of Senator Antonio Trillanes are true, the Chinese would have most likely involved members of his family in the illicit drug trade in order to use that fact to blackmail Duterte should he ever try to stray from their domain.
Sadly, Duterte appears destined to fail. He simply managed to hoodwink a majority of gullible voters (some say with the help of covert foreign assistance) into electing him president. He does not appear to have the smarts for the job, uses crude language, and—more ominously—appears to have dictatorial tendencies. He has so far achieved little and will likely end his term without any significant achievement other than that of making himself and his country an embarrassment to the entire world. Even worse, he might plunge the country into an abyss that may take the Philippines many generations to extricate itself from. Published 9/22/2017