Alamon: Pushed to a corner

AT AN event in Davao a couple of days ago, President Duterte expressed his intent to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and therefore allow the Draconian measure of warrantless arrests. According to him, such drastic recourse is to quell the continuing state of lawlessness pervading in Mindanao and elsewhere from the drug menace and terrorism.

It is becoming a tired refrain to hear from the President his expressions of anger if not paranoia usually delivered with much aplomb and bombast.

It was refreshing before to listen to a very passionate leader speak from his heart. But months into his presidency, it is starting to get worrisome to see that Duterte has not settled comfortably and confidently into his position and the slightest provocation elicits very strong reactions.

In the wake of the Davao blast September, he declared a state of lawlessness in Mindanao. The public endured the checkpoints and heightened security all over out of deference to the response of government to the threat of terrorism.

Last October 29, 2016 in a speech in Cotabato City, he ordered these same checkpoints be dismantled since according to him these were of great inconvenience to the public. It sent the signal that, perhaps, with the capture of Maute personalities in Cotabato weeks earlier, the local threat has subsided.

His war on drugs is likewise endured by the public though the grumblings from concerned sectors have steadily grown louder and have found confirmation as the body count on our streets pile up. He has so far neutralized about 4000 drug personalities if we are to attribute all these drug-related deaths to his instigated campaign. The carnage has increased to such a degree that the killings have become visible to many drawing out what were muted reactions before. And yet, the public still gives him the benefit of the doubt by turning a blind eye to the clear violation of rights with these deaths.

His expressed threat to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in a public event is the latest of his troubling policy statements and puts across the message that his administration remain on shaky ground despite the wide latitude that the public has given him so far. He cited the continuing threats of narcopolitics and local terrorism as the bases in case he decides to allow for warrantless arrests. But I believe these are not the real reasons why he issued such a threat.

It should be noted that his pronouncements to suspend the constitutionally-protected rights against warrantless arrests and illegal detention come at the heels of the controversial Supreme Court decision allowing for the burial of the late dictator’s body at the National Heroe’s Cemetery. Duterte continues to reap strong condemnations from allies and foe alike because his push for the internment of the dictator’s body at the symbolic site for heroes is seen as a personal political concession for the Marcos family’s support in the last elections. And I think he is personally hurting from the criticism.

His threat to suspend the writ of habeas corpus therefore is an oblique warning to his critics. It is as if he is taunting those who are opposing his intention to have the notorious dictator buried at that symbolic site at the same time conveying the message that he can be a strongman himself “if pushed to a corner.”

The plan to approve warrantless arrests and allow for illegal detention also comes in the wake of the controversial killing of Mayor Espinosa of Leyte while under police custody. His expressed inclination to support the suspected policemen does not augur well for those who are alarmed over the increasing cases of extrajudicial killings. Scores of activists and farmers were reported to have been victimized already in the government’s anti-drug campaign that is evolving to be a counter insurgency move by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as well.

The martial law specter of being salvaged while under custody of the police and military are being purposively resurrected by Duterte as a crass warning to his critics. It is intended perhaps to scare off an indignant public over the planned protests against the burial of the dictator by using Marcosian tactics.

The question now is, how far will the public tolerate the increasing excesses and machismo of the Duterte administration? I believe Duterte will be in for a big surprise. The Marcos burial is going to be the litmus test of the Duterte administration’s political fortunes. By recklessly pushing for the burial of the hated dictator, he has also “pushed to a corner” the Filipino public opposed to the political resurrection of the Marcoses.

Duterte has left them no choice but to fight. History is replete with proof that the threat of incarceration even death has never deterred the Filipino in standing up against dictators.
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