PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte declared today--the 45th anniversary of the declaration by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos of martial law--as a National Day of Protest. As a result, work in government and classes in public schools nationwide have been suspended.
Proclamation No. 319 signed by the president said the declaration is “in solidarity with the people’s call against all excesses and shortcomings of the government and with the people’s desire to uphold the highest standards of integrity, efficiency and accountability in government.” But critics of the government say the move is meant to ease the impact of today’s scheduled rallies.
The president may not say it but the protest actions did influence his decision to suspend government work and classes in all public schools nationwide. I say these are not the best of times for the Duterte administration. It has been put on the defensive by issues that broke out the past several days even as its critics are strengthening their organizations and forging alliances while setting up bigger protest actions.
Those issues came one after the other—the killing of minors Kian delos Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman; the Senate probe into the smuggling of shabu worth P6.4 billion that had Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV linking presidential son Paolo Duterte to it while accusing him of being a member of a Chinese triad; and the pro-administration majority in the House of Representatives appropriating a P1,000 budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018.
And while critics of the administration have been angered and emboldened, there have been an observed calming down of pro-Duterte groups and social media trolls. This seems to show that even Duterte supporters have been affected by the issues currently faced by the administration. Consider that even the president has retreated a bit when instead of defending the concerned policemen in the killing of the minors like he is wont to do, he wanted them prosecuted.
Note also that issues like the so-called extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in the administration’s flagship program, the war against illegal drugs, together with the lack of respect for human rights and government corruption, fit snugly with what the September 21 commemoration is all about. It did not help that threats by the president of declaring martial law nationwide were made recently. This time, the call “Never again! is ringing truer.
That the pendulum is starting to swing to the other side can be seen when one compares the mood now with that of a few months ago. Remember the commemoration of the 1986 Edsa People Power uprising in February? Critics of the administration were so groping for form at that time they could not even put up a strong enough resistance when pro-Duterte groups—who were still on a high then--heckled them.
It would be wrong, though, to say that opposition to the Duterte administration is already strong. The opposition is actually still in the process of building up strength. Even then, I hope the Duterte administration will notice the mood shift and begin straightening out its governance.