THE gradual erosion of our democratic norms imperceptibly started three years ago when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed power. Those who bask under the illusion that our democracy is safe simply because we are holding regular elections and have a critical media should read a new book “HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE” by Steven Levitsky and Deniel Ziblatt.
Blatant dictatorship–in the form of fascism, communism, or military rule–has disappeared across much of the world. Military coups and other violent seizures of power are rare. Most countries hold regular elections. Democracy will die, but by different means.
It is significant to note that the authors mention the Philippines as one of those countries where democratic institutions have been subverted by the leaders. The authors observe:
“Since the end of the Cold War, most democratic breakdowns have been caused not by generals and soldiers but by elected governments themselves. Like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, elected leaders have subverted democratic institutions in Georgia, Hungary, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Ukraine. Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box.”
What are the means employed by the present administration to suffocate our democracy and cause its eventual death? The following facts are undisputed:
1. Control of the judiciary. No less than former President Gloria M. Arroyo during her recent “retirement party” thanked President Duterte for “providing the atmosphere that led to her eventual acquittal by the Supreme Court of her plunder charges.”
2. Persecution of critics. Because of critical reporting of the news website, Rappler’s Maria Ressa is now facing a slew of charges from libel to securities fraud.
3. Persecution of political dissenters. Because of her vocal opposition to the brutal war on drugs and violation of human rights, Sen. Leila de Lima has been detained for more than two years on trumped-up charges. Duterte also threatened those who plan to file an impeachment complaint to send them to jail.
4. Duterte’s contempt for the Constitution. Duterte recently said that the Constitution may be used as a toilet paper.
5. Disregard of the rule of law. The regime does not need Congress to re-impose the death penalty because it has imposed executions on more or less 30,000 poor victims without benefit of judicial trial.
As the saying goes, “Vigilance is the eternal price of liberty.” If we continue with our silence, apathy and indifference, we will wake up soon losing our freedoms. Then, we might as well hold national necrological services for the death of Philippine democracy.