Monday, September 20, 2021

Gonzaga: Pandemic journey

Ecoviews and Issues

NEARLY a year ago, SunStar published this quote from my column:

"THE pandemic is not only wreaking destruction on public health and the global economy but disrupting democracy and governance worldwide as well.

Covid-19 has hit at a time when democracy was already under threat -- not only in Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa. What morphed into a pandemic, risks exacerbating democratic backsliding and authoritarian consolidation.

"Already, some governments, our very own to start with, have used the pandemic to expand executive power and restrict individual rights. Such actions are just the tip of the iceberg. Just watch how Covid-19 and other epidemics to come, will likely transform other pillars of democratic governance -- such as electoral processes, civilian control of militaries, and civic mobilization-and potentially reset the terms of the global debate on the merits of authoritarian rule versus democracy.

"The pandemic I foresee will usher in broader effects on governance by overburdening countries' basic governance functions, taxing their socio-political cohesion, exacerbating corruption, unsettling relations between national and local governments, and transforming the role of non-state actors.

"Truth to tell, there is a wide spectrum of effects. Still, much remains uncertain as long as the ultimate scope and severity of the crisis are unknown, and pandemic statistics continue to be manipulated. As the pandemic penetrates lower-income and fragile states, like the Philippines, it will likely have even more profound and unpredictable effects than those visible thus far.

"A powerful second-order effect resulting from the unfolding global economic slowdown will pack a further governance punch, like the 'Anti-Terror Bill' in the Philippine Congress.

"President Duterte has certified the proposed Anti-Terror Bill urgent, which would fast-track its passage through the House of Representatives where the administration enjoys an overwhelming majority."

Since the time I wrote the above-cited excerpt, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the contentious anti-terrorism measure despite mounting opposition and fears that it targets critics of the government.

The Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which amends the 2007 Human Security Act, expands the definition of terrorism, which human rights advocates say could lead to abuses and stifle free speech. It also permits the surveillance, warrantless arrest, and detention of suspects for up to 24 days, according to the draft law.

Since the 2020 Act took effect, the red-tagging of known social activists, indigenous people group spokespersons, NGO (non-government organization) poverty and social justice-focused heads, and other socially-minded individuals -- rural doctors, lawyer advocates, and mass media people


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