Luczon: ‘Execute Order 66’

FOR some stalwart fans of this science fiction epic, the prequel trilogy of the Star Wars universe was considered bad - in terms of story and cinematic narratives. But the underlying themes of this series depicting politics and the business of war became an all-time reference to the socio-political landscape in other developing countries like the Philippines - when empires rise and fall, and the polarized sides of the “Force.”

In Episode III, when the Sith Lord (the villain in this universe) finally revealed himself as the head of the Galactic Republic (later he re-established it as the Empire and would close down the democratic function of their Senate), he ordered the clone troopers to “execute Order 66.” That directive was known as the (second) “Jedi Purge.” The Jedi, are the mortal nemesis of the Sith - a representation of light and dark sides of the Force, respectively.

And purge, indeed. What a time to not ignore and relate this to the current political climate in the Philippines, especially when President Rodrigo Duterte himself said that his administration is a “purging regime,” for axing government officials tainted with corruption issues.

Since last year, Duterte sacked officials based on allegations of irregularities of their duties. Not only axed were the appointees from the previous administration, but also those he initially designated. Some officials, those who were still in their ranks because of former president Benigno Aquino III, were under Duterte’s side-commentaries on his speeches. Duterte may claim he has no personal hand when these officials cry foul of harassment, but eventually his underlings were the ones doing the groundwork, taking the hint from his pronouncements.

And so, some exited through resignations, such as Vice President Leni Robredo as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council; Andy Bautista as chairman of the Commission of Elections, and most recently Patricia Licuanan, as lead commissioner of the Commission on the Higher Education.

Also because of Duterte’s insinuations and hurled allegations, his underlings moved to question Conchita Carpio-Morales, the head of the Office of the Ombudsman, and Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno of the Supreme Court, all were Aquino appointees, in forms of impending impeachment complaints.

The Duterte administration was already successful in charging Senator Leila Delima on illegal drug charges courtesy of the Department of Justice, the agency once headed by the senator herself during the Aquino administration. Not that these charges have no grounds, nor that these accused have no tinge of shady dealings in the government, but it was clear that these legal accountability may catch up faster especially when you are a fierce critic of this administration.

But can Duterte’s “purging regime” extend to non-government entities that are watchdogs and critical to his governance? Can he actually purge, through his underlings, the fourth estate of this country, and perhaps the freest in Asia, the press?

Duterte has been vocal about “not-so-clean” media entities even before he has not took oath as the president of the Philippines.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer was critical with his policies, and so his underlings find out that the owners of the newspaper publication have property tax issues. ABS-CBN’s franchise to broadcast is up for renewal, but it is stalling in Congress. The network has also been critical with Duterte and alluded an allegiance with a political rival Mar Roxas of the Liberal Party during the presidential campaigns.

And now, social media news site, Rappler. The Securities and Exchange Commission revoked its registration following an allegation that it was foreign owned, of which mass media entities should be 100 percent Filipino-owned based on the 1987 Constitution. It was reported that the Office of the Solicitor General that initiated the investigation.

In 2017 State of the Nation Address, Duterte mentioned Rappler, accusing of being owned by foreign entities of which the news organization has been clarifying it since. Rappler was also critical of the administration by insinuating news angles that depicted the president in a bad light. Has this become an era of which freedom of the press and critical free speech are curtailed? With or without the SEC registration, Rappler can still operate in another form. If bloggers and content creators in social media can do away with it, why can’t the press?

There will always a way. Communication have many ways. Too bad, this administration has made martyrs out of its inability to take criticisms. Even how many purging it has to take.

*****

(nefluczon@gmail.com)

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