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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Editorial: Test for our democratic institutions

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte went into yesterday's State of the Nation Address (Sona) ritual armed with the highest early trust rating among surveyed presidents, according to Pulse Asia, which conducted a poll on the first week of Duterte's term. Pulse Asia started conducting such surveys in 1999, or during the term of another initially popular Malacañang occupant, Joseph Estrada.

The outpouring of support showed. At the Batasan complex where the Sona was held, members of Congress were vociferous in their applause weeks after shifting their allegiance to him. Outside of the Batasan, people were glued to their TV sets watching what could be a ratings-breaking show (survey firms AGB Nielsen and Kantar Media will have a say on that, of course).

A “super majority,” a favorite term of the coalition that now controls the House of Representatives, has put their trust in the President who, even until the Sona, has been trying to do some things differently. While he has been doing good so far in some aspects of governance, it is his drive against illegal drugs that has sparked controversy and is testing the limits of our democratic institutions.

During Sona day, some sectors, including the Catholic Church, expressed their worries about the rise in extra-judicial killings even as the Duterte administration has been seen as having an initial success in the drive against illegal drugs. For them, the bypassing of the courts and the setting aside of people's rights and the principle of “due process” is a dangerous development.

But the Sona showed that the President is not about to give in to the protests, owning up instead the responsibility for the intensified drive by law enforcers against suspects in the illegal drugs trade that has resulted in the rise in the number of “kills” during “encounters” with them. The President could do that because of the popular support he has acquired.

In a way, this is a test for the country's democratic institutions, whose strength lies in the principle that ours is a government of laws and not of men. Will the integrity of these institutions hold under the weight of a popular president trying to do some things differently? Or will these democratic institutions be instead strengthened by it?
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