As countries are battling the pandemic to “flatten the curve”, different governments undertook measures to mitigate the unprecedented effects of COVID-19, while at the same time heeding the needs of their people. The case for the Philippines can be said to be the opposite, for the needs of its citizens is not only compromised by the pandemic but also by the incompetence and sheer determination to silence critics by the Duterte administration.
On March 25, 2020, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act was passed into law giving President Duterte special powers to bypass bureaucracy in order to combat COVID-19. Dubious provisions of the law have only solicited more questions instead of giving answers. The clause pertaining to the criminalization of “perpetuating” false and alarming information was added to curb alarming misinformation regarding the situation at hand.
Soon after the implementation of the law, the provision was weaponized as means to silence critics and threaten dissenters. Without a doubt, under this administration, the law serves an instrument to suppress the rights of the people. During times of fear and crisis, the need for cooperation and order rises, but the fundamental task of the people to remain vigilant and critical is equally important, especially with a government that is known for its lack of transparency and accountability.
The essence of controlling further transmission of the virus is already established but to contain growing dissatisfaction towards Duterte’s leadership is the administration and its cohorts’ topmost priority. The militaristic intervention of the government encroaches further in civil society, trampling basic human rights in the process.
Within pockets of locally enforced enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), human rights violations are led by the implementers of the law itself. During the early stages of lockdown implementation, a rapper from Cebu City was forced to issue a public apology in front of Governor Garcia for criticizing the government’s curfew policy.
Last Sunday, editor-in-chief of the University of the East Dawn was forced to issue a public apology over a post containing criticisms of the government’s policies. Joshua Molo was threatened by his former teachers, who took offense in his posts, with threats of libel charges prompting him to retract his previous statements and confess his mistake. It was also alleged that an officer remarked to let the posts continue so that it can lead to forced detention.
Recently, an alleged memorandum circulated around social media that shows the Department of Environment and Natural Resources which specifically orders its employees to refrain from posting negative sentiments against the government online for they should exemplify discipline and unity to the public. This only manifests how the rabidness of the state is trickling down to its institutions who are supposed to cater to extending knowledge and information, with the freedom to air out their criticism and knowledge at hand
Despite the gravity of the situation, the public remains unfazed and continuously partakes in scrutinizing the government’s incoherent and ineffective policies. Duterte on the other hand continues to undermine the legitimate concerns of the people and frames these actions as an attempt to create disorder and panic.
In a public address, Duterte explicitly ordered the police and military to shoot those who will defy the regulations set by ECQ, hours after residents from Sitio San Roque were arrested for staging protests condemning inaction and neglect of the government which led to their starvation. Almost a week later after the arrests, members of their community, while working in their community kitchen, were harassed by officers from the Quezon City Police District.
Atty. Chel Diokno was also subjected to public humiliation during the said telecast after he revealed that he took the case of the 12 individuals summoned by the National Bureau of Investigation over a post that exposed alleged misuse of funds related to COVID-19 response. Duterte was angry at Diokno for allegedly instigating disorder after the latter provided legal tips when apprehended by state agents.
The blatant travesty of our right to free speech especially in times like this only invites more people to rise up the occasion. The government is missing out on the fact that criticisms matter in correcting mistakes and gaining informed decisions to align service for the betterment of the people. Because of its nature to contradict the ills of governance, dissent serves as a driving force towards progress and prosperity. In this context, citizens serve as watchdogs of the government because, in them, emanates the mandate of public servants.
These incidents unmask the Duterte administration’s ineptitude and militaristic standpoint in solving the public health crisis against his growing unpopularity. Vilification and intimidation pointed against people who vent out their sentiments over the glaring ineptitude of the government are normalized by the administration to create an illusion of control. Such acts only unfolds the regime’s identity as the enemy of the people over a populace who’s slowly opening its eyes towards reality.
Fascism has no place in a society that has deep regard towards the sanctity of life and respect for the people’s rights. It is, after all, our duty, and within our freedom, to dissent and to call for a system that truly serves the people. [P]