COVID-19 Watch Features Spotlight

Dysfunctional authority: A macho-fascist guide to impunity

By Aesha Sarrol

“Change is coming,” has always been the tagline of Rodrigo Duterte ever since he ran for president, with the intent of eradicating illegal drug trade. He earned the trust of 16 million Filipinos and was regarded as a man of great ambition for his supporters.

Months later on his term, the country did not expect that the “change” he was referring to was a sight of a weeping mother of a 3-year-old girl, who died during one of the anti-drug operations of Oplan Double Barrel. Victims of drug raids and extrajudicial killings are treated as statistics and some were lessened to mere “collateral damage”; state security forces deemed themselves as the sole authority in the government’s war against drugs—a high body count means victory for the administration’s anti-poor measure.

Hell-bent towards authoritarian rule and deploys scare tactics to sow fear and polarity, cases of illegal detention and trumped-up charges against activists and political opponents continue to rise under the Duterte administration. Even with previous pronouncements regarding significantly curbing insurgency, the armed forces and the police continue the crackdown on progressive groups and individuals whom they suspect as “communist terrorists”, discrediting their efforts through smearing campaigns, and conducting illegal arrests.

The government has blood on their hands. They create a society permeated by violence and impunity as they continue to neglect this vicious cycle of harassment and abuse.

The culture of impunity heightened especially during the Marcos regime, wherein the late dictator implemented Martial rule, which eventually paved the way to consolidate his power over the three branches of the government and utilized state forces to secure his position. During the time when the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus was suspended, forces of the state were emboldened to abuse their power and disregard human rights because they were well-aware that their commander-in-chief would be tolerant of such crimes that he himself has sponsored. 

No significant military personnel were tried and detained for the cases of involuntary disappearance, torture, massacres, and illegal detention throughout the regime. In fact, after Marcos was ousted, succeeding president Corazon Aquino retained the majority of the military she inherited from the Martial Law era which also preserved this kind of culture. Evidently, this kind of practice still pervades wherein militaristic approaches are used to stifle dissent and criticism and to further advance state fascism.

Protection and Commendation

Last April 1, 2020, 21 residents of Sitio San Roque were arrested for allegedly breaching quarantine provisions of Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act. These residents were protesting because of the lack of social relief supposedly provided by the national government. They were even forced to pay Php 15,000 each for bail. Meanwhile, “compassion” was given when COVID-19 positive Senator Koko Pimentel violated quarantine protocols and placed all frontliners at the Makati Medical Center at risk.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) stated that they will not automatically investigate and arrest the senator without a warrant and quoted, “During abnormal times like this, when people are prone to commit mistakes or violations of the law, the DOJ will temper the rigor of the law with human compassion.” It is alarming that the government, which is elected by the masses and should be for the people, only protects those in power. 

Considered as Duterte’s right-hand man, Senator-elect Bong Go has always been vocal of his support to Duterte and his presidential plans. Go also has his fair share in media coverage by appearing in almost every episode of the government’s virtual press briefing Laging Handa PH. For most news agencies, it is the only direct source to gather information about the pandemic. This segment allows him to have maximum exposure to the media, wherein the longest coverage was around 5-10 minutes of beneficiaries praising and thanking Bong Go for his programs.

No other members from the legislative branch are given this much display. Not to mention the fact that Duterte himself praised Go on national television for his efforts yet fails to acknowledge the hardships of every frontliner. He instead chooses to romanticize their sacrifices in a situation where they should have been protected from in the first place. The senator strongly dismissed rumors about him running for president in 2022, yet that also happened back in 2018 when he denied that he was filing for a legislative seat.

Paradox and Contortion

The Philippines is a breeding ground of political corruption. Ironically, criminal cases are synonymous to credibility; an impeached president who faced charges for plunder still won the Manila mayorship years later, and a congressman who was serving two life sentences for raping an 11-year-old girl, won re-election behind bars. 

When the law favors one over the other, it loses its rationale; supremacy and influence serves a free pass for corruption. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III stated that the Philippines is already experiencing COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave of cases. When asked when the first wave started, Duque explained that it began when three Chinese nationals from Wuhan tested positive here last January. Even with confirmed cases, the country was not placed under a health pandemic and the virus was taken lightly causing detrimental effects to the masses. Cases were already piling up by the time they acknowledged the virus’ threat. If he had ordered early intervention, the virus could have been contained and cases could have been lower, saving the lives of countless citizens. 

To add insult to injury, last May 8, 2020, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Debold Sinas deliberately breached quarantine protocol by holding a birthday celebration attended by several acquaintances. Photos show that the attendees were not observing social distancing and were not wearing face masks, yet Sinas claimed that proper health measures were followed and that it was rude for him to reject the efforts of the people. Philippine National Police’s (PNP) internal affairs service only filed a case due to public pressure when the gathering was bombarded with criticism. Despite these instances, Duque is still the acting health secretary and Sinas is yet to be incarcerated for his actions. These two examples show the masked ineptitude of the government in handling the ongoing health crisis and it exposes the administration’s incompetency to make sound judgment. 

Decades of impunity normalized convicted felons to roam around freely with unsolicited confidence. An administration that amplifies a power structure that serves as a safe-haven for pilferers who use their influence to support presidential bets in the hopes of acquitting their criminal cases or giving them enough power to return as allies. Indeed, a government of a few powerful men and not of laws. [P]

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