When clocks struck midnight, all the world was in celebration. Our glasses raised for the fruits of our harvests, households enamored by the scent of prepared dishes and the sound of joyful noise, and the heavens above lit with dazzling displays of fireworks. We wait for the horns to honk and for the children to cheer every New Year’s Day in the hopes that once we wake-up the next morning, we can smile and hope for something better.
But even with the lights and glamour that one would expect every year’s end, 2020 will forever be remembered in infamy rather than with fervor. It almost started with a bang, with the world nearly catching fire thanks to increasing fears of a then possible third world conflict and with the eruption of Taal Volcano shrouding the whole Southern Tagalog in ash. Then, in the months that followed, we found ourselves drowning.
It took the indecisiveness and growingly apparent criminal negligence of health secretary Francisco Duque III for the Philippines to be caged in one of the longest lockdowns in Southeast Asia. As Duque and his equally out-of-touch cohorts took a shot at downplaying the initial pandemic situation, the Filipinos had to deal with the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) stealing about P15 billion from clients, a snail-paced accreditation process for testing facilities that made mass testing that much more difficult to manage, and a healthcare system that has since been outnumbered and penniless in the hopes that they could save as much lives as they could.
The reward for health workers’ valor could not have been any more insulting: a toast for the “heroes” that they have left for dead. Even after months of roasting even from the likes of his fellow government officials, Duque is yet again mocked for “dropping the ball” on a deal with Pfizer, which could have provided the Philippines early access to a steady supply of vaccines.
How his fascist regime made a killing out of the health sector in 2020 was only the cherry on top, as private corporations found this to be the right time to claim the homes of farmers and fishers for their own.
Cavite for instance is a hotspot for development aggression and reclamation attempts, with about 700 fisher families or more faced with the possibility of being driven out of their homes thanks to Bacoor mayor Lani Mercado Revilla 320-hectare reclamation and development project. Even in areas such as in Lupang Ramos in Dasmariñas, Lupang Aguinaldo in Silang, and Sitio Silangan in Bacoor were the receiving ends of harassment from private corporations who seek their lands for personal gain.
Lest one would forget the controversy that blew-up following one massive blaze that burned a massive portion of Brgy. Sineguelasan in Bacoor to a crisp, with the community also being plagued by arson attempts and other fire cases.
But land-grabbing goes beyond Cavite, with communities such as Hacienda Yulo in Calamba, Baseco in Tondo, Manila, and in Sitio Limbones in Nasugbu, Batangas having to deal with a slew of attacks this year. None such incidents the regime found any energy to look into.
While jeepney drivers decried “Phaseout King” Duterte for letting them starve in the streets and while various urban poor communities kept the wolves at bay, those who have been tasked with reporting the whole truth and nothing but have been treated like lambs to the slaughter.
While many have been all too familiar with the tragedy that befell over Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, there were also the slayings of tabloid stringer and pastor Ronnie VIllamor and columnist Vir Maganes and the arrests of Camarines Norte journalists Virgilio “Bagwis” Avila Jr., Mia Concordia, and Deo Trinidad for criticizing the provincial government’s supposed lackluster pandemic handling. All of which transpired in one September week.
Even with the estimated thousands of reported harassment cases on student publications since 2010, and the continued absence of justice for those who were killed in the infamous Ampatuan Massacre, it would take the shutdown of the massive ABS-CBN network, following a lengthy battle to stay on the air that ended with Congress refusing to renew their franchise despite several appeals, to shake the general population to their core.
As the fires of the early half of the year slowly died out, the reign of fire later brought rain of blood as powerful stirred winds made way for a series of storms. Without the broadcasting might of ABS-CBN’s Regional network, the whole Southern Tagalog and the rest of the Philippines would be kept in the dark from the carnage that typhoons Rolly and eventually Ulysses wrought.
Bicol and Cagayan among other areas were drowning in flash floods, and the rest of the country was drowning in a bloodbath. One that was brought upon by the latest cocktail from Duterte’s ivory tower.
Amid calls for mass testing and a less militarized response to the pandemic, Duterte and his fellow lapdogs raised their glasses for the signing of the Terror Law, an act that cemented suspicions that all other priorities have been overlooked in favor of enforcing the already flawed, already failing whole-of-nation approach to control armed conflict. Its vague measures on what counts as “free speech” and as “terrorist plotting” made it easy for state agents to randomly tag anyone as an armed rebel or a terrorist even if they had no concrete evidence to their claims.
Even before it was signed, there was definitely buzz surrounding the bill, since the ghosts of Duterte‘s 2016 War on Drugs still haunt and scream “murder” even in our times. It further gained prominence when the bill was being cited as grounds for arrest even before it was officially signed into law. Such was the case with incidents such as what happened with the Cebu 8.
With one signature, lo and behold. The true Duterte legacy would never be defined by the many bridges or roads built in his time, or the number of injustices that were eradicated under his name.
No, instead his legacy will be defined by the 20 arrests in one pride protest, the 11 initially detained in a peaceful protest in Cabuyao, the seven who were brought-in under trumped-up firearms charges last Human Rights Day, and many other arrests. Most infamously, the many who have died from the culture of impunity Duterte himself popularized among the police and the military.
If it were not a peace consultant being killed in his own Quezon City home, it would be the lone doctor in Negros and her husband the next day. If it would not be journalists this week, then it would be attorneys, an activist who happened to be a mother herself, indigenous folk minding their own businesses, a loving mother and her son, a grief-stricken ex-soldier or five mango farm workers with no ties with insurgency at all. All throughout, they were “NPA” in the eyes of policefolk, worthy enough to be ceaselessly red-tagged over and over again, or deemed as replaceable just for a quick paycheck.
Just bricks for Duterte’s empire.
Even as the year reached its natural conclusion, the waters of the storms, by the power vested upon by Duterte their messiah, became wine. That wine was their propaganda, served to the masses to hammer in their version of reality. The flavor was resiliency and misplaced optimism, weaponized for the students to continue studying in a doomed-to-fail online class set-up, for the citizens to drown their sorrows into the night and pray that they wake-up to a true sunrise.
The cup was overflowing, but the taste was sour, rotten, and evil.
2020 will never be remembered as another year done. Instead, it will be remembered as our ultimate hangover, our reality check, our withdrawal from the state’s deception and suppression. But 2021 can be better.
May our new year’s resolution be to not let another year pass without removing the venom in our nation’s soul.
Let 2021 be the year when fascists fall. [P]
Graphics by Jermaine Valerio