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Dateline Seattle: What is Next?

Revocation of Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ amnesty. Unjust incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima. Revival of double murder case against former Representative Satur Ocampo and three others though later dismissed. Sham electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo. Removal of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Revocation of Rappler’s license. What is next? The question is not meant to scare those who are actively opposing the government of President Rodrigo Duterte or to wish ill on the Duterte administration. But given the pattern of intimidation against political activists that include Church people and the media, it feels appropriate to ask the question. For any individual who wants to exercise one’s freedom to dissent, it is normal to ask if he or she is next in the order list to be harassed, intimidated or even imprisoned by the government. The things that are happening in the Philippines today are the kinds of things one would not want to see happen under a democratic form of government. What is worse is that Duterte wants a Marcos to succeed him, thereby consolidating his power and expressly favoring dictatorship rather than following the presidential succession mandated by the constitution. With a government that is critical, at the very least, of the importance of existing international organizations like the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the United Nations Commission on Human Rights – organizations that Filipinos can avail to settle disputes and seek redress – the people are left with no legal recourse. Not even the Supreme Court, planted with the president’s judicial appointees, can be relied upon as a neutral and impartial arbiter. Duterte’s style of governance and lack of sensitivity oftentimes spell trouble for him personally and for the government. He is greeted with demonstrators everywhere he goes, the latest being in Israel where he was criticized for comparing his crackdown on drug dealers and addicts to the Holocaust. His bad mouthing of the Pope, the European Union, the United Nations and anyone who does not agree with him and his policies and his proclivity to use foul language reflect negatively on the government especially abroad. But that’s his style, his supporters would say. He speaks what’s in his mind. He is transparent. His verbal lapses and inappropriate moments like kissing women are incidents that only the biased media report, but the majority of the people won’t make too much of them. Really? A reality check is probably in order. Like many other despots or breakers of traditional democratic norms like respect for human rights and international laws, Duterte’s term will not last forever. When it happens, his supporters will distance themselves from him. It’s back to the survival of the fittest for many of his followers. Outside of Duterte’s children and family members and relatives, who will be left to support him when the time comes? Maybe Bong Go and Manny Pacquiao will remain loyal to Duterte. Maybe Teresita Leonardo de Castro will be there to defend Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Maybe Gen. Ronald de la Rosa will be by his side to defend him from the angry parents of addicts killed during Operation Tokhang.. Maybe Bongbong Marcos is now the president and will pardon him. Point being, there will be little cheering of the kind seen when he was proclaimed president of the Philippines in 2016. Duterte’s inability to respect life and muster basic decency, and tendency to manipulate the laws to work on his favor, his popularity notwithstanding, will be his Achilles heel. As is true of us all, he probably does not think about these because he is still in power. But there is wisdom here if only he will start to reflect.

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