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  • By Diana G Mendoza

Filipinos foresee persistent authoritarianism in 2018

Manila – When Isabelle, the teen granddaughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, posed for a photo shoot in designer gowns in front of the national coat of arms, seal and flag inside Malacanang Palace, the office of the president of the Philippines, Filipino netizens howled at the disrespect and impropriety.

Critics raised the act, which was reported as a pre-debut photo shoot, as a blatant violation of the Philippine Constitution that states the exclusive use of the symbols to represent only the president and vice president of the republic. Duterte defended the pictorial as a "small matter" as visitors also take photos inside the palace.

With the continuous exchange of tirades between Duterte's critics and supporters over small and big concerns, the Philippines saw its year-end political and social life further polarized with the ominous rise of the authoritarian characteristics of Duterte's government in the second year of his six-year term.

By the end of 2017, Duterte succeeded in making Congress, which is dominated by his allies, grant him powers to declare martial law anew in Mindanao for another year in 2018 apparently to quell terrorism.

Duterte, a former mayor of Davao City, the largest urban area in Mindanao, placed the island under military rule after extremist supporters of the Islamic State attacked Marawi City on May 23, 2017. He requested lawmakers to let him to extend martial law until Dec. 31, 2017. The attack on Marawi City, the island's purely Islamic city, prompted a humanitarian crisis.

Despite the defeat of the Islamic extremists in mid-October by the Philippine military, Duterte toyed with the idea of declaring martial law throughout the entire country to ensure public safety from the lingering terror threat and to preempt any actions by what he said are "enemies of the state," the communist armed insurgents under the New People’s Army.

The Philippine Congress also continued its impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, a critic of Duterte, even though the grounds that have been raised against the magistrate were unfounded, and has not stopped looking at possible impeachment proceedings against Conchita Carpio-Morales, the Ombudman, for speaking against Duterte. The Supreme Court already has a majority of nine supporters of Duterte.

Along with its penchant for impeachments, Congress has also continued to speed up the process to shift the country's form of government to a federal system that would give way to a new constitution that provides extraordinary powers to the president. The move would also make Congress a constituent assembly, no longer the so-called "conscience of the nation," forcing the supposed independent body to further defer to Duterte instead of providing the checks on any abuse of power by him and the executive branch of government.

The federal system would put into place a "revgov," a new buzzword to mean revolutionary government, which would install a new constitution with transitory provisions that will entrust the entire government in the hands of Duterte alone.

Filipino activists have formed groups to continue raising the imminent escalation of authoritarianism and the demise of democracy under Duterte.

Professor Randy David, of the University of the Philippines, and columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said the Philippines is trapped under the rule of “Dutertismo,” which he defined as "the Filipino incarnation of a style of governance enabled by the public’s faith in the capacity of a tough-talking, willful, and unorthodox leader to carry out drastic actions to solve the nation’s persistent problems."

The word doesn't rhyme with authoritarianism, but David wrote that the way Duterte thrives in his dictatorial and populist style of rule under a political culture that has seen authoritarian leaders basking in the thought that they can save the nation from destruction and that many people believe in them because they overwhelmingly voted them into office.

A martial law that can be declared in the entire archipelago depending on Duterte's mood and a looming federal government that gives him absolute power is what Filipinos will be confronting in 2018.


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