Annus horribilis is a detailed description of what has happened to the Republic of the Philippines since its founding in the summer of 1946.
At the beginning of January, the eruption of the Taal volcano (located about 50 kilometers south of the metropolis Manila) with nearly 1,500 deaths and severe devastation. Then, in March, the world’s toughest and longest lockdown, after the country’s president, Rodrigo R. Duterte, dismissed the Covid-19 pandemic as a “normal, harmless flu.” The National Police (PNP) was explicitly ordered to shoot anyone who dared to oppose the lockdown provisions if necessary. Meanwhile, there was a highly contradictory, sometimes chaotic crisis management system, which was also accompanied by scandals in the health care system and the relevant ministry, and which stoked resentment, frustration and anger on social media nationwide. Meanwhile, several high-ranking politicians, including a senator, the new PNP leader Debold Sinas, and Salvador Panelo and Harry Roque, Duterte’s former and current press secretary, each unabashedly claimed the right to appear in public in karaoke bars – well understood: without a mask and without prescribed social distancing.
The more deaths the Covid 19 pandemic claimed (on December 21, the number officially close to 9,000 victims) and the more opaque crisis management became, the more zealous Duterte and the generals in his cabinet and outside the world built up a threat backdrop to distract from the whining valley of real problems and henceforth dedicate himself to the fight against a built-up popdance – the “terrorism” in the form of “communism.”
Communist hatz in the spirit of McCarthyism
Suddenly, even well-respected public figures and popular stars from show business came under the spotlight, boasting that they had identified such individuals as “communists” or “supporters” and/or “sympathizers of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines).” As if that weren’t grotesque enough, especially in the face of devastating typhoons that whipped the country in November and deepened the country’s plight, Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Defense Affairs and the lead author of the deeply vague and controversial 2020 anti-terrorism law signed by Duterte in the summer, scheduled a month-long Senate hearing.
The focus was on investigations into the practice of so-called red tagging, the branding and stigmatizing of people as “red” relationship “communists”. The corresponding Senate hearings from the beginning of November to the beginning of December became more and more a costly spectacle, which offered high-ranking PNP officers and top military officials (AFP) a welcome platform to present themselves and the agenda of state counter-insurgengy (counter-insurgency) within the framework of the National Task Force for the End of Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Next year, this task force will have a budget of 19.13 billion pesos (equivalent to 396.7 million U.S. dollars) – an increase of 11 times the amount of aid this year! In the end, Lacson did not want to accept that the red tagging was demonstrably the victim of dozens of people and that those who were so stigmatized were acutely endangered and had to fear for their lives. He denied such dangers all around.
No wonder: this man, whom his friends briefly call “ping” and whom he cherishes as a hard-hitting law-and-order man, is a relic of the Marcos dictatorship (1972–86). Lacson initially served as an officer with a focus on intelligence and security in the then-dreaded Metropolitan Command in the capital region of Manila. Dozens of critical students who went to the barricades at the time were arrested and locked away on the orders of this same officer. From 1999 to 2001, Lacson was director general of the PNP before making a career as a senator.
Earlier, on September 22, Facebook had blocked two pro-government networks - consisting of a variety of pages, groups, and fake user accounts - that were allegedly linked to PNP and AFP actors. One of the networks was based in the PRC, the other in the Philippines. The deposed posts were written in Filipino and English and disseminated information about local news and events, including domestic politics, military activities against “terrorism”, the anti-terrorism law, criticism of communism, protests by young people, students and opponents, as well as the CPP and its guerrilla organization, the New People’s Army (NPA). A statement from Facebook said the reason for the removal was not the published content, but the coordinated and inauthentic behavior of the accounts towards the Philippine target audience. In response to the removal of the networks, President Duterte threatened to shut down the US social media platform in the Philippines.
“I shit on human rights” (Duterte)
A week before International Human Rights Day (December 10), the president was living in the city of Cavite, just a few miles south of Manila, and announced that he was “shit on human rights.” At the same time, he instructed “his” security forces to be the first to use the firearm, they wanted to avoid being shot by “drug dealers, criminals and terrorists.”
On December 7, after the military rejected a ceasefire between the AFP and the NPA between Christmas and New Year, Duterte declared that “there will be no ceasefire in the remaining 18 months of his term. and no peace talks”. “This attempt to destroy the CPP, NPA and the underground alliance of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP),” criticized the secretary general of the Philippine human rights organization Karapatan, Cristina Palabay, “without seriously addressing the long-standing problems of poverty, lawlessness and blatant inequality in the country, will not give a just and lasting peace. Instead, only the flames of armed conflict are being fanned.”
On Human Rights Day itself, the regime demonstrated once again that it is indeed “shit” on human rights. During December 10, Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem, who is part of the nationwide alternative media network, was arrested. In the course of further raids, union organizers and activists Rodrigo Esperago, Denisse Velasco, Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Astudillo, Jaymie Gregorio and Joel Demate were also apprehended on the same day. As always in such cases, in which the arrest of persons critical of the regime is concerned, the seven detainees have been charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
A common accusation on the part of the PNP, which always fabricates such “evidence” with brutal regularity in the course of raids. Amnesty International and relatives of those arrested pointed out in initial statements and statements that Salem and Esparago, who were arrested together, were forced to turn away for an hour so that they could not watch as the police searched their homes. Relatives of Velasco told the media that he had to lie face down on the floor during the entire police operation.
On December 13, two tribal leaders of indigenous peoples in the southern Philippines, Datu Winefredo Sumael (75) and Datu Raffy Alim (28), were attacked and killed by two gunmen on their way to a meeting of the Council of Elders in Bukidnon Province. On December 15, the guihulngan city health officer on the central Philippine island of Negros, who led the urban task force against COVID-19, Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan, was shot dead along with her husband Edwin on her way home from work. On December 17, Baby Maria Concepcion Landero-Ole, from Danao City , also in the central Philippines, was killed while driving her pick-up truck – the 54th murdered lawyer during Duterte’s four-and-a-half-year tenure.
Days and weeks earlier, Duterte’s henchmen had cold-bloodedly assassinated former NDFP peace advisers, who were supposed to have been protected years ago in security and immunity negotiations with the government in Manila. The victims included Julius Giron, Randy Malayao, Randall Echanis, Agaton Topacio and his wife Eugenia Magpantay – almost all of whom were in their 70s who were also seriously ill. The PNP’s tremolo-like statement was that the persons concerned were in illegal possession of explosives and weapons and had violently resisted their arrest despite valid house search warrants.
None of these “cases” have been investigated; they are part of what is euphemistically characterized in the Philippines as a “culture of impunity.”
Peaceful and joyless Christmas season
“The Advent season is just around the corner, but there is unrest,” the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) said bitterly on December 15, expressing deep concern “about the deteriorating prospects for peace in our country.” The PEPP, which is committed to peace and even more to the resumption of peace negotiations between the government and the NDFP, is jointly led by Bishop Emeritus Antonio J. Ledesma of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro (north of the southern island of Mindanao) and Rex B. Reyes Jr. of the Ecumenical Bishops' Forum and former Secretary General of the National Council of churches of the Philippines.
In recent years, it has always been common to agree a ceasefire negotiated jointly between the government and the NDFP over Christmas and New Year. This time, Duterte categorically rejected it. Then, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, a crime took place, which will also send people nationwide into anger, horror and sorrow over the holidays. On December 20, a police officer shot a woman and her son in broad daylight in a way that evokes images of a cold-blooded execution.
The video, which has since been released online by the high-profile Manila Bulletin newspaper, shows a “policeman in action” who has been suspended for noise pollution and has been investigated twice for manslaughter in the past year alone. The first reaction of the acting director general of the PNP, Debold Sinas, followed the score of the Dutertismo in a line-true way: The persons shown in the video, According to Sinas, had behaved disrespectfully towards a police officer and it was necessary to consider that persons who record such videos would in future be prosecuted!
Is the International Criminal Court intervening?
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, reported a week ago, on December 15, that she had found “sufficient evidence” in her preliminary investigation that crimes against humanity were committed in Duterte’s war on illegal drugs from 2016 to 2019 alone. Her office expects to make a decision in the first half of 2021 to open a full investigation into the complaints made against Duterte and other senior political officials.
Duterte’s reaction to the news: He wouldn’t mind going to jail if the ICC found him guilty. “I didn’t kill anyone,” Duterte insists, vehemently accusing his political opponents of allegedly providing false information to the ICC.