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MANILA, Philippines – For the first time since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed power, militant groups will feature, and burn, a monstrous effigy said to embody the “authoritarian tendencies” of the new leader.
The effigy, which illustrates the thorny issues that increasingly test the endurance of the alliance between the Duterte administration and the Left, will be the centerpiece of the groups’ parade marking International Human Rights Day on Saturday, December 10.
Measuring 12 feet high and 30 feet long, the effigy bears elements that symbolize, among others, the growing human rights concerns of local advocates and the international community, spurred by the rising number of deaths in the government’s war on drugs.
“The effigy depicts the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses and continuing state fascism, including extrajudicial killings, the non-release of political prisoners, and continuing military operations,” militant rights group Karapatan said.
The effigy features the head of dictator Ferdinand Marcos attached to a skeleton to symbolize the “resurrection and rehabilitation of the Marcoses” under the Duterte administration, according to artist Luigi Almuena, spokesperson of UgatLahi, which created the centerpiece of Saturday’s protest.
This is in reference to the dictator’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani which Duterte had allowed in fulfillment of a campaign promise to the Marcoses.
One of the figure’s hands is ironclad, dripping with blood. Below it are piled-up bodies symbolizing impunity and the spate of alleged extrajudicial killings linked to Duterte’s drug war.
The corpses also represents continued military operations despite an indefinite ceasefire declaration from the government to boost peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF).
“Despite a unilateral ceasefire declaration from the Duterte government, there has been no let-up in combat operations in rural communities,” Palabay said.
‘Kalansay na nga, binuhay pa’
The use of the late strongman’s head in the effigy highlights the issue that has recently mobilized thousands of young people and various groups – Duterte’s ties with the Marcoses that paved the way for the burial of the dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. (READ: Youth leaders to Duterte: Shame on you for ‘cleaning Marcos’ image’)
“Kalansay na nga, binuhay pa (He resurrected the dead),” a young activist said as she stared at the effigy.
She is appalled that a hero’s burial was given to Marcos while Martial Law victims are still crying for justice.
The Marcoses had been accused of amassing ill-gotten wealth with various estimates pegging the loot between $5 billion to $10 billion. (READ: Recovering Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth: After 30 years, what?)
Imprint of martial law
Karapatan also called on Duterte to release about 400 political prisoners from the administration of Marcos to the present.
“Political prisoners, a vivid imprint of Martial Law, exist to this day despite commitments and agreements in the (government and NDF) peace process,” Palabay said.
Relatives of political prisoners reminded Duterte that their call is long overdue.
“Matagal ko nang ninanais ang paglaya ng aking asawa. Alalang-alala ako sa kalagayan niya kasi may karamdaman siya,” Gloria Almonte said.
Almonte’s 59-year-old husband, Dionisio, who is detained at Camp Bagong Diwa, suffers from hypertensive cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Almonte participated in the 7-day “solidarity fasting” with other relatives and supporters of political prisoners that dramatized their call to free political prisoners on humanitarian grounds.
The President had said that he would not release political prisoners as they were the government’s leverage in the peace negotiations.
‘Full fascist monster’
Karapatan urged Duterte to listen to the growing clamor to stop impunity in the Philippines allegedly caused by his so-called “war on drugs.”
“People will eventually brand him as a full fascist monster. Time is ticking for him to act on these human rights issues,” Palabay said, warning that protest actions will intensify if the President would refuse to address human rights violations.
Between July 1 and December 3, there have been over 5,800 deaths linked to the “war on drugs” – both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings (including deaths under investigation). (READ: IN NUMBERS: The Philippines’ war on drugs)
The Philippine National Police (PNP) calls its campaigns against illegal drugs Oplan Double Barrel and Oplan TokHang. (READ: Warning to drug dealers: PNP has ‘double barrel’ plan)
After holding hearings on extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration, the Senate committee on justice and human rights recently concluded that Oplan TokHang violates the people’s constitutional rights. However, it noted that neither Duterte nor the state is sponsoring the killings. (READ: Draft Senate report on killings: Oplan TokHang unconstitutional)
Karapatan also blasted Duterte for appointing Lieutenant General Eduardo Año as the new Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff.
A veteran intelligence officer, Año scored some of the biggest arrests of communist leaders including Communist Party of the Philippines leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, now temporarily freed from detention as NDF consultants in the peace negotiations.
“Año is expected to adhere to the same counter-insurgency framework that results in more human rights violations,” Palabay said referring to Oplan Bayanihan.
About 10,000 protesters are expected to converge at Liwasang Bonifacio where they will hold a program late Saturday afternoon. After the program, they will march to the historic Mendiola bridge near Malacañang where they will torch the effigy.
In July, militant groups broke tradition when they shunned the usual effigy of the sitting president and featured a peace-oriented mural as the centerpiece of their State of the Nation Address rally – a reflection of their alliance with the Duterte administration. – Rappler.com