2019: Lawlessness in the Philippines under Duterte

Rappler Investigative Team
Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative and research section, tracks stories that depict lawlessness in the Philippines, aided by policies and orders that veer toward authoritarianism

MANILA, Philippines – The land is the Philippines, the law is President Rodrigo Duterte, and the method is fear. This was the situation this year as Duterte’s term hit its halfway mark in 2019.  

We heard it straight from him many times in the past 12 months, most recently when he directed authorities to arrest people caught using electronic cigarettes or vapes in public. 

“Never mind the law, the law will come,” Duterte said on November 20. In the same breath, he threatened judges against issuing restraining orders. “I will not follow your orders,” the President warned them. 

Duterte’s words led to the arrest of at least 243 persons across the Philippines for vaping. With no law to back them up, police eventually released them after taking them into custody and letting them go through documentation. 

Still, it was enough to conclude that what Duterte wants, Duterte gets – even if it means doing away with constitutionally protected rights. 

Vapers weren’t the only victims of Duterte’s orders, often verbal only, that challenge the limits of Philippine laws. We’ve seen this since 2016 – the lifeless bodies on the streets, an ousted chief justice, and opposition figures facing legal cases or detained, among others.  

In 2018, a decline in democracy was seen in a country that toppled a dictatorship more than 3 decades ago. A year later in 2019, things may have turned for the worse as Duterte’s disregard of due process and the law cast a wider net, affecting more and more Filipinos. 

Former convicts, freed through the contested Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law, were ordered to surrender or else be branded as fugitives. The President insisted that the police do not need arrest warrants. 

Human rights defenders continue to be harassed and tagged as enemies of the state. Progressive groups were arrested while their safe spaces were raided. Legitimate criticism has been branded as efforts to destabilize the Duterte government. 

The number of slain lawyers and judges continues to rise, along with local executives, in various parts of the Philippines. Negros Island has become a worse version of its past, turning into killing fields sprayed with the blood of farmers and labor leaders, among others. 

A disconnect still exists between Duterte’s campaign promise of standing up to China and his actions in office. In fact, Filipino fishermen, once left to die by a Chinese vessel in Philippine waters, were again left to fend for themselves by their own government in their search for justice.

We are now witnessing and feeling the immediate effect of threats that chip away at institutions meant to protect and strengthen democracy. The Philippines now is a gloomy picture of deteriorating respect for the rule of law and unending actions under the guise of constitutional legitimacy. 

What has happened to the Philippines? In the past 12 months, Newsbreak, Rappler’s research and investigative arm, tried to make sense of incidents, controversies, and events that shaped the nation and led to the erosion of the rule of law. 

The team pursued stories, tracking the country’s descent into lawlessness, aided by policies and orders that veer toward authoritarianism.

These are the stories that reflect the unfortunate new normal in what was once a vibrant democracy. – Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler.com

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