Newsbreak Yearender | 2017: The year of declinesdesktop
The year 2017 has been a period of decline in many ways – we saw the decline of peace, human rights and respect for human life, check and balance, democracy, independence and sovereignty
The year 2017 has no doubt been tiring and frustrating – it seems to have brought out the worst in some among us.
Criticisms, threats, and ad hominem attacks polluted the already toxic air of 2017, with some of the attacks even initiated and led by appointees to government posts. At the receiving end were independent institutions and media, along with democracy and human rights advocates.
The year 2017 has been a period of decline in many ways – we saw the decline of peace, human rights and respect for human life, check and balance, democracy, independence and sovereignty.
These are the stories that Newsbreak pursued in 2017 – the same stories (and more!) we hope to continue pursuing and tracking in 2018.
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THE DECLINE OF PEACE
Marawi witnessed one of the Philippine military's longest and bloodiest battles since World War II against local armed groups whose leaders pledged allegiance to the international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS).
President Rodrigo Duterte formally terminated the government's peace talks with the National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army. The self-proclaimed socialist didn't stop there and even tagged the NPA as a terrorist group.
Despite the "liberation" of Marawi from terror threats, Mindanao is still placed under martial law. Initially declared on May 23 through Proclamation 216, President Duterte asked Congress for an extension twice. Martial law will remain in effect for one more year, until the end of 2018.
THE DECLINE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The killings under Duterte's war on drugs continued in 2017 with the number of those killed in police operations reaching almost 4,000 – according to government-released data. Patricia Evangelista's series on police operations – particularly those in Quezon City – highlighted how the drug war is fought in places where privilege does not extend.
Cases involving teenagers like 17-year-old Kian delos Santos and 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz resulted in a public outcry, yet law authorities have refused to acknowledge that extrajudicial killings happened.
The year 2017 saw the defense of human rights being equated with opposition to national development. There has been a "muddling" of issues and disinformation on the concept of human rights, a challenge that advocates are grappling with.
In 2017, the President painted human rights defenders as an obstacle to his promised "change". They continue to be at the receiving end of harassment – rape and death threats, among others – as they continue to call out the government for violations under Duterte's war on drugs.
THE DECLINE OF CHECKS & BALANCES
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is facing an impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon. But if there is one thing that the impeachment proceedings have shown, it's the deep fissures in the Supreme Court. Other justices willingly testified against the Chief Magistrate herself, confirming talk that all is not well in the High Court.
The Office of the Ombudsman probed into the wealth of President Rodrigo Duterte's family and initial findings reflected a cash flow amounting to about P1 billion. This, along with accusations of selective investigations, led to threats of impeachment against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.
The past year showed Duterte's disdain for foreign bodies "meddling" in the country's internal affairs – especially if these concern alleged human rights violations. In 2017, he continued to repel investigations by international bodies and officials from the International Criminal Court and the United Nations.
THE DECLINE OF DEMOCRACY
The harassment and threats faced by journalists got worse in 2017. Rappler, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and ABS-CBN became the targets of Duterte's public tirades and relentless attacks by his followers and supporters. Yet Duterte told the media that he is not the enemy. How long before he hits journalists again?
The Philippines continued to battle fake news and trolls in 2017 – and based on how the Senate hearing on the issue was handled, 2018 might not be any different. The year 2017 was also the year of Mocha Uson as she was appointed assistant secretary in the Palace. Caught spreading disinformation several times, Uson claims she is a victim of fake news.
Pro-Duterte bloggers were legitimized by Malacañang by offering them perks and giving them special access to government officials. These bloggers – usually behind online attacks on both individuals and the media seen to be critical of government – serve as the eyes and ears of the administration's communications arm.
THE DECLINE OF INDEPENDENCE & SOVEREIGNTY
In 2017, Duterte asked and Congress delivered. Congressional investigations were initiated against "destabilizers", martial law in Mindanao was extended twice without Duterte even breaking a sweat, and an impeachment complaint against the President was junked, among others.
The Philippines used to be the strongest voice against China's aggression in the South China Sea. Under Duterte, the two countries formed a bond that could challenge the existence of a Hague ruling. A pragmatic Duterte has defended this position, saying the Philippines cannot afford to go to war with China. The rekindled friendship has resulted in the entry of a Chinese company as an investor that could break the current duopoly in the Philippine telecommunications industry.
As the chairperson of the 2017 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, the Philippines had the perfect avenue and opportunity to rally support for the Hague ruling against China, yet the government chose to downplay its legal victory in exchange for economic benefits and repulsion of an imagined war. After all, Duterte said, China "promised" that it would not build anything on Scarborough Shoal.