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Another long dark night. This was what I thought when Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. succeeded Rodrigo Duterte as president and Sara Duterte became vice president over a year ago. Since 2016, the country went through a dark period ruled by an incompetent autocrat that surpassed the brutality and corruption under the Marcos dictatorial era.
The return to power of another Marcos and the assurance of Duterte’s daughter succeeding him was indeed bad news to many hoping for a better future. To many, this meant the perpetuation of poverty, injustice, impunity, corruption, disinformation, red-tagging, armed conflict, and subservience to China. I didn’t expect to hear any good news under the new administration. Sharing the despair of many, I was bracing for a long dark night.
I continue to hear a lot of bad news nowadays. Over 400 sporadic cases of extrajudicial killings have been reported by Human Rights Watch from July 2022 to November 2023. The national debt has soared to over P14.2 trillion. The recent Social Weather Stations survey reported that 13.2 million Filipino families (48%) rate themselves poor. The price of basic commodities continues to rise while the purchasing power of the peso keeps going down. For many Filipinos, this is going to be a bleak Christmas.
But it is not all bad news. We also hear good news that brings hope and joy. After over six years of detention on false charges, ex-senator Leila de Lima, who had investigated the extrajudicial killings, has finally been freed. Unlike the previous administration which weaponized the justice system to persecute Duterte’s enemies, the new administration has kept a hands-off stance.
Many of the witnesses against de Lima have recanted after admitting that they were forced to falsely testify against her by the former Department of Justice (DOJ) secretary Vitaliano Aguirre. The Court of Appeals also ordered the Ombudsman to hear the case which it had earlier dismissed filed by de Lima against two former Duterte DOJ secretaries – Aguirre and Menardo Guevarra.
Another surprising development is the resolution of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights of the House of Representatives asking President Marcos Jr. to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the investigation of extrajudicial killings in the War on Drugs. The president is also studying the possibility of the Philippines rejoining the ICC. This is unexpected since Marcos earlier signified his policy of non-cooperation with the ICC and not allowing the ICC investigators to enter the country.
The House of Representatives with the concurrence of the Senate has also scrapped the P650 million Confidential and Intelligence Fund (CIF) that Vice President Sara Duterte requested for her office as well as the Department of Education (DepEd) which she heads. The Makabayan bloc earlier opposed the unprecedented inclusion of the vice president’s CIF in the national budget arguing that this was unnecessary since the previous vice president as well as the secretary of education never had any.
The House Committee on Legislative Franchises is also investigating Pastor Apollo Quiboloy’s Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) for peddling fake news, disinformation, and red-tagging.
The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) has suspended two SMNI programs, Lorraine Badoy and Jeffrey Celiz’s Laban Kasama ang Bayan, and Duterte’s Gikan sa Masa.
The House committee has recommended the suspension of SMNI to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) while the HOR continues tackling the bill that would revoke SMNI’s franchise. This means that Duterte could lose his media platform in his attack against the Marcos-Romualdez camp and in promoting his political agenda.
Meanwhile, the Committee on Women, Children, and Gender Equality will be investigating Pastor Quiboloy on charges of human trafficking, sexual harassment and rape in January 2024.
In another surprise development, President Marcos Jr. announced an amnesty program for rebels and the resumption of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) that will address the roots of the armed conflict in line with his program of reconciliation and national unity. This is a departure from the approach of the Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (TF-ELCAC) which centered on the elimination of the CPP/NPA/NDF, and red-tagging which often leads to the harassment and assassination of those tagged as communists.
All these changes show that Marcos has veered away from Duterte’s policies and authoritarian style of governance. These manifest the widening rift between Marcos and Duterte. The former president is angry due to the rejection of his daughter’s request for the Confidential and Intelligence Fund, the present administration’s anti-China and pro-US foreign policy shift, and the serious consideration of the government’s cooperation with the ICC. This explains his criticism against President Marcos and the House of Representatives led by Speaker Martin Romualdez whom he accuses of being corrupt and in alliance with communists.
Given a weak democratic opposition, he apparently intends to lead the opposition against the administration. But there are only a handful left in his party – the PDP-Laban. His members and allies have defected to the dominant political party supporting Marcos, the Lakas-CMD and Partido Federal.
After finishing his term, Duterte’s power and influence have declined leaving him vulnerable and impotent. The year 2028 is so far away unless something happens to Marcos, and Sara succeeds prematurely.
Duterte’s appeal for nonpayment of taxes, his supporters’ call for people power, and the Let Sara Lead campaign have been ignored. He is suspected of promoting the destabilization efforts and agitation for a military coup that can bring his daughter to power and protect him from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Being arrested and tried for murder and crimes against humanity, and sentenced to spend the remaining years of his life in the ICC prison will be too humiliating.
Meanwhile, he is facing a court case of grave death threats filed by ACT Representative Castro which was aired in his SMNI TV program Gikan sa Masa Para Sa Masa.
The break between the President and VP Sara is now apparent as she publicly opposes government cooperation with the ICC, the amnesty program, and the agreement to resume peace negotiations with the NDF which she calls a “pact with the devil.”
Her pro-China stance is also opposite to Marcos’ pro-US policy shift. Her ambition to be the next president is imperiled as she could also be subject to ICC investigation for complicity in extrajudicial killings when she was mayor of Davao and as her approval ratings keep going down in recent surveys.
We are indeed witnessing a changing political climate. These unexpected positive trends and developments under the Marcos Jr. administration should be welcomed, appreciated, and supported. The Church – the clergy, religious, and laity – should take a stance of critical cooperation.
This means not merely denouncing specific abuses and corruption under the Marcos administration but also supporting the call to reconciliation and unity as well as the calls to cooperation in ICC investigation, rejoining the ICC, and the resumption of the peace process with the NDF that addresses the roots of the armed conflict.
We should constantly remind the government that all these are not enough unless the problems of poverty, corruption, and climate change are seriously addressed. We should also be wary lest all these developments are a ploy to maintain the Marcos-Romualdez family in power perpetually.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and the coming of light into the world, we are reminded that amid the darkness there is light. We should not despair nor lose hope. The prospect for peace and justice is bright in the years to come if the trend continues. – Rappler.com
Fr. Amado Picardal is a Redemptorist priest and peace and human rights advocate. He holds a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome. He was executive co-secretary of the Commission of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation of the Union of Superiors General in Rome.