Tell it to SunStar: Robust democracy?

PRESIDENTIAL mouthpiece and apologist Salvador Panelo, in defending President Duterte from attacks that the latter committed crimes against humanity, said the Philippines had a “robust democracy” under President Duterte. This is an outrageous lie.

Let us examine whether we have a strong or robust democracy under Duterte’s watch. Firstly, democracy presupposes the existence of the rule of law. But under the present regime, the constitutional presumption of innocence and the requirements of due process have been bludgeoned.

Killing drug suspects without benefit of a trial as mandated by the Constitution has been its policy since the first day of the Duterte administration. In five months in 2017 alone, extrajudicial killings under Duterte occurred more than all the extrajudicial killings under the Marcos dictatorship and the combined terms of Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III covering more than 30 years.

The scope and magnitude of the massive extrajudicial killings prompted the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider them as crimes against humanity, and Duterte is now facing criminal charges before the ICC despite the country’s questionable withdrawal as member of the ICC in March 2018 on orders of President Duterte.

Panelo further stated that the President does not mind all this vilification, saying he “has not pressed any charges against anyone.” This is pure nonsense because President Duterte has been persecuting his critics to his heart’s content. A classic example is the case of Sen. Leila de Lima, an arch critic of the President, on his bloody war on drugs. Senator de Lima has been detained for almost three years after Duterte proudly announced that “she will rot in jail.”

Another victim of Duterte’s persecution is former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Early in Duterte’s presidency, he announced the alleged involvement of some judges in drugs, one of whom had already died a few years ago. The President wanted them to be investigated by the police. Chief Justice Sereno reminded President Duterte about the independence of the judiciary and that only the Supreme Court, not Duterte, can investigate judges. This earned the ire of the vindictive President.

Duterte’s minions in the House of Representatives initiated an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Sereno. Sensing however, that they do not have the numbers in the Senate to convict Sereno, the Palace changed strategy and adopted another strange method to oust the Chief Justice at all costs.

The President’s lapdog, Solicitor General Jose Calida, filed a quo warranto petition in the Supreme Court to seek Sereno’s ouster as Chief Justice on grounds that she did not prove her integrity. On May 11, 2018, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 8-6, ousted Sereno in a day of infamy.

With all these extrajudicial killings, violations of the Constitution and the President’s penchant for persecuting and silencing his critics and opponents, how can one say that we have a “robust” democracy? (By Democrito C. Barcenas)