“Duterte, why are you obsessed with me? — PH military, maybe”

By: Alonzo dela Cruz

Artwork by: Mika de Castro

It is pretty obvious that Duterte loves the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) receives sharply more funding every year, significantly more than the agencies providing basic social services like the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare and Development. As a result, salaries of the military significantly increased.

Source: DBM, DOH, Rappler

Just like toys, he likes to display them in his Cabinet. Duterte is pretty explicit in his love for his dolls as he, on numerous occasions, expressed his preference for military men in the Cabinet due to their “efficiency and training in the chain of command”.

Some of the key departments in the government are headed by retired generals and you would wonder how were these old men qualified for the posts? I wonder how the brrt brrt could solve problems on environment and social welfare. Our country has lots of experts on environment and social welfare, heck, we even have courses on environmental sciences and social work. I am not gatekeeping who should sit in government posts but it’s pretty obvious retired generals are not obvious choices in these departments especially with the military having records of human rights violations. Make it make sense.

Duterte is very cunning with this move, I may say. He seems to be evading the fate of Marcos and Estrada with the military dropping the ball on them. At the same time, the increasing favoritism of Duterte towards the military serves as a way for him to further his fascistic schemes to silence dissent from the people.

Look at the current practice of the military in red-tagging rights advocates as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines — New People’s Army — National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). Numerous cases of violence towards activists were reported during the Duterte administration, including the recent tanim baril scheme where suspicious search warrants were done, leading to “finding high caliber guns and explosives’’ which is a non-bailable offense. Other than that, trumped-up charges such as murder are being filed againsts rights defenders, or worse, killings.

Weirdly, military officials such as National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año defend red-tagging, claiming that they are not red-tagging activists. Instead, they say activists are red-tagging themselves by being involved with organizations Jose Maria Sison mentioned as part of the national democratic revolution.

Also, these officials say they are only guilty of “truth-tagging” as if a sweeping assumption towards rights defenders has in itself any semblance of truth. And even if there is, it does not justify choosing violence as the first option and violating due process that is an inalienable right. In fact, local and international institutions such as the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the United Nations posited that such practices of the government are violative of basic human rights, even to an extent, of international humanitarian laws.

Many individuals already died during this administration brought about by these red-tagging practices, further intensified by its institutionalization through the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Some of them are: Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan, Ryan Hubilla, Nelly Bagasala, Nonoy Palma, Zara Alvarez, Randall Echanis, Jory Porquia, Carlito Badion.

Aside from the death tolls, a number of political prisoners are detained. Many of them were victims of the tanim baril scheme. Some of them are Reina Mae Nasino, Beatrice Belen, and Amanda Echanis. According to Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay, 400 out of the 656 political prisoners arrested during Duterte’s term are facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Even celebrities like Angel Locsin are not safe from government’s red-tagging. That is a choice of a claim because you would question, how are these celebrities even part of the New People’s Army (NPA) when NPAs are in the mountains and rural areas full-time? It doesn’t add up, really.

Clearly, Duterte has used the military to silence dissent and normalize a culture of impunity. Any form of criticism to the government is immediately responded to with redtagging, tanim baril, and killings. This tantrum by Duterte reminds me of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. However, this behavior is not acceptable in any way as lives are at stake.

Aside from the military as a toy for him to act like a fascist brat, he uses them as well to forward private interests. Remember when former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Gina Lopez was aggressively against mining companies and shut them down due to damages to the environment? After her appointment getting rejected, a retired general, Roy Cimatu, was put into post and voila, these mining companies are back again. There were even numerous cases where the military is used by the administration against indigenous peoples who struggle for their ancestral lands and self-determination, only to benefit mining and energy companies.

Obviously, this obsession is not faring well, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. Who in their right mind, in the middle of a global health crisis, would appoint retired military officials to handle the pandemic and not… let’s say, the obvious options such as doctors and other health professionals? The top 3 officials of the National Action Plan (NAP) are Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, and Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. Again, how can the brrt brrt solve the COVID-19 crisis? The supposed use of the military in this lockdown as implementers of the quarantine smokescreens Duterte’s lack of plan in finding a vaccine or even strengthening the public health system to better fight the virus. Well, he said before that he will shoot the veerus. Perhaps that is the way.

Duterte likes to play with his military dolls whenever societal problems arise but governing is no child’s play. People are dying, Brenda.

What now? Really, what now?

References:

https://mb.com.ph/2020/11/03/generals-tell-senate-that-leftist-groups-red-tagged-themselves-not-the-military/

https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/lives-in-danger-duterte-government-red-tagging-campaign

https://manilastandard.net/news/top-stories/338101/lacson-sets-investigation-of-red-tagging-of-celebrities-by-military.html

https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1123408

https://www.dbm.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/Our%20Budget/2017/PBQuick%20Glance-final.pdf

https://doh.gov.ph/doh-budget

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA3505872019ENGLISH.pdf

https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1372571/activists-say-killing-of-iatf-doctor-enough-proof-on-dangers-of-red-tagging

https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/philippines-label-can-take-your-life

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/10/27/2052669/rights-groups-urge-release-red-tagged-gabriela-official-detained-cordillera

https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1367789/kmp-tags-sinas-in-alleged-planting-of-evidence-vs-red-tagged-activists

https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/things-to-know-philippines-national-action-plan-coronavirus-outbreak

https://www.rappler.com/nation/carlito-galvez-chief-implementer-policy-coronavirus

https://www.landislife.org/indigenous-people-of-the-philippines-call-on-duterte-government-to-stop-attacks-470/

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The Institute advances ideas and information campaigns on social issues to ferment a nationalist consciousness for the interest of the people’s welfare