We are back.
It’s the new year and this piece will be the maiden article by Backroom Politics for 2018.
Although we want to welcome 2018 with good thoughts, positive vibes and new hopes, looking back at the year that was prevents us from celebrating the dawn of the new year.
2017 was regrettably a horrible setback for the basic tenets of justice, human rights and democracy in the country. Throwing back to last year, it is not an exaggeration to say that the evil forces succeeded in taking over and ruling the nation.
It was a bloody 2017 as more and more people were killed in the name of the anti-poor and anti-people war on drugs of the murderous regime of President Rodrigo Duterte. We will never know if those who were executed are innocent or guilty precisely because they were not given an opportunity to defend themselves before the courts of the land.
It was a year when fundamental human and constitutional rights of the Filipino people were blatantly trampled upon by the State and its agents. Those who were brave enough to oppose the repressive policies of the administration were at the receiving end of the vindictive and oppressive tactics and schemes resorted to by the government.
Senator Leila de Lima, a harsh critic of Duterte from the time she was the head of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the time of former president Noynoy Aquino, became the first political prisoner under Duterte’s rule.
Immediately after winning as senator in 2016, De Lima called for a congressional investigation on the existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS) and its link to Duterte. Obviously, this did not sit well with the incumbent occupant in Malacanang. A presidential marching order followed suit directing the president’s allies in both houses of Congress and the DOJ led by Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to maximize government power and resources in order to harass, humiliate and silence Duterte’s number one political nemesis.
Lo and behold, De Lima was formally charged and eventually incarcerated on the basis of a defective criminal information with a non-existent corpus delicti which is a condition sine qua non (mandatory requirement) in drug cases.
For being deprived of liberty based on concocted charges described by Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio as “grossest injustice” in recent memory, De Lima, for us, became the poster girl of political persecution for 2017.
We also witnessed in 2017 how the wannabe dictator ala Ferdinand Marcos is circumventing and tinkering with the 1987 Philippine constitution when he declared martial law in Mindanao and then extended the same twice even in the absence of factual basis and conditions precedent provided under the constitution.
Duterte, who openly admits that he idolizes the late dictator Marcos, first declared martial law on May 2017 amid the ongoing clashes between government troops and Maute group terrorists in Marawi City. On July 2017, the martial declaration was extended for five months or until December 31, 2017. However, acting on the request of the president, lawmakers approved another extension which will supposedly last until the end of 2018 despite the glaring fact that actual rebellion or invasion, two grounds provided under the constitution as basis for martial law declaration, are no longer existing in the region.
The apparent abuse of power to use his martial law powers, purposely limited and subject to rigid safeguards in the constitution, is seen by many as a trial balloon on the part of Duterte and his like-minded allies to place the entire country under a dictatorial regime in the future.
2017 was also the year when constitutional, independent and democratic institutions were subjected to vicious and egregious attack from a president and his congressional lapdogs.
Former Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairman Andres Bautista was forced to resign when his marital spat with his estranged wife Patricia was used against him to blackmail and threaten him. Rumors have it that the person behind the squid tactic used against Bautista was former senator Bongbong Marcos. With the blessings of Duterte, Marcos wanted as head of Comelec someone whom they can control so that the body will not be a hindrance to his sinister plan to steal the vice-presidency from the duly-elected winner Vice-President Leni Robredo.
On September 2017, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) was given by the House of Representatives with a P1,000.00 budget for the fiscal year 2018 which essentially “abolished” the agency, a power that the lower house does not have considering the fact that the CHR is a constitutional body. Fortunately, after getting massive public backlash, the House restored the 600 million budget proposal for the CHR.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is fighting a meritless impeachment complaint initiated by a shady, mediocre lawyer who shamelessly admitted during the hearings that he has no personal and actual knowledge with respect to his allegations in his complaint. While Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has been facing the same impeachment threats by individuals and groups identified with or supporting the Duterte administration.
What is the common denominator between Sereno and Carpio-Morales? They are two independent and feisty woman who cannot be influenced or dictated upon to toe the line of the powers-that-be.
In short, if Duterte will have his way, there will be no room for dissent, criticism and democratic discourse under his rule. He is the law and we will have no choice but to follow him.
And while the administration is playing with the people’s rights and liberties, its coterie of corrupt and plundering political allies, close relatives and friends are having the best time of their lives enriching themselves at the expense of the Filipino people.
This was 2017 in a nutshell. A year of frustration, of shattered dreams, of darkness. A portent of more evil things to come in the next few years. That is if we will not get our acts together, if we will keep silent despite the gross injustice, and if the majority of the people will continue to play it safe and be fence-sitters while the enemies are robbing our public coffers, our cherished rights, our hard-fought freedom and our lives.
This was 2017. The year we said goodbye to the constitution, the rule of law and good governance.