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OPINION | Duterte’s abuse of power

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte unleashed, or caused to be unleashed, the full powers of government against one woman — opposition Sen. Leila de Lima — which has resulted in her being incarcerated for two years now, while embroiled in legal battles (three, so far), fighting charges that can only be described as ridiculous.

As if not content with showing that he could control the legislature and the judiciary (supposedly independent) to do his bidding, the President then, and/or his willing government minions, have made that incarceration as unpleasant an experience as possible.

What is “unpleasant”? Try isolated,  cramped quarters, sans TV, sans radio, sans computer, sans cell phone and other devices to further emphasize the isolation. From 5 p.m. to 6 a.m., she is incommunicado. Her staff go to her with communications and legal pouches (subject to scrutiny/confiscation by her jailers) for at most an hour during the day. Her jailers have several times forbidden foreign delegations and legislators from visiting her, even if these visitors had followed every step of the application process.

Is this shameful treatment of De Lima an isolated case? It may have started out as one, but apparently delighted by the obeisance of the legislature and the judiciary, a pattern seems to have emerged. First, a victim is selected — one who has dared to tell Mr. Duterte, no matter how politely, that he is wrong. Then he attacks that victim publicly, during press conferences or a speech, and since he is the President, a gullible public takes him seriously.

Enter his minions in the government agencies, i.e., Bureau of Internal Revenue, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Immigration, who manage to get  “evidence” to support whatever the President wishes. Then other branches of government weigh in, accepting the charges at face value, and deciding almost always in his favor. It is a legal farce, except the victims, like De Lima, are not laughing. De Lima, as I said, will have spent two years in detention by next week for displeasing the President. The drug charges are just a cover-up.

Who are the other victims? Surely you remember. There is Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. There is Sister Patricia Fox.

There is also Sen. Antonio Trillanes, who is putting up one hell of a fight and has been helped by the courage of a judge who refused to play ball with the powers that be. (Yes, Reader, we still have good judges, but they are a dying breed.) We don’t know yet how it will end, but the fact that he will no longer be a senator come July is an ominous portent.

And now we have Maria Ressa, one of Time Magazine’s  Persons of the Year for 2018. (De Lima, too, is multi-awarded, and we are talking here of credible international awards.)  The Bureau of Internal Revenue has been hounding her, and the latest is her arrest at the close of office hours so she could not immediately post bail, on a charge that the National Bureau of Investigation had said (in pre-Duterte times) was baseless. This is a blatant example of the in-your-face, what-are-we-in-power-for tactics used by the current dispensation.

Mr. Duterte uses his power, it seems, not only to crush people he doesn’t like, but also to build up people he does like.  As he has done with Bong Go, who, with a net worth of only 12.8 million pesos (which includes cash of about 3 million pesos) has managed to spend in the last year (January 2018-January 2019), according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the sum of 422.5 million pesos, mostly on TV ads, billboards, etc. Go’s ads focus on his closeness to the President, and, in fact, usually picture them together.

Has this kind of abuse of power been done by other presidents? Except for Marcos, I can’t think of any. And Marcos had martial law behind him.

Early on into the Duterte watch, former Sen. Rene Saguisag addressed him thusly: “I believe your title is President, not King. You demand respect but seem to be incapable of giving any. We elected a leader, not a ruler, and you can’t seem to tell the difference.”

Alas, Rene, neither, it seems, can the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives, a majority of senators, a host of government agencies, and, sadly, a great number of Filipinos.