POSTSCRIPT / July 25, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Du30 hits miners, human rights critics

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte told mining companies yesterday to stop raping the environment, declare their true income and pay the correct taxes otherwise he would directly correct the imbalance in the ecosystem and the injustice inflicted on surrounding communities.

The President’s warning was contained in his ad libs during his two-hour delivery of his State of the Nation Address in the opening joint session of the 17th Congress.

Duterte said the contributions of all mining operations and contractors to the economy are small compared to the “unbridled and irresponsible destruction over watersheds, forests, and aquatic resources.”

He also blasted away at foreign critics bewailing supposed violations of human rights in connection with the killing of suspected drug dealers and users. He said these foreigners ignore the reality that drugs destroy youths, families and eventually the entire nation.

Mr. Duterte, a lawyer, reminded his listeners, including foreign diplomats in the chamber, that the Philippines follows the revised penal code which, he said, recognizes the principle of retribution. He pleaded for the victims of heinous crimes such as rape and murder.

In the same combative tenor, he justified the resort to martial law as a weapon against a serious threat to the survival of the republic. He pointed out that the problem is not confined to Marawi, where Maute terrorists had holed up, but has affected scattered places in Mindanao.

The extension of martial law in Mindanao till the end of the year gives the Duterte administration fresh hope to bring peace finally to that war-weary island – but may have also given it enough rope to hang itself.

By arming the Commander-in-Chief with the ultimate weapon that he has been asking for, the Congress has pushed him and the country to the brink. Either we soar now into a new era of peace, or fall off the cliff together.

The President said he needed an extension until Dec. 31, 2017, to quell the rebellion in Marawi and wipe out the decades-old lawlessness plaguing Mindanao. By an overwhelming vote of 261-18, the complicit Congress handed it to him.

Now fully armed with the weapon of his choice, failure in Mindanao is no longer an option for President Duterte. But if failure does come, it won’t be that difficult making up excuses.

He can always reel out the old line that the rebels, terrorists, or whatever they are labelled in battle reports, had slipped from Mindanao and gained a foothold in the Visayas, Luzon and maybe even in the national capital in Metro Manila.

The spread of that security problem is possible since it seems unlikely that the martial law regime could wipe out in the next five months the secessionist lawlessness that has ravaged Mindanao in the past five decades.

Will Mr. Duterte then send another urgent message to his ever loyal allies in the Senate and the House, for them to crank out another extension, plus the widening beyond Mindanao of the martial law area? Most likely Yes, this observer thinks.

It is disturbing to some that the extension of martial law by 160 more days has helped condition the unwary public to accepting military dominance and human rights limitations, and even to creeping authoritarianism.

Resorting to martial law is much like using pain killers, such as fentanyl, that could be addictive if improperly used. Inadequately supervised, the patient on fentanyl could end up asking for more of the opioid.

Martial law could be similarly addictive, until it becomes the new normal.

As we watched helplessly outside the Congress last Saturday, we wondered if it ever occurred to the 16 senators and 245 congressmen who voted Yes that they were actually giving President Duterte enough rope to hang himself — and the nation.

• Painting a panorama of peace, plenty

BUT that is a pessimistic anticipation of what martial law may bring, contrary to the more optimistic outlook that the President was expected to summon in his State of the Nation Address before the Congress yesterday.

(As this column is being written ahead of the President’s 15-page speech, we can rely only on scant advance information coming from Malacañang on the SONA.)

We expect the President to promise a return to normalcy in Mindanao before the yearend, the containment of the rebellion in Marawi and the city’s quick rehabilitation, a reduction of the depredation of terrorists, rebels and armed groups in the south, and the adoption of a federated system that includes Muslim Mindanao under a new Bangsamoro charter.

As his martial law regime depends largely on the armed forces, he will heap praise and renew his gratitude and support to the troops (“my soldiers,” he refers to them, a melodramatic detail that Brillante Mendoza, who will direct the SONA extravaganza, must not miss.)

To the police carrying the brunt of his bloody anti-drug drive criticized by local and foreign advocacy groups, Mr. Duterte can be expected to renew to them his support, protection, even presidential pardon, when they carry out his orders to neutralize suspects “who resist.”

The President is expected to roll out statistics painting a panorama of peace and prosperity – boasting of his “Build! Build! Build!” infrastructure program, citing improving figures on foreign investments, job generation and poverty alleviation, manageable inflation, and a rising gross national product. Critics will question the figures.

He will praise the heroic toil of Overseas Filipino Workers contributing some $2 billion a month to the national product and who will benefit from the decline of the peso’s exchange rate vis-à-vis the US dollar.

A positive and upbeat report of the Commander-in-Chief will be a big relief to the nation worried over the negative effects of the Marawi insurrection on the entire nation and how the watching world sees the Philippines.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 25, 2017)

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