The presidency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte is certainly one that has proven to be memorable. Yet, whether it be his decorum and speech, his stark disdain for drugs, or his use of unconventional methods in obtaining or maintaining peace and order, Filipinos are divided on whether to view this regime in a positive or negative light. Now in part five of this six-part Probe series, we continue to look back at the incumbent president’s reign, before we soon welcome the nation’s new chief executive.
2020 & 2021: COVID-19 and Beyond
While countless Filipinos began the new decade with a hopeful heart and an optimistic mindset, 2020 and 2021 are easily remembered by many as years of difficulty and loss. Yet, even though those two years will inevitably be known as years under a pandemic, COVID-19 was but one of the issues that plagued the Philippines in those times.
Duterte’s fourth and fifth years of presidency exposed his insufficient sense of urgency in crucial times, and his lack of empathy when his people struggled the most.
Debatable COVID-19 Response
On March 9, 2020, President Duterte signed Proclamation No. 922, declaring a public health emergency due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases, before placing the whole country under a state of calamity on March 16. The next day, Luzon was set under its first Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), where almost all public institutions and forms of transport were closed down and citizens were advised to stay at home, unless it was essential to do so. The president also approved the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act in March 2020, as well as the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act in September, both of which aimed to strengthen the government’s COVID-19 response.
He then went on to implement multiple community quarantines throughout the pandemic—from extending and updating ECQs, to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantines, to General Community Quarantines, depending on what the situation called for. However, these restrictions were only band-aid solutions, because while they did prevent people from going outside too much and spreading the virus, they did not mitigate its socioeconomic effects.
For instance, despite healthcare workers being commended as one of the heroes of this pandemic, they have been severely overworked and underpaid. “Maraming healthcare workers ang pagod, umiiyak, naglalabas ng galit, o nagre-resign na sa trabaho. Nagdurugo ang puso namin, at humihingi kami ng patawad, sa mga pasyenteng kinakailangang tanggihan dahil ‘di na kayang ma-admit,” said Philippine College of Physicians president Dr. Maricar Limpin in a September press briefing.
Additionally, with education being all the more amplified as a privilege than a right, a record number of three million students were unenrolled by September of 2020. Many workers had also been laid off as many companies adopted the No Work, No Pay policy, and unemployment shot up to its highest at 17.6% in April 2020.
The government should have been more head-on and transparent in solving the virus in order to preserve the holistic well-being of its people, but the efforts seemed to be lacking in comparison to what was needed.
Further, in 2021, the Commission on Audit found deficiencies in the use of P67.32 billion in funds by the Department of Health. These funds were supposedly alloted for pandemic response, yet it is unsure where these funds truly went to.
On May 5, 2020 media company ABS-CBN was shut down hours after it received a cease and desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), prompting the station to stop all television and radio broadcasts. Despite making several attempts to renew its franchise since 2014, its 25-year franchise ultimately expired on May 4, 2020, after Congress failed to legislate its renewal.
President Duterte’s relationship with the network wasn’t the most ideal, either. In 2017, he threatened to block the franchise’s renewal, calling them swindlers for allegedly not showing his 2016 campaign ads even though they were already paid for. “The law said it’s okay, only if you [ABS-CBN] adhere to journalistic standards. What did you do to us? Estafa, swindling… you collected outright then you commit estafa,” he claimed.
He reiterated his stance in 2019, saying “If you are expecting na ma-renew iyan, I’m sorry, you’re out. I will see to it na you’re out.” In February 2021, a year after the shutdown, Duterte said that he would still not let the NTC allow ABS-CBN to operate even if Congress legislates in favor of the franchise.
The shutdown left 11,000 workers at high risk of losing their source of income at a time when ordinary people were already struggling to provide for their families.
This is yet another instance of suppression of press freedom under the Duterte administration. Out of his selfishness, he managed to close down a franchise that was in service to the Filipino people.
Anti-Terror or Anti-Criticism?
Despite strong opposition, the Anti-Terror Bill was signed by President Duterte into law on July 3, 2020. This bill had previously been criticized for its vague and broad descriptions of terrorism such as intimidating the general public or a segment therof, creating an atmosphere or spreading a message of fear, provoking or influencing the government or any of its international organization by intimidation, and more. Many also disliked giving the anti-terror council the authority to issue warantless arrests and detention for up to 24 days upon mere suspicion of “terrorism”.
Amnesty International called this law “another stepback for human rights”, as it increases the risk of human rights violations in the country. “Under Duterte’s presidency, even the mildest government critics can be labelled terrorists… This administration has effectively crafted a new weapon to brand and hound any perceived enemies of the state..,” said the organization’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin.
With the line between protest and terrorism becoming a blur, the Duterte administration found yet another way to silence its critics and persist to get its way. As more civilians are labeled terrorists by the state, Duterte covers up his own incompetence by leaving the blame to supposed uprisings from innocent people.
Shoot to Kill
The video of the infamous Tarlac shooting circulated online in December 2020, showing former Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca shooting mother and son Sonya and Frank Gregorio dead. The policeman was off-duty, yet still held with him a nine mm firearm which he used to kill the victims.
In the clip, Nuezca’s daughter could be heard yelling, “My father is a policeman!” to the two victims with an irritated facial expression. Many called her out for her seemingly shameless behavior, but the issue here is much deeper than what meets the eye: the culture of impunity built up and still continuing to develop among police and military forces due to the excessive power given to them by President Duterte. The president constantly gives such personnel the command to “shoot-to-kill” anyone who seemingly goes against the state and its instructions.
In 2020, Dutete asserted that 21 Quezon City residents be shot dead for allegedly breaching quarantine protocols. These people were all low-wage earning workers, simply protesting to call for relief for their difficult situation, yet they were accused by Duterte and his policemen of disobeying government policies. “I will not hesitate. My orders are sa pulis pati military… shoot them dead… Naintindihan ninyo? Patay. Eh kaysa mag-gulo kayo diyan, eh ‘di ilibing ko na kayo,” he instructed.
One year later, Duterte urged that the same command be executed simply upon sight of members of the National People’s Army (NPA). “If there’s an encounter and you see them [members of the NPA] armed, kill, kill them…,” he said in a speech.
It seems that blatantly attacking people with no remorse is part of the Duterte brand, as he has repeatedly displayed an alarming disregard for human rights. President Duterte continues to abuse his power under the guise of pursuing peace, order, and discipline, while the Filipino people are left to suffer the consequences of his actions.