EVERYONE in government must pay close attention now to the facts and figures and policy details that President Duterte often ticks off in his presidential statements and speeches. Attention must be rapt and unwavering because unlike past Presidents, DU 30 does not deliver prepared and fully researched policy speeches; he speaks most often off the cuff and while on the run.
While still in Moscow, Duterte fired Benjamin Reyes as chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), for contradicting the drug count of 4 million drug users/dependents which Duterte cited to justify the government’s war on illegal drugs. Reyes officially cites the number of 1.8 million users/ dependents, which is borne out in a 2015 nationwide survey conducted for the agency by a research group.
The Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the implementing arm of the DDB, also uses a different count in its operations, but it errs on the side of inflating DU30’s drug count. It officially claims that there are 4.7 million drug users/dependents in the country. It says bluntly that DU30 is mistaken with his count of 4 million. PDEA obtained its new statistics by massaging and extrapolating the figures reported by the PNP in its rug war operations—consisting of slain persons and surrenderers.
PDEA Director General Isidro Lapeña was not axed for over-counting. Reyes had to go because he under-counted the drug addicts/users. He even appeared at the UP forum where UN rapporteur Agnes Callamard was the featured speaker and where she declared that DU30’s drug war was a mistake and will only fail.
With jobs on the line, Malacañang should officially announce which count is now the orthodoxy—4 million or 4.7 million.
IS now operating in the country
Equally ominous is the official line that impelled the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao. There’s a scramble for facts about the law and order situation in the South.
As if to acknowledge the perils of contradicting the President and the lesson of Reyes’s unceremonious dismissal, the generals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) have hastily retreated from their earlier declaration that the IS terrorist group has no presence in Mindanao. They have now adopted as their official line Duterte’s declaration that IS is now operating in the country.
The issue is of more than routinary importance. If IS has expanded its footprint to include the Philippines, it will make the difference between a localized martial law in Mindanao, and martial law that envelops the whole country.
At a news conference upon arrival from Moscow, Duterte declared: “I will not hesitate to do anything and everything to protect and preserve the Filipino nation. I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people.”
Nationwide martial law, he says, will be triggered by the entry of IS-linked fighters into the country.
There are substantive reasons for the President’s alarm. The escalating level of violence, the heightened hostage-taking, and the link-up of the Maute rebel group and the Abu Sayyaf brigade point to a bigger threat before the nation.
Security forces are taking the threat with utmost seriousness. They are pouring troops and firepower into Marawi as if they are in a fight for all the marbles.
Politicians will debate martial law
On the political side, the politicians and the political parties have not been quick to align their thinking with President Duterte’s perception of the situation and his national security strategy.
Many politicians seized the crisis as an opportunity to project themselves in the media. Politicians like Sen. Panfilo Lacson declared that the outburst of fighting in Marawi evidenced a failure of intelligence by our security forces.
Duterte’s close allies in Congress loyally mouthed the Malacañang line and pledged that Congress would move to concur in the President’s declaration.
Liberal legislators predictably questioned whether the situation required the proclamation of martial law. Most felt the situation could be handled with just a declaration of a state of lawlessness. Some said Duterte is testing whether the people will support a full tilt towards authoritarianism.
Former President Fidel V. Ramos on Friday was not shy about expressing the view that the President should have limited his proclamation to Mindanao. This is well within the capacity of our armed forces and PNP. He cautioned that Cabinet members and legislators who are enthusiastic for martial law in Mindanao should temper their statements with realism, because they have never experienced being shot at or being forced to evacuate from their homes and communities. He viewed the “sense of fear” stemming from the martial law declaration in Mindanao as “unbecoming,”
Congress will not miss the opportunity to stage a show in reviewing the President’s proclamation.
Marcos did not give Congress a role when he declared martial law in 1972. He just closed down the legislature, and proceeded to rule by decree. And he shut down most of the media.
There was no debate then. There will be a lot of debate now, because the Constitution sets a process for review. When Congress is done debating the emergency measure, the Supreme Court will also take its turn.
Mongolia and Turkey in Asean
A foreign service officer, whose identity I will not disclose, has asked and wondered whether Duterte’s decision as Asean chairman this year to sponsor the entry of Turkey and Mongolia into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is something that everyone at the DFA is obligated to support under pain of dismissal from the service.
This is a hard nut to crack. Duterte pushed for the inclusion of Turkey and Mongolia in Asean without prior study and consultation with other Asean members. The Asean chairman has no authority to decide on his own the issue of membership.
The criterion of geographic location cannot be waived away. Historically, Southeast Asia is so-called because it is south of China and east of India. Turkey and Mongolia are in a world elsewhere.
DU30 held separate meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mongolian Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenbat on the sidelines of a meeting in Beijing.
The 10 members of Asean are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Turkey is a NATO member bordering the Middle East, straddling Europe and Asia. Its application for membership in the European Union has been bogged down for years.
Mongolia is a landlocked nation wedged between the gigantic realms of China and Russia.
Many DFA officials will probably cry if they are ordered by Duterte to follow him on this membership question in Asean.
This is one song that they cannot sing.