In the Philippines, the Covid-19 is like drugs. Rodrigo Duterte sees himself as war chief ready to dislodge the sick into their “hiding place”. In the archipelago, the pandemic has affected more than 415,000 people and caused the death of 8,000 others, but it is by force that the president intends to settle the health issue. At the height of the crisis, in March, 4,500 police officers set up 4,400 checkpoints. The deployment of these military methods should come as no surprise when the National COVID-19 Working Group is essentially composed of the national police, the armed forces and the Coast Guard. To the inhabitants of the slums who demonstrated against the lack of food since the confinement, President Duterte responded with blood: “Let this serve as a warning to all. Follow the government at this time as it is essential to maintain order. (…) Here are my orders to the police and the army, if someone creates problems (…): kill them! ”
This warning led to mass arrests and operations to track down non-isolated positive cases. At the same time, hospitals suffer regular budget cuts. According to Walden Bello, founder of the organization Focus on the Global South, partner of CCFD-Terre Solidaire, Rodrigo Duterte applies “the only policy he really knows: fulminate, threaten and impose draconian controls ”. Emergency food aid has also been the subject of corrupt maneuvers. In June, a study revealed that 4.2 million families were suffering from hunger in the country, twice as many as before the start of the pandemic.
On the economic side, the results are not much better with the entry into recession of the Philippines in the second quarter and the contraction of 16.5% of the GDP. Despite this health and social record – the most catastrophic of the countries of Southeast Asia – the popularity of the president is unabated. On the contrary, Filipinos favor his muscular methods with 91% positive opinions (against 87% in December).
The head of state therefore has a free hand to unfold his authoritarian agenda. And all the more so since he left the senatorial elections in May comforted. The chamber, considered the most independent of the executive power, came under the full control of the presidents’ supporters, the opposition holding only four seats. In July, he promulgated an “anti-terrorism” law which aims above all to silence the opposition by carrying out arrests without a warrant. No sooner was the law adopted than Maria Ressa, director of the daily Rappler, very critical of the war on drugs, which primarily affects the poor ((see Amnesty International’s report https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa35/5517/2017/en/), was arrested. ABS-CBN, the country’s main television channel, has also been shut down.
This new majority should also allow him to restore the death penalty, abolished in 1987, for crimes linked to drug trafficking as part of his campaign which began at the start of his mandate in 2016 and during which thousands of people have perished. Rodrigo Duterte could also commit to a revision of the Constitution, allowing him to exercise a new mandate in 2022. For the moment, the president is elected for a single mandate.