Leila de Lima, center, after her arrest in 2017. Credit Ted Aljibe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Since taking office just over three years ago, President Rodrigo Duterte has not only overseen a murderous campaign on drug users and sellers. He has also unleashed a brazen assault on the country’s democratic institutions — at times, using his so-called war on drugs as a pretense for going after his political adversaries and dissenters.

I should know: I’m one of its victims. I am writing this essay from a prison cell in Camp Crame, the national Police Headquarters in Manila. I have spent the past two years here, after being arrested on fabricated drug-trafficking charges. But the only crime I committed was to use my platform as a senator to oppose the brutality of this administration’s campaign against drugs.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Philippines Just Became More Authoritarian, Thanks to the People

Filipinos have just gone through another election, apparently unchastened by a past too ignoble, too repetitive and too recent to be forgotten: They endorsed the repressive presidency of Rodrigo Duterte by voting in all of his candidates to the Senate.

Half of the Senate’s 24 seats were up in midterm elections last week, and all, the election commission announced Wednesday, have gone to Duterte supporters. It was a sweep — and the freshest baffling evidence that Mr. Duterte’s repressive regime and growing authoritarianism have not put a dent in his popularity.

For decades, Filipinos have time and again brought on themselves leaders who promised quick reforms but ended up exploiting them.…  Seguir leyendo »

A PLA Navy fleet takes part in a review in the South China Sea on 12 April. Photo: Getty Images.

On 12 July 2016, an independent arbitral tribunal established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) published a clear and binding ruling on China’s claims vis-à-vis the Philippines in the South China Sea. China’s response at the time was to dismiss the ruling as ‘nothing more than a piece of waste paper’.

Interestingly, in the two years since then it has, in some small ways, complied with it. However, it is also clear that China’s behaviour in the South China Sea has not fundamentally changed. It is, in effect, using military force to try to extort concessions from its neighbours.…  Seguir leyendo »

Los invasores chinos de Filipinas

Así es como describió Sultan Abdul Hamidullah Atar los planes de rehabilitación de Marawi, la capital de la provincia de Lanao del Sur en la isla filipina de Mindanao, un año después de que el Grupo Maute, también conocido como el Estado Islámico de Lanao, lanzara un ataque a la ciudad el 23 de mayo de 2017. La batalla de 5 meses que le siguió mató a más de 1000 personas y causó el desplazamiento de otras 360 000.

El pueblo de Marawi, llamado maranaos, es muy independiente. Como el resto de los moros (como son conocidos los musulmanes de Mindanao), los maranaos (o “Gente del Lago”, pues han construido sus vidas y hogares en la orilla del Lago Lanao) nunca fue conquistado o colonizado por los españoles, los estadounidenses ni los japoneses, a diferencia de otros filipinos de las regiones de Luzón y las islas Bisayas.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hundreds marched in support of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on May 11 in Manila. (Bullit Marquez/AP)

The recent decision by our Supreme Court to remove a sitting chief justice — whom President Rodrigo Duterte had declared his “enemy” — is nothing short of chilling. With one swift move, the high tribunal has succumbed to executive overreach, surrendered its judicial independence and reneged on its very duty to defend the constitution.

Our constitution is clear: The best way to hold accountable and remove high-ranking government officials is through the process of impeachment, in which the House of Representatives initiates all cases of impeachment and the Senate is convened as a court. With this ruling, our system of checks and balances has been seriously undermined and now tilts heavily in favor of Duterte.…  Seguir leyendo »

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reviews an honor guard at the Bureau of Customs in Manila on Feb. 6, 2018. (Mark R. Cristino/European Pressphoto Agency)

In what could be the beginning of the trial of the century, the International Criminal Court has initiated a preliminary probe into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The prime target is no less than President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen a bloody campaign against suspected drug dealers since his ascent to power in 2016. Almost overnight, the Southeast Asian country transformed from a “bastion of human rights and democracy” into potentially the latest member of an exclusive club of nations that have seen their leaders prosecuted for crimes against humanity. In response, Duterte has called to withdraw his country’s membership to the international body, which would make the Philippines only the second nation, after Burundi, to withdraw.…  Seguir leyendo »

A policeman in Manila investigates the scene where the body of an alleged drug user lies after being killed by unidentified assailants on 8 December 2017. Photo: Getty Images.

After winning a landslide victory in June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines immediately fulfilled a campaign promise and instigated a so-called ‘war on drugs.’ He publicly endorsed the arrest and killing of suspected drug users and sellers, even going so far as to promise the police there would be no repercussions for their actions.

International human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have documented that 3,906 suspected drug users and dealers died at the hands of the police from 1 July 2016 to 26 September 2017 while unidentified gunmen have killed thousands more, bringing the total death toll to more than 12,000.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester covered his mouth with tape on Wednesday during a protest for press freedom in Manila. (Rolex dela Pena/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has never gotten along with the press. Three media companies have incurred his particular ire: the ABS-CBN television and radio network, the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper, and the news website Rappler. At one time or another, each has offended Duterte by reporting on his ongoing drug war, his personal finances, or even his personal history. He has denounced all three outlets during his trademark vitriolic speeches.

On January 11, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission issued a decision, declaring that Rappler had violated the Philippine Constitution’s requirement of 100 percent Filipino ownership for media companies.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked Congress to extend martial law — for a second time — in his home region of Mindanao. Two days later, Congress did just that. Mindanao is a restive southern province and home to 94 percent of the country’s Muslim population. Martial law is part of Duterte’s plan to ensure the “total eradication” of Islamist extremists — but this approach can backfire. Here’s why.

Why did Duterte first declare martial law?

In May, Duterte declared 60 days of martial law after security forces raided a suspected terrorist hideout. The raid was a failure: Instead of capturing the leader of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, Philippine troops found themselves in a firefight with different Islamists, the Maute group.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Oct. 23, the defense secretary of the Philippines, Delfin Lorenzana, announced the end of combat operations in the southern city of Marawi, after the armed forces spent 154 days fighting local and regional Islamist terrorists. At last, victory — of a sort.

Marawi, which declared itself an “Islamic city” in 1980, is the capital of Lanao del Sur province, on the island of Mindanao, and the religious center of the Maranao, a tight-knit indigenous Muslim community. Marawi and the Maranao have been at the forefront of a decades-long insurgency against the central government in Manila. In recent years, however, disgruntled factions have splintered off, some embracing gangsterism or Islamist terrorism.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Credit Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Yen Makabenta, a veteran journalist now at The Manila Times, wrote a prominent column last month about the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who enthusiastically praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. “The Philippines is suffocating,” Mr. Makabenta quoted the ambassador as saying. “We must give President Duterte the space to run his nation.” Ms. Haley, he reported, warned of “destructive forces” that “have calibrated their plot to ouster movements” against Mr. Duterte.

Mr. Duterte no doubt appreciated Ms. Haley’s support. The only problem: It wasn’t true. Mr. Makabenta had based his column on a fake story from a website whose web address, grammatical errors and far-fetched assertions should have made clear that it was a counterfeit of Al Jazeera.…  Seguir leyendo »

Rodrigo Duterte is not to blame for the thousands of Filipinos killed during the 15 months of his presidency. That’s what his supporters claim. His popularity is pitched as proof of his mandate, and his iconoclasm is cast as an effective antidote to a dilapidated democracy that has always thrived on inequality.

Many of the president’s actions, however, remain indefensible. But he is not the only one to blame.

Mr. Duterte’s allies in the government, his die-hard supporters and well-rewarded propagandists — the cogs in his political machinery — have been revved up to great momentum. Their drive to quash opposition has been taken up with a righteous zeal that may outpace even the president.…  Seguir leyendo »

Native to the Philippines is a tart fruit called the balimbing. Ridges down the length of its oblong sides give it multiple faces, which is why many of our politicians are colloquially compared to it. Such criticism of our rulers’ kaleidoscopic loyalties is usually apt, and it’s always uttered with contempt.

Last year, Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency under the slogan “Change is coming.” But the corruption and deception of those under him belie that promise. Mr. Duterte’s policies and methods have caused controversy worldwide, yet it is the chronic dysfunction and selfish ambition across the political spectrum that most prevent the changes we Filipinos deserve.…  Seguir leyendo »

Flaviano Villanueva, 47, entered the priesthood in his 30s after leading a fast life fueled by drugs and alcohol. So late last year, when a small-time drug dealer approached him in his rectory in one of Manila’s oldest districts, the Roman Catholic priest, recalling his own checkered past, could not turn her away.

“She was a member of a notorious gang that sells shabu in this area,” the priest told me recently, using the local term for crystal meth. “They were a gang of six. Four had already been killed. She came to me crying, ‘Father, can you hide me?’ ” She feared she might soon join the thousands of Filipinos who have been gunned down since President Rodrigo Duterte sanctioned the wanton killing of drug suspects.…  Seguir leyendo »

Filipinas y España han celebrado, como cada 30 de junio desde hace quince años, el Día de la Amistad. Se celebra junto a la iglesia del pequeño pueblo de Baler, capital de la provincia de Aurora, allí donde en 1898 un reducido destacamento de medio centenar de soldados españoles fue sitiado por los revolucionarios filipinos y donde sostuvieron un asedio de casi un año, haciendo gala de una capacidad de sacrificio extrema.

El hecho de que una celebración así apenas tenga equivalente para con una antigua metrópoli, invita a la reflexión. Fue iniciativa de un senador filipino, Edgardo Angara, natural de Baler, y se celebra en la fecha en que el que fuera presidente de la malograda primera república de Filipinas, Emilio Aguinaldo, firmara un decreto reconociendo a los supervivientes del sitio de Baler como amigos, no como prisioneros de guerra.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Saturday morning, in a sunny conference hall to the side of Baclaran Church, among the slums of southern Metro Manila, several dozens of Filipino teenagers and adults held up sheets of paper on which they’d written their dreams. “To study.” “To be a chef.” “To find permanent work.”

They sat cross-legged and barefoot in groups of three or four, their flip-flops and sneakers, soles thinned from wear, waiting beside them. They smiled as they read out their answers. At the back of the room, a group of about 20 toddlers and children ran around and skidded, and sent fidget spinners whirring across the floor.…  Seguir leyendo »

Shortly after Muslim extremists affiliated with the Islamic State laid siege to Marawi, a city in the southern Philippines, on May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law for 60 days across the island of Mindanao. Citing the presence of foreigners among the fighters and the risk of an “invasion», he said he might extend martial law to the entire country if that was necessary “to protect the people.”

And just like that, it seems, tens of millions of Filipinos woke up to the twin threat of the Islamic State and of a potential return to unfettered authoritarianism. Democracy in the Philippines seems to be at its most fragile point in years.…  Seguir leyendo »

On the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, 21 million people are living under martial law. President Rodrigo Duterte declared 60 days of martial law on May 23 after troops and police failed to apprehend Isnilon Hapilon, a terrorist leader who has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. The military is bombing Marawi City and sending soldiers street by street to ferret out those suspected of being part of Hapilon’s militant network. As of June 5, more than 180 people had been killed in clashes between security forces and terrorists, with more at risk every day.

A declaration of martial law under these conditions seems reasonable.…  Seguir leyendo »

For about two weeks now, dozens of Islamist militants have faced off against the Philippine armed forces in the city of Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao, where most of the Philippines’ Muslim minority lives. The pitched battle, which is unusually fierce even by the standards of this conflict-prone part of the country, indicates that the Islamic State is now also a Southeast Asian problem and that the Philippine government may be the region’s weak link in addressing it.

While President Rodrigo Duterte focused his energies during his first year in office on waging a brutal campaign against suspected drug dealers and users, a motley coalition supporting the Islamic State — former guerrillas, university students, scions of political families, Christian converts to Islam — grew into a fighting force with surprising staying power.…  Seguir leyendo »

Over the weekend, President Trump provoked an avalanche of criticism at home and abroad by extending a formal invitation to his Filipino counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, to visit the White House. The two leaders are reported to have had a “very friendly conversation” by phone, prompting denunciations by human rights groups and the liberal establishment in both America and the Philippines.

To the chagrin even of administration officials, the White House, in a statement announcing the invitation, appeared not only to play down Mr. Duterte’s brutal crackdown on illegal drugs — which rights groups say has claimed 1,000 lives a month since it started last July — but also went so far as to praise his efforts to rid his country of drugs.…  Seguir leyendo »