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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Philippine President Duterte Continues To Eschew Domestic Response To COVID-19 And Recent Typhoon Destruction

Controversies surround the Philippine President on how he carries out the country’s constitution

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PHILIPPINES. Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has brought the country into more controversies. Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, a series of storms have devastated the country. Now, the president has made sex jokes insulting women.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said not to take the jokes seriously, though this is not the first instance in which the president has made offensive statements toward women. He said, “take a joke for what it is, a joke.”

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Also read: Philippine Technological School Wins Prestigious International Award

Citizens, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and critics alike have asked Philippine President Duterte to focus more on relief operations and recovery efforts to the storm-affected areas rather than make such offensive comments. However, the president has ignored their concerns. What is more, he has made excuses instead for his absence after the devastation the storm caused.

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Ordinary citizens, NGOs, corporations, and Vice President Leni Robredo have taken over the Philippine President’s job to aid victims of the storm. Even his response to COVID-19 is unclear. Given the lack of action to help victims of the storm and the pandemic, Presidente Duterte has shown his provisions go against the Philippine Constitution.

Labor workers and citizens protest during Philippine President’s state of the nation Address in July 2020 / Photo Credit: George Buid

Protect the sovereignty territories and state

The Philippines covers 7,641 islands protected under the state law in their constitution. The constitution states in Section 3 of Article 2, “Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.” However, the current Philippine President ignored this law and allowed China to take over the disputed islands of the Philippines.

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Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III filed an arbitration case against China on 22 Jan. 2013, just after an encounter with the Chinese vessels at Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea in April 2012. During the presidential campaign back in 2016, Presidential Candidate Rodrigo Roa Duterte said he would work on the arbitral ruling if he were to win.

Davao Mayor Duterte won the election, took an oath to uphold the constitution, and now is seated as the Philippine President. Instead of holding his promise and protecting the islands, he broke his promise and shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping with a loan of US$8.3 billion for his build-build program. Later he recognized the arbitration win in a United Nations General Assembly with no given action.

President Duterte’s initiative reflects the late dictator Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos’s governance. The build-build program disregards the protection of natural resources and only serves as an excuse to the loan. Currently, the Philippines total debt of PH₱9.615 trillion (US$0.20 trillion) brings the country into an economic crisis which adds to the devastation of the typhoons and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The constitution prioritizes the people above all else

The constitution of the Philippines prioritizes its citizens over anything else. “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military,” states Article II Section 3 of the constitution. Nevertheless, that is not the case with the administration of Philippine President Duterte.

Philippine President Duterte has threatened students, front line medical health workers, and other citizens. Besides, he has insulted women and made sex jokes. The local and international community raised their concern about the increase of deaths in the country. Yet, extrajudicial killings, attacks on journalists, closure of a media outlet, and red-tagging of citizens lurks under his governance.

Concerned Filipino citizens fear the Anti-Terror Law the Congress and Senate approved earlier this year since it can lead to more red-tagging because it allows the military to tag a person as a terrorist with no proof. Besides, with this initiative, this pandemic has brought the opportunity to silence the government’s critics.

The Philippine President overwrites what the Philippine Constitution is all about. Transcontinental Times asked Attorney Chel Diokno, the Chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group and dean of the De La Salle University College of Law, about the possibility of reversing the law. He said, “We hope the Supreme Court finds the Anti-terrorism Law is unconstitutional or the provision in that law. Yet, Congress can amend the law.”

The Anti-Terrorism Law opposes the Bill of Rights under Article 3 of the constitution, which includes the promise of the Philippine President to labor workers. However, the labor workers see the hopelessness of that promise.

Left to right: Atty. Chel Diokno and Cong. Ferdinand Gaite wearing a shirt with Article 3 of the Constitution printed at his back / Photo Credit: George Buid

Congressman Ferdinand Gaite added, “We voice out our grievances in Philippine President Duterte’s fifth year. He promised to stop the employment contract issue in his first week of office, but no action. Laborers receive a job’s day pay of ₱537 (11.16 USD) when the living wage is ₱1,000 (20.78 USD) for a Filipino family to survive. Therefore, the contractual workers or temporary laborers are the most affected when the pandemic entered. Jeepney drivers voiced their concern but got jailed. Also, Coca-Cola workers harassed, threatened, and forced to lie as rebels. Thus, we don’t expect any change, but the citizens will make the change.”

The Philippine President’s job is to seek to ease the lives of the Filipino people. Former President Ramon Magsaysay is the best example so far to go beyond this job. On the other hand, President Rodrigo Rosa Duterte finds it difficult to abide by the law and makes Filipino lives harder instead.

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