MANILA (SE): The Philippines celebrated National Heroes Day on August 27, a day on which people are encouraged to make themselves familiar with the history of those who whose acts of courage enabled the country to grow as a nation and whose lives and deaths hold particular significance in the development of cultural values.
The life of a 17-year-old student, Kian delos Santos, may have passed unnoticed until August 16 when he became an innocent victim of what is now being labelled state tyranny and was cut down by police bullets as he was going about the mundane routine of his daily chores.
While in life he may have remained a shadow on the footpath, in death he has become a hero whose untimely demise has become a rallying point for those calling out the war on drugs run by the president, Rodrigo Duterte, for what it is—tyranny.
The funeral procession of Delos Santos attracted over 1,000 people on August 28 and on the following day a mock burial of human rights was sponsored by the Church in Manila as it mourned yet one more life that had been squandered in the suppression of the Filipino people.
On the day of the funeral at least 2,830 people convened a group calling itself the Movement Against Tyranny under the theme of The Filipino People: Stop the Killings, Stand Against Tyranny at the Maryhill School of Theology in Quezon City.
The group said in a statement, “The Duterte government is fast unfolding into another despotic regime.”
It accuses the president of disguising his tyrannical rule in the verbiage of ridding the nation of the scourge of drugs, whereas what he is really doing is launching a bloody onslaught on the poor of the nation that has already taken at least 12,500 lives and blatantly abused the law himself in his push to set up a reign of terror to fulfill his dictatorial and tyrannical ambitions.
Nor is the group giving him any cookie points for his handling of the emergency in Marawi, which it calls a blatant tactic to instill further fear into the people.
It says, “In his rush to end armed conflicts between the Bangsamoro (roughly translates as Muslim nation) and the forces of the government, he has imposed martial law and suspended the privilege of habeas corpus in Mindanao.”
The statement accuses him of unleashing the full might of his military in order to bombard and terrorise civilian communities, as well as kill or illegally arrest anyone that he considers to be an enemy of the state.
It also notes that Duterte’s regime has continued the practice which has been perfected by previous administrations over decades of filing trumped up charges against human rights advocates, government critics and anyone else whom he does not like, which has led to a proliferation of political prisoners in the country.
And as a president who blushes a little too easily, he bristles at criticism of his human rights record and works to undermine the very institutions in his government specifically charged with acting as a check and balance against any abuse from the president or government departments.
Duterte has put the offices of the Supreme Court, the congress, the Ombudsman and the Commission on Human Rights squarely in the cross hairs of his sights.
One of his most outlandish attacks has been waged against a member of the senate and former secretary of the Human Rights Commission, Leila de Lima. She has been accused of drug trafficking and imprisoned since February this year.
A former member of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Emily Lau Wai-hing, visited de Lima in prison on August 30 as part of an investigation into the state of democratic rule in the Asia-Pacific region.
De Lima has been honoured this year with what is dubbed the Asian Nobel Prize, the prestigious Magsaysay Award, and Lau said that as a person prepared to make personal sacrifices in the interests of democracy and human rights, she finds in her qualities we expect from politicians in Hong Kong.
She told Rappler.com, “We call on the Philippine authorities to immediately release Senator de Lima by withdrawing the drug trafficking charges against her.”
Lau described the charges as not even standing up to a cursory scrutiny from the legal eye, as they are based on conflicting testimonies of criminals offered amnesty in return for their cooperation.
The mass media, which have carried unfavourable reports on the Duterte administration policies and announcements have not been spared either, frequently becoming the butt of his savage, illogical and vulgar outbursts.
But while people and institutions have cowered and floundered in disbelief in the face of the ferocity of Duterte’s attacks, the death of Delos Santos has inspired a new courage in them.
At the launch of the Movement Against Tyranny a banner depicting Duterte’s trademark extended fist was torn up and replaced with one portraying a woman with her arm outstretched in defiance of tyranny.
Survivors of the government purge also spoke of being tortured.
Long-time human rights advocate, Sister John Mananzan, told of a three-year-old who was splattered with the innards of his father, who was shot while the two slept, and the list of plain abuse of the people by the administration went on and on.
The protests are now beginning to bite. Duterte has had to back off a bit on his blanket protection of the police in the face of their own admission that Delos Santos was not suspected of any wrong doing and forensic reports that show he was kneeling when he was shot.
In addition, eye witnesses have testified that he was begging for his life at the time.
However, the rampaging president is not finished yet and has vowed to punish all groups that campaign against his war on drugs and accused rights advocates of smearing the image of his government.
It was claimed that police vehicles were seen parked around the venue where the launch of the movement was being held.
But the most condemning words came from a journalist, Vergel Santos, from the Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility, who called the president an evil plague who threatens not only human rights, but also national sovereignty.
UCAN quoted him as saying, “We cannot do anything but fight... We are fighting for the survival of this country’s democracy.”
But the Movement Against Tyranny says that Duterte’s gravest sin is dismissing human rights as an obstacle to law and order, as he continues to goad his law enforcement agencies to willfully commit violence against the people while assuring them of legal protection from investigation, prosecution and punishment.
And in the words that could well have been on the lips of Delos Santos as he joined the list of national heroes, the group says, “In the face of such blatant acts of tyranny, it is time to take a stand, to speak out and act.”