2021 in review: Countdown to ending Duterte’s tyranny

By Renato Reyes, Jr.

The year 2021 was the year we started our one-year countdown to end Duterte’s tyranny and failed pandemic response. It has been a year of great resistance and important victories especially for human rights. It is also the year Duterte was thoroughly exposed for being unable to govern and lead during the worst health and economic crisis in decades.

The year 2021 will be remembered for the people’s courageous resistance to fascism, the regime’s corruption-riddled pandemic response, violations of our sovereignty and the grand scheme to effect a Marcos restoration and Duterte extenstion. 2021 was us making a stand at Helm’s Deep, a prelude to the more decisive Battle of Pelennor Fields.

#DefendUP – The start of the year saw the unilateral termination by the DND of the historic UP-DND accord. The move was met with widespread condemnation as it was seen as an attack on academic freedom. The termination was followed by a red-tagging spree so arbitrary and baseless that it caused the relief of top generals of the AFP. The UP community would bring the fight to insitutionalize the accord to Congress. UP would also take a stand against the purging of so-called subversive books from its libraries.

#JunkTerrorLaw – The people waged a long battle against the terror law, as oral arguments commenced early in the year and as the SC issued a resolution at the end of the year. While a portion of the overbroad definition was voided by the high court, most of the dangerous provisions of the terror law remain. Mass protests followed the SC decision on the terorr law, culiminating in the broad protest action on December 10, Human Rights Day. #DutertePalpak – The people marked the first year of Duterte’s lockdown and failed pandemic response with a stinging rebuke expressed through the hashtag

#DutertePalpak — The Philippines had one of the longest lockdowns in the world, the longest school closure, the biggest economic drop in the region and the last to acquire vaccines in Southeast Asia. The country went through to lockdowns this year, one in March-April and another in August-September. Milions lost their jobs and poverty increased in the second half of the year. It didn’t help that during the worst periods of the health crisis, the President was missing in action. Those who were truly fed up joined the call #DuterteResign and #OustDuterte as expressions of outrage — Health workers staged repeated protests to demand the release of long-delayed benfits. Those affected by economic displacement organized the Ayuda Network. People also demanded that Health Secretary Duque resign for his incompetence.

What was really appalling was that corruption was on full-blast during the pandemic. This year we learned of the Pharmally modus where an undercapitalized company with no track-record got billions in procurement deals because they had connections with the President and the President’s friends. Another company, Starpay, followed a similar modus and ended up failing to distribute as much as P8 billion in pandemic ayuda.

The people demanded form the regime a scientific and pro-people pandemic response. Students and teachers sought the safe return to physical classes. Poor people demanded a P10,000 aid for those displaced by the pandemic.

#CommunityPantryPH, #AyudangSapat para sa lahat – The severe economic downturn gave rise to the community pantry phenomenon which started in Maginhawa, Quezon City and soon spread to different parts of the country. Because it sought to address government neglect, the community pantry movement soon became the target of red-tagging. Organizers and supporters pushed back against the NTF-ELCAC and the PNP. The movement not only provided for the needs of the people, it also highlighted the urgent need for government to act and redirect its resources to helping the poor. It was during this time that workers returned to the streets for the first physical mobilization for May 1 since the pandemic began.

#BloodySunday – Not even the pandemic would stop the fascist attacks on the people. March 7 will forever be remebered as the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Southern Tagalog as 7 activists were killed and several others arrested during a series of police operations. The incident drew sharp condmenation here and abroad, with international human rights bodies and even the European Commission expressing alarm. Human rights groups pressed the DOJ to investigate the kilings. As of today, a criminal complaint for murder of Bayan Cavite’s Manny Asuncion has been filed against 17 policemen and this will undergo preliminary investigation. We are still waiting for the results of the other investigations.

In Central Luzon, Joseph Canlas of AMGL and KMP and Pol Viuya were arrested on trumped-up charges. In Bicol, Bayan Bicol’s Pastor Dan Balucio and Anakbayan’s Sasah Sta.Rosa were among those arrested based on questionable search warrants. Ka Joseph would die from COVID-19 while under detention. Pastor Dan and Sasah would later be released after their search warrants were quashed. Two of the HRD7, Lady Ann Salem and Rodrigo Esparago would also be released this year after the court found problems with the search warrants issued by QC executive judge Cecil Villavert. Activsits would also score legal victories in the dismissal of several trumped-up cases filed in Mindanao.

The series of arrests and the Bloody Sunday Massacre and Tumandok Massacre pushed activists and lawyers to call on the Supreme Court to stop the search warrant factories and put in place safeguards against human rights violations. The Supreme Court would come out with guidelines on the use of body cameras in implementing search and arrest warrants while clipping the powers of the Executive Judges in Manila and Quezon City.

Before the year ended, a Manila court junked a multiple murder case against several peace consultants and peasant activists that was filed in 2006-2007. The case stemmed from so-called mass graves in Leyte, where the evidence used were recycled from a previous “mass grave”. Three peasant activists were released as a result.

In New York, activists hounded Presidential spokesman Harry Roque as various lawyers groups opposed his nomination to the International Law Commission on account of the human rights situation in the Philippines.

#AtinAngPinas – Sovereignty was a key issue for 2021, earning the ire of Duterte and making him challenge fromer SC Justice Antonio Carpio to a debate on the West Philippine Sea. Duterte would eventually back down after Carpio accepted the challenge. Activsts held several protests in front of the Chinese consulate, including a June 12 caravan with protest floats. The year also saw the restoration of the VFA after the Philippine visit of US Defense Secrertary Lloyd Austin. The US continues to pour miltiary aid to the Philippines despite the horrible human rights record of the regime.

Larawan ng Altermidya.

#DuterteWakasan – As we said above, 2021 marked the start of the one-year countdown to end the Duterte regime. Calls to make Duterte accountable before the ICC grew louder as the complaint moved forward. Various groups came together and marched along Commonwealth Avenue and other parts of the country during SONA, as they called for an end to the Duterte regime. By September 21, the anniversary of Martial Law, groups were raising the call #NoToDuterteMarcos 2022. The police attempted to disrupt the protest in Manila but the people asserted their right to peaceably assemble.

By October, it was election season and progressives held protests against Bongbong Marcos’ bid to seek the presidency in 2022. The dictator’s son would team up with the Duterte’s daughter in what was seen as a Marcos restoration and Duterte extension. This tandem was supported by political factions associated with plunder and bad governance.

Leni Robredo and Kiko Pangilinan emerged as opposition candidates while Isko Moreno and Manny Pacquiao expressed their openess to getting Duterte’s endorsement after Bong Go backed out of the presidential race. Bayan called for all-out struggle against the Marcos-Duterte tandem and to prepare for possible widespread election fraud. Several groups also filed disqualification cases against Marcos before the Comelec. A caravan to mark the 5th year of the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani was also held on November 18.

#OdettePH – Just before Christmas, the Philippines was hit by a super-typhoon that devastated huge parts of Visayas, Mindanao and Palawan. Progressive groups mobilized to provide relief for the the victims while pressing the national government to speed up its response to this year’s worst calamity. The aftermath of Odette will be an important issue well into 2022. We lost many friends and comrades in 2021. Some died due to sickness, others died in detention or in the battlefield. We honor their memory by continuing their noble deeds. They will continue to inspire us as we face the huge challenges of 2022. It appears to be an uphill battle once more, but we do not face it with hopelessness and despair. We have learned from the past two years that collective action is such a powerful force, and that trust in the people, especially the most oppressed, will see us through the most difficult times. Let 2022 usher in a new period of hope for our people. #

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Nato Reyes is secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.