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Myanmar 2020 election: ‘A critical moment in the consolidation of democratic transition’

‘Structural shortcomings continue to undermine the democratic character of the process’

By Mong Palatino / Global Voices

Myanmar’s election on November 8 is described by United States-based group The Carter Center as “a critical moment in the consolidation of Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition.” The Carter Center is one of two international election observation missions accredited by Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC).

Myanmar was governed by a military dictatorship for several decades, then transitioned into civilian rule in 2010. The 2008 Constitution, however, ensured that the military would continue to exercise political influence, including on the Parliament. The opposition National League for Democracy defeated the military-backed party in the historic 2015 general election.

The Carter Center released its preliminary assessment of Myanmar’s election process on October 13. It noted the challenges in holding an election during a pandemic and recognized the efforts of the UEC in keeping the process on track.

On the other hand, it also identified the electoral system’s “structural shortcomings”:

(…) structural shortcomings continue to undermine the democratic character of the process, including quotas for unelected military appointees in all legislative bodies, restrictive eligibility criteria for the presidency, inequalities in constituency populations resulting in unequal representation.

It also mentioned that the “discriminatory legal regulations for citizenship effectively disenfranchise several ethnic minorities, particularly the Rohingya.” Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its ethnic groups.

The Carter Center’s observation mission, led by Sean Dunne, is composed of a core team of six experts and 24 long-term observers. Global Voices reached out to Dunne via email to learn more about their monitoring process in Myanmar.

Mong Palatino (MP): The Carter Center also monitored the 2015 election. How would you compare the electoral landscape during that year in relation to the present?

Sean Dunne (SD): The 2015 elections were really a watershed moment for Myanmar’s democratic transition with the opening of space for political competition and the peaceful transfer of power to the main opposition party. As is often the case with second round transitional elections, this election is likely to be more intensely contested among parties and candidates. This imposes more pressure on the election authorities to ensure a fair process in line with international principles for democratic elections.

MP: How do you plan to fulfill your mission given the pandemic situation?

SD: The Carter Center has taken a range of steps to maintain its observation efforts despite the pandemic. We were able to recruit and accredit Myanmar citizens to become our long-term election observers and have recruited foreign nationals locally and abroad to take on the short-term observer roles for the mission. We have made use of technology to assist in our virtual interviewing and engagement with stakeholders, conducting over 500 interviews so far with election and security officials, political parties and candidates, and civil society representatives.

MP: A recent news report mentioned the cancellation of elections in some townships because of security concerns. Can you comment on this?

SD: The constitution and election laws permit for the postponement of elections due to local insecurity and natural disasters. It was a recommendation of The Carter Center and other observation missions in 2015 that the criteria for these postponements be more transparent.

MP: What are some of the crucial electoral policies should the UEC undertake in the next few weeks to make the elections more free and fair?

SD: The process of elections must not only be fair but be seen to be fair. Transparency and frequent consultation with political parties, candidates and other stakeholders are crucial to the acceptance of the results. All aspects of the electoral process should be open to international and domestic observers to strengthen transparency.

MP: Do you have a message to members of the international community which are also monitoring Myanmar’s democratic transition?

SD: The second cycle of transitional elections are always vital to entrench democratic practices. These elections are an essential measure of progress. Post-election, ongoing democratic reforms need to be a priority, including adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. #

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Kodao Publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Thailand’s democracy protests reflect rising dissatisfaction over the monarchy

By Winston Chiu / Global Voices

Despite the announcement of an emergency decree on October 15 and police crackdown on October 16, tens of thousands of Thai protesters continued protesting in the streets over the weekend demanding democratic reform.

A major grievance was directed at the monarchy as reflected in a global Change.org petition demanding the Thai king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, “permanently return to Thailand” and “discharge his royal duties as the reigning monarch in his country”.

The petition appealed specifically to authorities in Germany:

We request that The Federal Republic of Germany, pursuant to the first paragraph of Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, declare Vajiralongkorn a persona non grata within the territories of The Federal Republic of Germany. Thus, disallowing the King to continue any further residence in Germany.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended to the throne in 2016 has been a controversial figure; he has direct control over two army units and multi-billion-dollar holdings, and he spends most of his time in Germany.

A Thai activist, Junya Yimprasert, who is now residing in Europe told DW News:

The Thai people are getting angrier because he is not in Germany just as a tourist and hasn’t stopped intervening in Thai politics…He is here in Germany and continues to have influence.

The petition was blocked from Thai access by three major Internet operators since October 15 according to a report from Thai Netizen Network on Facebook. In Thailand, any critical comments about the King and the royal family could be charged under criminal code section 112 and result in a sentence of 3 to 15 years in jail.

The King has recently returned to Thailand from Germany in order to attend the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s memorial day on October 13. The declaration of the state of emergency was announced two days later on October 15, after a peaceful confrontation between pro-democracy protesters and royal family supporters near the Grand Palace on October 14.

At the confrontation spot, peaceful pro-democracy protesters were chanting with the three-finger salute as Queen Suthida’s vehicle passed. At least two activists were arrested for allegedly attempting violence against the Queen, a charge that could lead to life imprisonment if found guilty.

The three-finger salute also signifies three key protest demands: the dissolution of parliament, ending intimidation of the people which includes the abolition of royal defamation law, and the drafting of a new constitution that would lead to the reformation of the monarchy.

These demands are reflected in the following parody:

@minimonilogist translated the Thai lyrics in the Twitter thread:

King Vajiralongkorn spends most of his time in Germany with his concubines living in luxuries while the people of Thailand is facing the economic crisis which got worse than before due to COVID-19. He travels back and forth on Thai airway which is currently in bankruptcy – But with the government’s support, it continues to survive using people’s taxes. Many Thai businessmen, who have been exploiting their workers, support the King’s reign, offer their money for the king to spend as he pleases. Thailand’s annual fund goes mostly to support the monarch and the rest of the royal family (approx. $641M). This is why the people protest, we are having a crisis, many live in poverty. Yet the king is spending our taxes and abusing his power through the government and the police. We ARE ANGRY! Both the monarchy and the coup need to end! We want real democracy for the people and only for the people. Not dictatorship in a democracy disguise!

The King’s residence in Germany is a major target of complaints:

As pointed out by Bangkok-based writer Tyler Roney, Thailand is going in a historical moment of political change:

Support from the ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ and Hong Kong-based activists

To support Thai pro-democracy protesters, Milk Tea Alliance, a Southeast Asia pro-democracy netizen network, has helped raise attention from international communities using hashtags #standwiththailand and #milkteaalliance on different social media platforms.

The Thai demonstrations share similarities with last year’s Hong Kong anti-extradition protests and Hong Kong netizens are vocal in expressing their support for Thai protesters. Prominent activist Joshua Wong posted a Thai protest video made by a Thailand-born Taiwanese:

Exiled Hong Kong activist Nathan Law wrote:

Hong Kong-based freelance journalist Frances Hui wrote:

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Kodao publishes Global Voices reports as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Ang pagkaka-pareho ni Marcos at Duterte

Sa paggunita ng mga aktibistang grupo sa ika-48 na anibersaryo ng Batas Militar, inihambing ni Atty Neri Colmenares ang pagkakapareho ng diktadurya ni Ferdinand Marcos at kasalukuyang gubyerno ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte. Biktima ng torture noon si Colmenares at biktima pa rin siya ng pang-uupat ng gubyerno ngayon. (Bidyo ni Jek Alcaraz/Kodao)

Quarantine Curbs Access to Information

By Karol Ilagan/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

IS FREEDOM of information one of the casualties of Covid-19?

Since April, the staff of the Digital News Exchange (DNX), a community-based news site in Bacolod City, has had zero success in getting a response to its requests for information on Covid-19-related procurement and cash aid.

They’re not the only ones. Journalists around the country say both national and local government agencies have either delayed or denied their information requests. Officials, they said, were particularly reluctant to release information that would hold them accountable for their spending.

So far, only one in 10 of the Covid-19 requests filed in the government’s eFOI portal between March 13 and May 27, 2020 has been granted. Most of these requests were for information on Covid-19 spending and financial assistance, according to data from the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), the manager of the eFOI platform where information requests from national government agencies in the executive branch are filed. 

The PCOO has so far received 1,332 requests from journalists and the public for Covid-19-related information. More than half of those requests are still being processed while about a third have been denied supposedly because they were lodged in the wrong agency, the requester did not provide his/her complete details, or the information is already available online. (See Charts 1 and 2.)

Most of the denials were requests for Covid-19 spending or Social Amelioration Program (SAP) data from the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Labor and Employment, Interior and Local Government, and Budget and Management. The PCOO refused to entertain these requests; instead it advised requestors to ask their local government unit or call a DSWD hotline number. (See Table 1 below.)

Like many journalists around the country, DNX was particularly interested in how funds allocated for Covid-19 relief have been spent. It is working on a project called Money Watch to monitor how money from Bacolod City’s P100-million calamity fund was allocated. 

It’s been eight weeks since the DNX staff sent the city government and its Department of Social Services and Development a request for data on pandemic-related spending. But up to now, they have not heard back.

City officials were not always so stingy with information. In mid-March, as the lockdown started, they responded promptly when DNX reporters asked about Covid-19 preparations. This positive response prompted DNX reporters to forego filing formal information requests for the time being. They also feared that formal requests would be processed only when the quarantine was already over. But in April, when DNX asked for spending details, city officials were no longer as open as before. “Finding sources is as difficult as catching a greased pig let loose,” said Julius Mariveles, DNX’s executive editor. 

Like city officials, barangay officials, who are responsible for releasing cash subsidies, delivering relief goods, and keeping the peace in their communities, were also unwilling to give information. Mariveles says being “out on the field” has become a common excuse for these officials’ inability to provide data.

DNX has so far released just one Money Watch story. It revealed discrepancies in the number of targeted and actual beneficiaries of the city’s Covid-19 financial assistance, as well as the lack of reports from several barangays.

The national government has allocated at least P500 billion to address the impact of the pandemic that has killed nearly a thousand Filipinos and placed millions out of work because of the lockdown. This amount does not include emergency funds that local governments can tap in addition to any revenue and savings that they may also decide to use for Covid-19-related expenses. 

DNX’s small team of four reporters tried their best to report on how Bacolod apportioned public funds for coronavirus projects. But they were at their wit’s end: With limited access to data and sources plus pandemic-related constraints on field reporting, there was only so much they could do.

In Metro Manila, Cebu, and other parts of the country, journalists who shared their experiences with PCIJ encountered varying levels of difficulty, depending on the type of information they were requesting. While information about the national government’s plan and budget to fight the virus are readily available online, getting more detailed information on how the plans are being implemented and the money spent is another story. 

Obtaining details about Covid-19 spending at the local level has been especially difficult. Unlike frontline agencies at the national level, local governments do not proactively publish data on their websites. Moreover, with press briefings now online, officials and their PR staff often screen questions from the media, making it harder for reporters to demand answers. 

Since March, when government offices were wholly or partly closed, most routine requests for information have not been processed. The Philippines is among many governments in the world that had to suspend the processing of freedom-of-information or FOI requests because of the pandemic. 

The PCOO has so far issued four advisories notifying offices in the executive branch of the suspension of FOI processing. The advisories apply only to agencies covered by Executive Order 2, s. 2016, which laid out the Duterte administration’s FOI guidelines. 

On June 1, PCOO lifted the suspension of FOI processing, except in areas under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). But it said agencies with sufficient capacity can go ahead and process FOI requests despite quarantine regulations.

The other branches of government – Congress, the judiciary and local governments – were not covered by the suspension, but their responses to information requests were understandably slowed down because offices have not been in full operation for at least 10 weeks. Although the ECQ in Metro Manila was lifted on June 1, government offices still follow alternative work arrangements, which means shortened hours or suspension of certain services.

These measures have exacerbated delays in the release of information crucial for holding government accountable. For example, for over a year now, PCIJ’s longstanding request for the statements of assets of national government officials has been pending because the Office of the Ombudsman has yet to issue guidelines for releasing such documents. 

To be sure, a number of national agencies, particularly those at the frontlines of Covid-19 response, have published records proactively, without the need for a formal information request. Some departments, despite operating on a skeleton staff, continue to accept and respond to requests by email. 

But things were better last year. From October 2018 to September 2019, the PCOO received 18,036 eFOI requests or an average of 347 requests per week. Nearly half of these requests were granted. During the ongoing quarantine until May 27, an average of 318 requests were lodged in the eFOI portal every week but the success rate was just 17 percent. 

According to Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, public-records requests must be addressed within 15 working days. Executive Order 2, s. 2016 gave executive agencies more time — not longer than 20 business days — to respond to such requests. 
 
With the lockdown, however, government agencies could not meet these deadlines. PCOO Assistant Secretary Kristian R. Ablan says PCOO suspended the required processing time because of the “justifiable concerns” of FOI officers that they may be held liable if they fail to address requests within the prescribed period.
 
FOI officers working from home said they lacked internet connection, office equipment such as laptop computers and scanners and digital copies of files. They also found it difficult to coordinate remotely with record custodians. 

The health and safety of the FOI officers were also factored in. “We didn’t want to put their health at risk during ECQ,” he says.

Jenina Joy Chavez, co-convener of the Right to Know, Right Now!Coalition (R2KRN), acknowledged these difficulties. Speaking at an online forum on May 27, she said suspending FOI operations may be necessary, but she also asked whether the government has done anything to help agencies respond to information requests even during a lockdown.

“Whether or not we’re in quarantine, the importance of the right to information remains the same,” said Chavez. During the quarantine, citizens yielded or entrusted power and resources to government, she said. Transparency measures are needed so the public is able to seek accountability and protection. 

On March 29, R2KRN asked the inter-agency task force and departments implementing the government’s Covid-19 action plan for a copy of the plans and structure of the task force as well as for specific sets of documents and data held by the departments of health, social welfare, agriculture, labor, and budget, and the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System.

The status of this request is being published online and updated weekly by the coalition members, including PCIJ. Most of the information requested has been partially fulfilled, but most of the releases are in PDFs, not in open-data or spreadsheet format that make the numbers easier to analyze.

R2KRN publishes weekly reports on the quality of information being provided by frontline agencies. Its May 5 report said that the health department is perhaps the only government agency that collects, processes, posts, and updates information on a regular basis. 

The coalition also raised questions about the completeness of the data. For instance, the daily Covid-19 case counts do not give a full picture of how the virus is spreading. Moreover, only 1,782 of more than 23,000 registered health facilities have submitted details on health capacity and needs. “With incomplete information, it is not clear how capable the health system really is to deal with the Covid-19 emergency,” R2KRN said.

In its May 12 report, R2KRN noted the sparse data released by the DSWD’s Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center (DROMIC), where updates on Covid-19 assistance are posted.  

The DROMIC provides data broken down by province and city, but does not say how many families have received assistance. It also does not disaggregate new from cumulative data, which would have been helpful in determining the rate of response by government and private entities.

The attempt to publish the list of SAP beneficiaries was commendable, said R2KRN. 

However, most of the links are down. The list is also partial and only includes areas that have reports from the DSWD’s field offices. Information can be downloaded but only as PDFs. 

Ryan Macasero, Rappler’s Cebu Bureau reporter, says he has been able to obtain Covid-19-related information but the process has become more laborious. Getting answers from officials, who may only be reached through virtual press briefings or call and chat, has taken more time and effort. 

“It makes their lives easier, but our jobs more difficult,” he says.

What seems to work, Macasero says, is when many reporters ask the same question. 

“We back each other up in the agencies’/office’s official media group chats and say we have the same question to try to emphasize that it’s important they answer us regarding these questions, because it’s information the public needs to know.” –With additional research   by Arjay Guarino, PCIJ, June 2020

Press freedom advocates hold black screen broadcast protests over ABS-CBN shutdown

By Sanafe Marcelo

The #BlackScreenBroadcast happened Friday evening, May 8, as press freedom advocates and rights groups held a two-hour black screen broadcast until 10 pm to denounce the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) cease and desist order against ABS-CBN.

Groups such as the University of the Philippines Film Institute, the Altermidya Network and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines took to Facebook to broadcast a black screen symbolizing the sign off the media giant was forced to undergo by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“As ABS-CBN shuts down, we go live in the dark. Imagine what a world would look like without freedom of expression. A world without stories, without conversations, without the exchange of ideas, without the checking of truth. Imagine not being able to imagine. When the powerful reign. When critics are silent. When the world goes dark. So tonight, we go live in the dark,” the group explained.

The online protest was in solidarity with ABS-CBN, to condemn the shutdown of the network and fight against the attack on press freedom.

Also on Friday night, the group Dakila, together with other press freedom advocates, launched the petition “Channel our Light; Solidarity statement of the Arts, Media and s Community” that garnered 781 signatures as of press time.

“The shutting down of the country’s largest media network, the attacks on the independent press, the orchestrated spread of disinformation, and the killings of journalists all lay down a worrying pattern of repression and conditions for more hardship. In effect, we are deprived of accessible, credible, and accurate information and our right to speak truth to power, both crucial to saving lives,’ Dakila said in the petition

The protest actions has started in January, led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, when news of plans by the Office of the Solicitor General to contest the network’s continued operations was first published.

The group led different protest actions worldwide that stopped when the corona virus lockdown started.

When ABS-CBN was finally forced to stopped broadcasting on free television and radio, however, the protest actions resumed.

Last Tuesday and Friday, the NUJP also held simultaneous online protests. #

Ang inyong matatamis na ngiti

Ni Ibarra Banaag

 

Sana’y di nagkamali sa treno’ng inyong sinakyan.
Nakakaaliw man at nakakabingi ang hagikgikan.
Ang sumakay ay di libre bagkus ay babayaran.
Ng buwis at inutang sa kawatang dayuhan.

Sana ay may preno ito sa pag-arangkada.
At ng di rumagasa sa mga barong- barong.
Malimas, madambong, pilak, gas at ginto.
Habang pinapatag matatayog na bundok.

Hiling ko sa pasahero ng Train 1 at 2.
Dumungaw naman kayo sa bintana ng bagon.
Masdan ninyo ang pumipila sa palabigasan.
Habulin niyo ng tingin ang mga Inang luhaan.

Sana’y maalimpungatan sa liliw ng bangungot.
Hindi dilaw ang buhay at dugo na nangalalagas.
Hindi pula ang naghahangad ng pagkawasak
Kundi ang uring sumasaklot sa katarungan.

Sa tuloy tuloy na pagragasa ng inyong tren.
Hindi lang puno ang nabubuwal kundi buhay.
Hindi lang ilog ang natutuyo kundi lalamunan
Hind lang burol ang napapatag kundi komunidad.

Hindi kalaban sa politika ang nakukulong.
Ang nasa piitan ay demokrasya at kamangmangan.
Hindi katungali sa eleksyon ang nasa bilibid.
Kundi ang kalayaan sa isang makatarungan lipunan.

Ako sa inyo ay may isang panalangin.
Na ‘wag maunsyami ang inyong pagbubunyi.
Kung kayo na ang biktima ng panggigipit.
Tumimbwang at sabihin kayo’y nanlaban.

                  –Setyembre 26, 2018

It’s not just about Sereno

By Luis V. Teodoro

The unprecedented removal through quo warranto proceedings of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno from her post isn’t only about her, or solely about the Supreme Court, the rule of law, the Constitution, or the Duterte regime and its autocratic pretensions. Even more crucially is it about the fate and future of the democratization process that at least twice in history has been interrupted at its most crucial stage, and, driven by the need to address political and economic underdevelopment, has had to twice start all over again in this country.

The democratization of Philippine society began with the reform movement of the late 19th century and reached its highest point during the Revolution of 1896, which was as much for independence, equality and social justice as it was against Spanish colonial rule. Through the worker-led Katipunan, the Revolution was on the verge of defeating the Spanish forces and had achieved de facto independence when a near-fatal combination of betrayal by the Magdalo faction of the rural gentry and foreign intervention prevented its fruition despite the First Republic, and left it unfinished.

United States recognition of Philippine independence in 1946 made the resumption of the democratization process and the completion of the Revolution possible. But thanks to the heirs of the principalia — the handful of families the US had trained in the fine arts of backroom politics and self-aggrandizement during its formal occupation of the Philippines — what instead ensued for two decades was a succession of administrations that prospered while presiding over the country and its people’s continuing poverty and underdevelopment, subservience to foreign interests, and political disempowerment.

Against these fundamental ills there had always been both armed and unarmed resistance even during the country’s captivity to US colonialism. But it was in the mid-1960s when the historic demands of the Philippine Revolution found their best expression in the movement for change initially led by workers and students which soon spread across the entire country and among various sectors. Its demand for the democratization of political power, for authentic independence, gender equality, agrarian revolution, and national industrialization resonated enough among the peasantry, progressive professionals, indigenous peoples, the enlightened religious, and liberated women to mobilize hundreds of thousands.

In the First Quarter Storm of 1970, the numbers of its adherents and the power of their demands were demonstrably enough for the second Marcos administration to use state violence to suppress the strikes, demonstrations and other mass actions that were almost daily challenging dynastic rule by demanding the end of feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism and imperialism. In response to these demands, and to keep himself in power beyond 1973, Marcos suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in 1971 and made good on his threat to declare martial law in 1972, when he placed the entire country under a dictatorship sustained by military bayonets on the pretext of saving the Republic and reforming society while actually doing the opposite.

Despite the worst repression, despite the arrests and detention, despite the torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing of thousands of the best and brightest sons and daughters of the people, it was in the resistance to the Marcos terror regime that democratization continued to find expression.

Many of those in the resistance refused to surrender it during the period of repression, but it took 14 years of armed and unarmed defiance before the Filipino people once more recovered the possibility of exercising the democratic right to shape their own future. However, despite its promise of far-reaching change with the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, over the last 32 years the 1986 civilian-military mutiny known as People Power or EDSA 1 has failed to deliver on that promise, thanks to the continuing monopoly over political power of the same dynasties that for over a century have prevented the realization of the changes Philippine society so desperately needs.

Over those three decades, people’s organizations and other democratic formations persisted in fighting for those changes. In 2001, outraged over the corruption and incompetence of a plunderous regime, they removed another president from power. While state repression in various forms, and with it such human rights violations as torture, enforced disappearances, abductions and extrajudicial killings continued, the reigns of three of the five presidents after Marcos that preceded Rodrigo Duterte’s have not been openly antagonistic to due process, the bill of rights, press freedom, and the system of checks and balances.

The Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Benigno Aquino III administrations at least paid lip service to the desirability of peace and the rule of law. But one cannot say the same of the Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regimes. The former was mostly focused on the use of the presidency in amassing wealth, while the latter was intent on remaining in power, and did not hesitate to use state violence to suppress dissent and opposition in advancing and protecting the personal, family and class interests behind it.

But it is the Duterte regime, with the enthusiastic support of the Estrada and Arroyo cliques, that has most imperiled the realization of the legitimate demands for the democratization of political power and economic opportunity, true independence, and inclusive development. It has become increasingly clear that President Rodrigo Duterte has not bothered to craft any master plan to end or even reduce poverty, or even such of its manifestations as environmental degradation, limited employment opportunities and low agricultural productivity under an archaic tenancy system. But he does have a blueprint for the restoration of authoritarian rule through his accomplices’ and minions’ dominance in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

The abridgment of press freedom, the attacks on human rights, the willful debasement of public discourse, the further erosion of the already erratic observance of the rule of law, and the subversion of the little that survives of the system of checks and balances through the orchestrated attacks on the ombudsman and Chief Justice Sereno are parts of the plot to undermine what little is left of democracy in these isles of uncertainty. By riding the crest of mass disaffection with government and the burgeoning demand for change and revolution to win the Presidency in 2016, Mr. Duterte has managed to hijack all three branches of government.

The ouster of Sereno as Chief Justice is not solely about Sereno. Neither is it about the Maleficent Six. It is about the imminent danger of dictatorship. This is the context in which, with the collaboration of his cohorts in Congress and the Supreme Court itself, Mr. Duterte is putting a stop to the democratization of Philippine society as Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972. For the third time since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that process is once more in danger of interruption — and worse, its final liquidation.

In these circumstances only the people themselves can put a stop to the latest assault on their right to self-government and the realization of their aspirations for a society of peace, justice and equality. Because the leaders to whom they had previously delegated their sovereign authority had failed them, they exercised their right and duty to remove them in 1986, and again in 2001.

Some events in the political lives of nations can be the turning point in the resolution of the contradictions that afflict them. The Sereno “incident” could be that point.

(First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from the Supreme Court.)

Students hold Black Friday Protest a week after Sereno’s ouster

A week after Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes PA Sereno was ousted by majority of the associate justices of the Supreme Court, students from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College and other groups held another Black Friday Protest along Katipunan Avenue.

Saying the Rodrigo Duterte regime’s looming control of all branches of government does not bode well for democracy in the country, the protesters added the people must be vigilant against the possible declaration of a nationwide martial law.

Sereno slams attacks against judicial independence

Beleaguered Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno slammed “bullying tactics” against her and the judiciary in a speech before civil libertarians last April 9 on the occasion of the Araw ng Kagitingan.

In this video, Sereno asked her audience to join her in the defense of judicial independence.

Election postponement erosion of democratic processes, poll workers say

Rank and file employees of the Commission on Election (Comelec) opposed moves at the House of Representatives to postpone the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK, community youth councils) elections (BSKE) for the third time, saying the move is part of the chronic erosion of democratic processes in the country.

In a statement, the Comelec Employees Union (Comelec-EU) said their hearts bleed for voters whose right to elect the Barangay and SK leaders are again shelved if the May 14 BSKE elections are pushed back for possibly another five months.

“While we fully respect the prerogative of Congress to enact and amend laws, including those pertaining to elections; we as election workers – duty-bound to uphold and protect the right to suffrage of every Filipino voter – cannot simply turn a blind eye to the chronic erosion of our democratic processes resulting from the frequent postponement of election of leaders in the most basic unit of our society, the Barangay,” the association said.

Comelec-EU said elections in the country must be held in regular, periodic and predictable intervals while failure to do so denies voters the right to elect the village and youth leaders or exact accountability from incumbent village and youth officials by way of the ballot.

The group also said precious government resources that went into their preparations may go to waste if plans of administration legislators push through.

“We remind our esteemed legislators that the Comelec has already printed the official ballots, election paraphernalia and all the accountable forms relative to the BSKE; the verified and certified list of Barangay and SK voters are already completed and posted outside all COMELEC local offices nationwide. Should we again reduce these to mere scratch paper?” the group asked.

Meanwhile, ACT Teachers’ Party Representative Antonio Tinio said effort by some barangay executives to push for postponement is a way to extend their terms of office.

“With due respect, Attorney, you’re so thick-faced to say the proposal is not self-serving. Many of you are third-termers already who should have faced an election process a long time ago,” Tinio told Liga ng mga Barangay president Edmund Abesamis at a hearing at the House of Representatives Monday.

The people’s sentiments—whom we are not consulting here—is for the elections to push through,” Tinio added.

Caloocan Second District Representative Edgar Erice also accused administration legislators of wanting to postpone the elections to coincide with the planned plebiscite for charter change.

“The people waited for their chance to vote. We are now playing with it. Why? Because we want it to coincide with the plebiscite! And why do we want a plebiscite? To approve the constitutional change that will contain a provision that will extend our terms!” Erice said.

Despite their objections, however, the House of Representatives Suffrage Committee voted to move the BSKE elections to October 8. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)