President Rodrigo Duterte’s apology to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno over last week’s tirade may have calmed the public’s nerves temporarily, but his threat to declare martial law, even if inferred rhetorically as his apologists claimed, still lingers like a Damocles sword hanging over our collective heads.
To recall, the presidential tirade stemmed from Sereno’s directive to judges included in the Palace narco list not to heed police summons unless they were served arrest warrants.
True to form, the Chief Justice’s letter to President Duterte only resulted in a tirade in which he warned her not to get in the way of his relentless campaign against illegal drugs lest it result in a constitutional crisis.
“You want me to declare martial law?” the President intoned as he also warned that he can order everyone in the executive department not to follow her. The communist rebels were right; it takes very little spark to provoke the President into launching his own verbal broadsides against anyone.
And as anyone knows by now, not even the Pope is spared from his unrelenting wrath. Besides, the President’s narco list has more than its share of flaws, with some of those suspected of illegal drug involvement had passed away or were no longer in power.
Rather than engage in a war of words, Chief Justice Sereno wisely let her spokesperson do the talking, but Duterte’s threat swung dangerously not only at her but at a Filipino public that we’d like to believe still remembers all too well what living under a police state felt like.
Right now it’s practically useless and even downright foolish to expect the President to heed public sentiment to ease back on his temper and act and speak with more prudence.
In his bull-headed campaign to rid the country of illegal drugs in his self-imposed three- to six-month deadline, the President is shown to be willing to cast aside even the most basic diplomacy and call anyone “idiot” and “gay.”
More importantly, the President’s all-out war against illegal drugs has resulted in extrajudicial killings and the shakedown of both low-level pushers and users through “Oplan TokHang” and his public naming and shaming of top level police and local officials.
Through it all, the President blamed the media for pressuring him to make his narco list public. But it merely showed that he still has to find ways to deal with the public’s need to make transparent and accountable his administration’s campaign which has resulted in casualties that he himself had warned will continue to mount until the drug menace is stopped.
In doing this, it would serve the President well to avoid brandishing martial law like a broadsword and conduct his campaign with surgical, clinical precision instead, i.e. within the bounds of the law.
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