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A war on the poor

Since President Rodrigo Duterte took oath last June 30, more than a billion pesos worth of illegal drugs have been seized and destroyed and thousands of suspected drug users and pushers have surrendered.



Since President Rodrigo Duterte took oath last June 30, more than a billion pesos worth of illegal drugs have been seized and destroyed and thousands of suspected drug users and pushers have surrendered.

The numbers do not lie – the Duterte administration’s war on criminality and drugs is on a winning streak.

However, on the losing end of this war are street-level pushers and users, rarely ever big-time crime and drug lords, and worse, mere innocent people sentenced to death with gunshots and cardboard signs saying, “Pusher/User ako, ‘wag tularan.”

According to a running body count of, there have been at least 312 drug-related killings since May 10. This means that on average, about four people were killed each day since the day after the national elections in apparent vigilante killings and in police operations gone wrong, where alleged drug suspects would always “fight back.”

The narratives of these police operations have been disturbingly repetitive and predictable to the point that reporters could probably use their previous articles on drug slays as a template. Spot reports from the Manila Police District tell stories of slain drug suspects who pulled a gun after sensing police presence, shot at police officers, or grabbed a police officer’s weapon. These tragedies—or celebrations, for some—have become Sisyphus’ stone.

It is worth noting that most, if not all, of these cases happen in the slums, where the country’s most vulnerable reside. Authorities rarely train their eyes and guns to posh and upscale urban dwellings but to shanties in informal settlements. It is as if law enforcement has equated poverty with criminality and drug use, which is ultimately equated to, as the cardboard signs suggest, uselessness in society.

The war on drugs and criminality is synonymous to a war on the poor and defenseless. These people are poor enough to not afford legal aid and, adding insult to injury, are now being denied due process completely.

It is such a shame that it seems that Duterte, whose supporters are largely from the lower classes and claims to be center-left, an ideology which his son Sebastian dubbed as “the ideology of the poor,” is systemically targeting the same people who supported him as if to keep them subjugated.

To make matters worse, calls for the halting and probing of these killings from the Church and human rights advocates seem to have fallen on deaf ears, as the usual swift and efficient Duterte has yet to use his “political will” to deal with vigilante groups and with police officers who have killed drug suspects.

Duterte has also yet to address the behavior of his supporters, a sizeable chunk of which are extremely overjoyed to see a fellow human being denied due process. These supporters also use arguments which hinge on false dichotomy, saying that they would rather see another poor dead drug addict on the street rather than see another woman raped and killed by a drug addict. This, of course, neglects the fact that it is possible to have neither.

This negative, violent and extremist attitude towards drug addiction reveals that the complexity of it, like most mental illnesses, is largely misunderstood.

While a lot of Duterte’s supporters are rabidly ecstatic over thousands of surrendering suspected drug users, it is very clear that surrendering and signing an agreement to never use drugs again would prove to be ineffective, especially if they are already addicted. What the campaign needs, and shamefully also lacks, are adequate rehabilitation facilities to ensure that these people are given proper psychological treatment and are nursed back to normality.

If the Duterte administration is absolutely serious on stopping drugs, then it must also prioritize funding for intensive drug use prevention campaigns, treatment, and harm reduction services. In fact, if any government is serious about the war on drugs, then it must end the war completely and take an entirely different approach, like the path taken by Portugal.

Portugal treated drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement issue back in 2001 and decriminalized the possession of small quantity of drugs. Since then, the country has seen a significant decrease in overdosing and addiction, which led to the improvement of public safety and health, as detailed by this report of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Ending abusive drug use is extremely important as it jeopardizes the safety and health of the general public, not only with regards to the negative effects of addiction itself but also to other concerns like rising HIV infections due to needle sharing. However, it must be ended with the goal of saving the lives of all people, not just those who are socially privileged and can confidently say, “I have nothing to worry about because I am not a drug pusher.”

But of course, planting bullets in the skulls of drug suspects is much cheaper than investing in long-term solutions.



Press freedom and the EDSA revolution

Press freedom does not belong merely to the people of the press, but to each and every member of the public the profession serves.



EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial is from the UP Journalism Club and the Philippine Collegian, with TomasinoWeb, Tug-ani, and the LaSallian.

Contrary to the status quo, the people, not the government, hold the power in a democracy. To wield this power and attain what is rightfully theirs, the public’s access to information should be a given—no bureaucratic red tape, no threats of death or harm to persons.

A genuinely free and independent press is vital in protecting the public’s right and capacity to make decisions regarding their own welfare; a democratic society is not itself without it. And so, press freedom does not belong merely to the people of the press, but to each and every member of the public the profession serves.

More often than not, however, the destruction of this basic freedom is the first step of despots and dictators bent on seizing political power—very much like the case with Rappler, libel suits and the continuing call for the criminalization of libel, defunding of student publications, and the harassment and murder of journalists.

The Duterte administration does not stop there. It employs equally effective means to obscure the truth and discredit the very role of journalism in consolidating its propagandists, bloggers, and purveyors of fake news to constantly bombard the people’s mindsets with outright distrust in the field of journalism.

Therefore, that the government, sworn to serve the public that voted it to power, is waging a war against press freedom is a strong indication of the extremely urgent need to rise up and engage in a larger fight against dictatorship.

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The media under attack today is that which is critical of the powerful, that which seeks to counter misinformation, lies and myth. In the martial law years, it was the critical disposition of the alternative press that constantly fed information to the public, no matter how subtle or bold the means. It was this sense of criticality that ousted the dictatorship and brought back democracy in our land.

It is now, more than ever, that the press must consciously, actively be on the side of truth. Today’s press must regain its role—never simply a passive, “neutral” reporter of the changing history, but a critical watchdog of the society, of the powers that be.

On the 32nd anniversary of the historic EDSA revolution, it would all serve us well to remember that power still very much remains in the people and no one can stand in their way anytime they decide to forcefully take back what is owed them. The Filipino people cannot afford to lose democracy again. All dissent is in danger. We need to stand together to protect press freedom.


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To repress the press is to oppress the people

Philippine media, once considered to be among the freest in Asia, is now under attack from an increasingly fascist regime. The case against Rappler is one of these attacks.



Animation by Justine Reyes/TomasinoWeb.

It is already more than apparent that the Philippines is rapidly nosediving towards a fascist dictatorship; and, like any dictatorship, the free press is public enemy number one.

In a move straight out of the playbook of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, President Rodrigo Duterte seems to be keeping his word on his threats against online news site Rappler: Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s registration for allegedly violating constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership and control of mass media entities—a move which could effectively end Rappler’s operations.

This is a blatant attack on press freedom; but for Duterte’s staunch loyalists, the SEC ruling against Rappler seems like a glorious victory after months of war with the so-called “biased” and “yellow” media.

Notwithstanding the repeated harassment and disinformation of online trolls and pro-administration bloggers (some of whom now occupy government posts), Duterte has long openly targeted Rappler and other major media outlets that have been critical in their reportage of his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs in a glaring effort to silence the press: The president himself blasted the online news site along with broadcasting giant ABS-CBN and the Philippine Daily Inquirer during his second State of the Nation Address last July.

Philippine media, once considered to be among the freest in Asia, is now under attack from an increasingly fascist regime; what used to be mere but nonetheless alarming microagressions against the media—such as cursing at journalists, catcalling of female reporters, and claiming without proof that journalists were being killed for being corrupt—have now escalated to all-out attacks on the press.

Duterte and his supporters are arguing for constitutionality in Rappler’s case, but for an administration that thrives on the violation of multiple constitutional safeguards on checks and balances and human rights, they are not fooling anyone: It is obvious enough that ordering Rappler’s closure is a politically motivated move meant to send a chilling effect to the media and his critics, in a way similar to how Marcos cemented his dictatorship 47 years ago.

Philippine journalism faces even greater threats and challenges in its line of duty of serving the truth and the people.

It is a preview of what is in store for Philippine media in an all-out fascist regime: Media outlets will be forced to apply for accreditation from the government; identified critical outlets will be slapped with overblown and questionable charges and will be forced to close down, putting journalists and media practitioners out of work, behind bars—or worse, dead—if they do not bend to the whims of the regime.

The numbers do not lie: The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism have recorded the killings of six journalists in the first 16 months of Duterte’s term, along with eight attempted murders and death threats, and six major cases of threats from local officials and pro-administration bloggers.

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In their year-end report, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders declared the Philippines the “deadliest country” in Asia for journalists after recording four journalist killings in 2017.

Even the campus press is not safe from the state’s fascist attacks: The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) have denounced last October the military and police surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and red-tagging of several member publications in Bicol, and several other campus journalists and activists, due to their affiliation with CEGP.

Perhaps, to accurately and faithfully quote the English novelist George Orwell, “Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being.”

As dissent grows among the public with every fascist attack, the government’s attempts to close Rappler is not just an attack on Rappler nor is it just an attack on the press: It is an attack on democracy, it is an attack on the right of free expression of every citizen, it is an attack on the people and the growing resistance against Duterte’s fascist regime, even if his paid army of online trolls try tell otherwise.

In this age of fake news and trolls where critics and the press are defamed as invariably biased or partisan, Philippine journalism faces even greater threats and challenges in its line of duty of serving the truth and the people.

In these trying times where the press becomes the watchdog of an increasingly fascist dictatorship, we will not be silenced. Every effort to repress the press is to oppress the people, and we will continue to resist every effort to suppress the freedom we have long fought for with both ink and blood.

The free press has proven time and time again that its power does not waver under a dictatorship; if anything, its voice only grows louder and more critical in arousing, organizing and mobilizing the masses to stand up to tyrants and depose them from power: We will not be afraid to do the same.

TomasinoWeb stands with Rappler, with every Filipino journalist, and with the struggle for a genuine free press—one that serves no political or commercial interest but only the truth and the people.

Rappler’s fight is our fight: We will hold the line.


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Resist Duterte’s terrorism

With his threats to crack down on activists, the return of police in drug operations, and the further extension of martial law in Mindanao, it is now more than clear that Duterte is setting the stage for a fascist dictatorship.



Cartoon by Jessica Lopez/TomasinoWeb

Dissent and resistance are vital signs of a living democracy — but for President Rodrigo Duterte and his lapdogs, dissent is destabilization; resistance is terrorism.

It is now more than clear that Duterte is setting the stage for a fascist dictatorship: He had openly admitted to being fascist last month — all in the midst of bringing back the police in the killing fields of drug operations, extending martial law in Mindanao for another year, and even threatening to criminalize organized dissent by arresting activists for supposedly conspiring with so-called terrorists.

It is ironic, to say the least: If anything, Duterte’s mass murder of the poor in his brutal anti-drug campaign, his threats to bomb the schools and communities of indigenous peoples, and his suggestions of declaring a “revolutionary” government in order to quell justified rebellion against his tyrannical regime had left the people terrorized more than those he eagerly maligned and vilified as enemies of the state.

Duterte must have forgotten to admit that he is also the country’s leading terrorist — and, in fully unveiling the rotting core his fascist regime, his terror attacks on the people have only intensified.

Despite the success of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in conducting 2,161 anti-drug operations almost without blood and violence, Duterte is hellbent on satisfying his maniacal bloodlust by taking the operations from PDEA and giving it back to the police.

Lest it be forgotten, brutal police operations took the lives of youth like Kian Loyd Delos Santos and Carl Angelo Arnaiz, among other victims and “collateral damages” of summary executions.

At the start of his term, Duterte promised to end illegal drug trade in the country within his first six months in office— or else, he said he would resign.

Already long overdue on his false promise of change, Duterte is yet to step down and is now frantically clinging to his bloody throne, now that the popularity he once enjoyed is diminishing.

Rightfully expecting strong backlash, Duterte is now taking desperate measures to silence dissent — and his schemes are blatantly transparent.

Duterte must have forgotten to admit that he is also the country’s leading terrorist — and, in fully unveiling the rotting core his fascist regime, his terror attacks on the people have only intensified.

One must look no further than his continuing undermining of checks and balances: The impeachment proceedings of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno continue along with threats to impeach Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, his tirades on the Commission on Human Rights, and his online troll army’s discrediting of the media.

Even taking cues from the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Duterte had also resorted to declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorist organizations” — effectively reducing the long-standing communist insurgency in the country to mere terrorism — in a bid to legalize his crackdown on detractors and activists, including militant youth and student formations, by the way of trumped-up charges, illegal arrests, and spurious accusations of conspiracy and terrorism.

Just as his crackdown on illegal drugs saw the deaths of thousands of alleged drug users and pushers based on mere suspicion, Duterte is now emboldening state forces and his vigilante loyalists to arrest — or worse, kill —dissenters by conveniently labeling them as “rebels” and “terrorists.”

The declaration is already reaping fatal results: The past week saw the killings of clergymen such as activist-priest Marcelito Paez, who was gunned down by still-unidentified assailants in Jaen, Nueva Ecija last Dec. 4, right after facilitating the release of a peasant leader arrested by the army’s 56th infantry battalion for allegedly being a member of the NPA.

Paez’s death followed that of pastor Lovelito Quiñones, who was killed by forces of the police regional mobile group in an encounter in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro last Dec. 3, with the army’s 203rd brigade claiming that Quiñones was an NPA guerrilla.

The wheels even seem to have started turning long before: Merely a week after formally terminating the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA, student-activists from the University of the Philippines and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines were killed in an encounter with the police and the Air Force 730th combat group in Nasugbu, Batangas last Nov. 28, where the military had been conducting aerial bombings and arrests of peasant leaders tagged as NPA members for the past months.

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Unsurprisingly, the military insisted that all 15 casualties in the Nasugbu encounter — including the student-activists — were full-time NPA guerrillas.

School-based formations — and even campus publications — which were already reporting the harassment, intimidation, and red-tagging of their leaders and members by police and suspected military agents for the past months are now receiving anonymous death threats and targeted harassment in the midst of the crackdown on activist groups.

A member of the UST chapter of militant student group League of Filipino Students, for example, received death threats via phone call last Dec. 4; the same number also sent threats to a member of poetry collective KM64.

The madman Duterte, however, does not seem to be satisfied with his bloodbath and totalitarian reign of terror.

Like a true Marcos fanboy, Duterte is now using the excuse of “communist terrorism” to make his rubber stamp Congress approve his bid to further extend martial law in Mindanao for another year and strengthen counterinsurgency operations in the region.

Lumad communities — which had been the usual targets of aerial bombings and military harassment for actively defending their ancestral domains from the land-grabbing of mining companies and transnational corporations — have decried the further extension of martial law as an avenue for the military to tag them as rebels and forcibly drive them out of their lands.

The same day as Quiñones’s death, Karapatan reported that a composite team of the army’s 27th and 33rd infantry battalions and the Marines killed eight Lumad farmers in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, among other Lumad killings linked to counterinsurgency operations.

Lumad families in the area have reclaimed 300 hectares of their domains from the land-grabbing of David M. Consunji Inc.; the military immediately branded them as members of the NPA.

Checkpoints of the 75th infantry battalion have also continued to block the entry of food and relief goods being sent to Lumad families displaced by counterinsurgency operations in evacuation centers in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

The military continues to deny the food blockade despite numerous reports from local media, non-government organizations and civil society groups.

Even more alarming, however, is that fact that the first extension of martial law in Mindanao is not even over and yet Duterte’s lapdogs in Congress are now pushing to put the entire country under martial law.

Coupled with his previous suggestions of declaring a “revolutionary” government, it does not seem far-fetched that the self-declared fascist will push through in declaring a nationwide martial law to finally seize and consolidate his power in a one-man rule.

Rightfully expecting strong backlash, Duterte is now taking desperate measures to silence dissent — and his schemes are blatantly transparent.

The country faces darker days ahead; the killings, violence, and the culture of impunity will only continue to worsen as the state paves the way for a fascist dictatorship — and no one is safe.

But if Duterte thinks the people’s struggle will be cowed by threats of arrests, abductions, torture — and even death — he is utterly mistaken: As if he had never read a history book, state oppression and violence only emboldens resistance, and their numbers are growing by the day.

The youth holds power in these trying times, and they must continue to stand and resist the imminent threat of another dictatorship and join the people’s struggle in their fight for genuine change — a change that will never come from the bloody fists of a self-declared fascist.

History has proven time and time again that the people’s struggle can topple down dictators — and Duterte and his reign of terror are not exceptions.


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