Mong Palatino

Blogging about the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific since 2004


@mongster is a Manila-based activist, former Philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of Asia-Pacific affairs.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

President Rodrigo Duterte’s late night spiel clarifying what he meant by the infamous ‘shoot them dead’ order confirmed our fears that he is applying ‘tokhang’ methods in addressing the COVID-19 health crisis. This is both alarming and infuriating since it could enable law enforces to commit rights abuses with impunity.

Duterte’s incoherent explanation about police procedures in making an arrest and the circumstances that make it necessary to shoot suspects were the exact arguments he used in justifying why the police should kill suspects resisting arrest (nanlaban) in 2016 and 2017.

Duterte was not defending the legality of his ‘shoot people dead’ directive, he was reviving a Tokhang rhetoric that led to bloody consequences.

The commander-in-chief was addressing not just the public but state troops who are manning checkpoints and communities under lockdown. Duterte appeared to be rambling but he was actually normalizing the use of guns and aggressive police actions in the name of protecting public safety. He was both instilling fear among the people (obey or risk punishment) while directing the police to establish full control through the use of extreme measures.

We have condemned the militarized approach in the fight against COVID-19. We condemn too the use of the Tokhang model in shaping narratives, mobilizing the bureaucracy with the police and the military in command, and the president’s narrow and intolerant view on dissent during an emergency situation.

Tokhang failed to solve the drug menace but it desensitized local communities as state forces went on a rampage committing various types of abuses. We fear that Duterte is using Tokhang methods not to contain the virus but to impose draconian social control measures. This is a looming threat as the government continues to be remiss in delivering aid to millions of households. Rather than fast track the implementation of social amelioration measures, Duterte is more focused in deterring people to protest or even complain about the lack of food and other services in their communities. Duterte’s late night outburst shows that his government is preparing to contain unrest and not how it will ensure that people’s needs are addressed if the lockdown is extended for another two weeks.

Duterte keeps on making televised speeches but remains silent on the issues of slow testing, inadequate protection for frontliners, and the delayed distribution of cash aid to poor households. Here is a government demonstrating its insensitivity to the plight of ordinary citizens and the inhumanity of talking about killing hungry protesters. The gall to continue asking for public support despite its callousness and unrestrained hostility to those who are demanding accountability.

We reiterate our urgent demands: free mass testing now, food and cash aid now, protection for frontliners now, and the lifting of unnecessary lockdown restrictions.

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