Is the government also waiting for the same thing to happen to jeepney drivers who have been rendered jobless by the lockdown?
On June 2, six Piston jeepney drivers were arrested in Caloocan for holding a peaceful protest for #BalikPasada and #NoToJeepneyPhaseout action. Without income for months, many of them have resorted to begging in the streets. Instead of providing assistance and finding ways to let them get back on the road–which in return will help thousands of commuters who compete everyday for limited means of transportation–the government even used the lockdown as an opportunity to push for jeepney modernization. It was only after consistent pressure from the drivers that a few of them were allowed to drive again. At the time of this writing, many jeepney drivers are still being promised that they will get back on the road despite the imminent possibility of being permanently replaced by the unaffordable modern jeepneys.
Through empty assurances, the government gets to delay the explosion of people’s rage, like a bandage to a wound. Likewise, shortcut solutions show how the government is at least “doing something”. When people get used to mediocre state measures, we usually take delight at the slightest “government action” and start to treat public service more as an utang-na-loob than a right.
Not only is the lockdown an opportune time to phase out traditional jeepneys; it was also an advantageous chance to crack down on critics. Since the first few weeks of the lockdown, dozens of individuals have been subpoenaed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for their critical social media posts against government. Some of them were even arrested including teachers Juliet Espinosa and Ronnel Mas, and Cebu-based artist Bambi Beltran.
The crackdown intensified in the following months. On May 5, two days after Press Freedom Day, ABS-CBN went off-air after having been issued a cease-and-desist order by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). The network had been processing their franchise renewal since 2014 but had a hard time. They have been accused of “swindling” Duterte for not airing his paid ads during the 2016 Presidential elections. On July 10, after a succession of hearings, ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal was denied by the House Committee in a landslide vote.
Meanwhile, on June 15, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos were convicted of cyberlibel for updating a contested article written even before the law was enacted. Rappler has been the target of pro-Duterte trolls since 2016 for its critical exercise of journalism.
Having taken down a major media network and an influential journalist, the government is flexing its punitive muscles to those who dare stray from safe media practice. Worse, it shows how it is alright to lose a major broadcast network, how it is normal to put truth-tellers behind bars, how it is okay to lose legitimate sources of information. By arresting critical individuals, the government encourages silence as a normal way of life.
Emboldening abuse of power
The ultimate culmination of it all is what seems to be the gradual transition of the country into a police state with the passing of the Anti-Terror Law.
Even before this law was signed on July 3, a number of illegal arrests have already befallen activists. Such include the arrest of six Sagip Kanayunan volunteers in Bulacan on April 19, of 7 students in UP Cebu on June 5, of 20 LGBTQIA+ activists in Manila on June 26, and of 11 activists in Cabuyao, Laguna on July 4.
Other than these, what proves the Anti-Terror Law to what could be the worst breach to human rights is its primary implementers, the police – who were also the implementers of the bloody War on Drugs – have again been perpetrating atrocities to innocent people since the lockdown. Remarkable cases include the violent dispersal of 21 protesters of Sitio San Roque on April 1, the killing of warshocked ex-military Winston Ragos on April 21, the violent arrest of a fish vendor in Panay Avenue on April 28, and the rape and murder of Fabel Pineda on July 2.
By emboldening the police officers’ abuse of power, the government makes the people get used to surveillance, illegal arrests, abductions, and killings until submission and callousness become the new normal.
The Anti-Terror Law has taken effect last Saturday. As the ultimate culmination of state terror and neglect, it fortifies the discipline rhetoric, the downplaying of people’s plight, shortcut solutions and empty assurances, silencing dissent, and emboldening the abuse of power. Maybe that’s what “new normal” means all along. (davaotoday.com)
Roma Estrada has taught for ten years in different high schools and universities. She also writes for Gantala Press, Ibong Adorno, and Concerned Artists of the Philippines. Currently maintaining a column for Davao Today, she also co-edited LILA, a poetry anthology by women, and Kult, a collection of capsule critiques. Her other works can be read in the anthologies Umaalma, Kumikibo (Gantala Press, 2018) and Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines, forthcoming from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.