While the Constitution guarantees separation of powers among the three branches of the government, President Duterte has not relented in his attacks on democratic institutions, Senator Leila M. de Lima has said.
In her message before the Arellano University School of Law Student Government, De Lima said the creeping authoritarianism in the country is “shooting-down one-by-one” the institutions that protect people from abuse.
“It is chilling to think that just 30 years after we ushered in this new era of hopeful democracy, we are once again at the cusp of a creeping authoritarianism,” she said.
“The Legislature, especially some members of the House of Representatives, appears to have traded in its independence in exchange for the benefits they can reap from currying favor from the old man in Malacañang,” she added.
De Lima’s message, entitled “The Fight of a Lifetime: The Fight for our Constitution, our People, our Democracy, and our Nation,” was read by her representative, Ms. Raissa Sibolboro, during the Human Rights Symposium attended by law students at the Arellano School of Law last Sept. 17.
Aside from De Lima, who was not only detained on trumped-up drug charges fabricated by the administration but has also been subject of shameful attacks by Duterte, some members of the Senate are also under threat, including Senators Antonio Trillanes and Risa Hontiveros.
Trillanes was the subject of an ethics complaint that seeks his ouster for objecting the initial failure of a Senate panel to look into the allegations that a member of the First Family is involved in illegal drug smuggling activities. Hontiveros, for her part, was being the target of planned harassment suits to be filed upon the behest of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III.
The former justice secretary also pointed out that the ongoing impeachment complaint lodged against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno puts the Judiciary’s independence at greater peril.
“The Judiciary’s independence is also at risk, given that members of the Lower House, by their vote that the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is sufficient in form and substance, effectively sends a message to members of the court who would dare stand up against the combined forces of the President and his minions in Congress,” she added.
Note that Duterte, who has an axe to grind against his critics, has been using his power to intimidate, if not incarcerate, the government officials who dared oppose his crooked policies. Last month, a majority of the House of Representative voted to give the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) a measly budget of P1,000 for 2018. The House Justice Committee, voting 30-4, found enough basis to hear the charges against SC Chief Justice Sereno.
Even with the doctrine of separation of powers where every branch is separate, but co-equal with one another to check and balance one another, De Lima lamented that the President still continues to disobey the rule of law.
“The Rule of Law is all that stands between us and the powerful who use their power, might, wealth and influence to oppress, rather than lift up the defenseless and downtrodden,” she said.
“One by one the institutions that are meant to protect us are being shot down. Once they fall, who will be left to protect us? The common people? The poor, the powerless, or simply those of us who do not want to compromise our integrity and our commitment to the rule of law, truth and justice? We will be, once again, in the grim state of being under the grip of a dictatorship – worse, one that appears to be willing, and even eager, to sell us and our sovereignty out to foreign powers,” she added.
While the rule of Duterte, which is reminiscent of the fascict dictatorship of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, continues to intimidate most officials in power, De Lima said she is proud that the Filipino youth refuses to be cowered as they continue to fight the creeping dictatorship.
“What chills me, in a good way, is hearing news that there are still those who have not given into the false promises and the overt threats of tyranny. That it is the youth of today that are at the forefront of this fight, firmly shouting ‘Never Again!,’ is what gives me the good kind of chills. Do not cower. But know that it won’t be easy,” she said.
De Lima has continued to suffer humiliation, persecution and violation of her personal liberty at the hands of the present administration for speaking up against extrajudicial killings up to this day. She vowed to continue fighting against the injustices in the Duterte regime even while in detention.