In his latest outrage, the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte now threatened to actually impose martial law across the country if the drug problem becomes "very virulent." Reuters on Jan. 16 quoted him as saying: "If I wanted to, and it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law. No one can stop me." In a comment apparently directed at the Supreme Court and Congress, he voiced open defiance of legal norms: "My country transcends everything else, even the limitations."
Since Duterte took office at the end of June, it is believed that more than 6,000 people have been killed in his anti-drug crackdown—both in "official" police operations and paramilitary "vigilante" activity. More than 1 million drug dealers and users have been arrested or have surrendered to authorities.
Just last month, Duterte denied that he was considering a declaration martial law. "That's nonsense," he said in response to a reporter's question. "We had martial law before, what happened? Did it improve our lives now? Not at all." This was a reference to the decade of martial law in the 1970s under dictator Ferdinand Marcos. That Duterte would flip-flop on this question is hardly surprising, since he last year had the remains of the reviled Marcos officially reburied at the national Cemetery of Heroes.
This isn't the only flip-flopping Duterte has done recently on questions concerning human rights. Last month, he actually said he would emulate the charming practice of the South American dictators of the 1970s, of throwing desaparecidos out of helicopters—and even boasted that he had actually done it!
Al Jazeera quoted him warning his subordinates Dec. 19: "If you are corrupt, I will fetch you using a helicopter to Manila and I will throw you out. I have done this before. Why would I not do it again?" But a few days later, speaking to CNN, he said he had only been joking. Asked about calls by the United Nations to investigate his boast of participating in an extrajudicial killing, he taunted the reporter: "I am playing you, I am really like that, your team knows I really want to say jokes."
A growing sense of ungovernabilty could provide Duterte with the expedient to instate martial law. Some 100 armed men stormed the North Cotabato jail in the restive southern island of Mindanao the night of Jan. 3, and set free 158 detainees after an hour-long gun-battle with guards. A guard and six escapees were reported killed. It was the third and biggest jailbreak in the past decade at North Cotabato District Jail, according to the Philippine Star newspaper. The jailbreaks are believed linked to Mindanao's Islamist insurgency.
Having isolated himself with his open contempt for human rights, Duterte is of course seeing CIA destabilization conspiracies against him. He said in an interview with CNN Philippines Dec. 30: "Most of the ambassadors of the United States…are not really professional ambassadors. At the same time they are spying, they are connected with the CIA." Duterte was commenting on a report in the Manila Times claiming that Philip Goldberg, who resigned in November as the US ambassador to the Philippines, left behind a detailed plan on how to undermine and oust the Duterte government. Citing a document received from a “highly placed source,” the newspaper said that Goldberg's "blueprint to undermine Duterte" included supporting domestic opposition with grants and diplomatic assistance, and pressuring other Asian nations to cut ties with the Philippines. The claims are of course eagerly taken up by Russian state propaganda mouthpiece RT.
It will be interesting to watch whether Duterte patches things up with Washington and calls off his "separation" from the United States once Donald Trump is in office, and the Philippine strongman is once again given free rein to unleash state terror on druggie scum.