Manila: President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to declare September 21 a holiday ahead of protest rallies planned by opponents of his bloody crackdown on the illegal drug trade that has seen his administration dogged by accusations of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings.
“There will be no work in government offices,” said Duterte in a statement released by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on Saturday. “Classes will be suspended, All the public spaces that you want to occupy, get them.”
Addressing protesters who belong to a coalition of anti-Duterte groups called the Movement Against Tyranny, Duterte said, “There will be no policemen on the streets to stop you. I will assign a few policemen to maintain traffic so as not to inconvenience those who are not joining the protest rallies.”
Coincidentally, September 21 also marks the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by former Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos declared martial law in 1972.
Although Duterte did not specify the day he would declare as holiday, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday said that Duterte was apparently referring to September 21.
“During my interaction with him [Duterte] early this week, he predicted that there will be massive rallies in Metro Manila that might inconvenience the public.”
Duterte’s anti-drug campaign has claimed 3,800 lives since June last year. Police, however, blame drug syndicates for a thousand other deaths.
Duterte has also hinted that he may declare martial law to stop the Philippines from becoming a ‘narco-nation’.
The Movement Against Tyranny has rallied under the battle-cry “Stop the killings! Never again to tyranny and dictatorship.”
But rallies against Duterte have never witnessed widespread support, with the president remaining popular among Filipinos, according to polls.
“Stop the Killings! Never Again to Tyranny and Dictatorship!” has been the battle-cry of the Movement Against Tyranny. But rallies against Duterte has never gained popularity. He has remained popular among Filipinos, private polls said.
Responding to critics ahead of the planned demonstrations, Duterte said: “That’s the job of the president, to solve problems. Protest rallies will not affect me because I’m not up for any other election. I’m done. I do not have to make myself popular.”
Giving instructions on what the protesters should not do, Duterte said, “These are the things I’m asking from you: Don’t destroy, don’t vandalise. You can burn my effigy, the ones that look like me, you can make a hundred of that.”
“Do not take the law into your own hands,” Duterte warned. “Don’t ever make the mistake of destroying this and that. If you do that, the military and the police will be in front of you. Don’t allow armed communist[s] in your ranks”
Explaining the statement, Medialdea said, “He [Duterte] defends freedom of speech.”
Members of the Movement Against Tyranny include Catholic bishops, nuns and rights groups. Sources say they also include leftists allied with former President Benigno Aquino, who broke away from the 48-year-old Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
They are split into two main groupings, once called ‘Reject’ and the other going by the name ‘Reaffirm’, whose leaders have been engaged in on and off peace talks with the government since 1992.
Recently, Jose Maria Sison, founding chairman of the CPP-NPA, issued critical statements against Duterte.
The ‘Rejects’ have rejected Sison, while the ‘Reaffirms’ have backed his leadership and right to hold peace talks with the government.
Talks between Sison and the government negotiators, however, ended last month. It is not known if the ‘Reaffirms’ will join the September 21 rally.