Democracy and Authoritarianism

Recently there has been heavy coverage of the Philippines President, who was elected to his post earlier this year and assumed his post on 30th June. In the two plus months that he has been President, the spate of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines has increased dramatically. The President and his Government, and his law enforcement machinery have implicitly come to an understanding that the only way to eliminate drug trafficking in the Philippines is to follow violent means.

The Philippines is a democracy, though noisy in terms of politics, much like India. Everything and everyone can be challenged openly and the TV media pursues every scandal vociferously, much like India. It is not a dictatorship, it has a parliament and respected Judiciary.

But it is apparent that all arms of the government have taken heed of the national priority of the new President, which appears to be a complete and total elimination of drug traffickers and drug addicts from the society. While there could be any number of ways and means to curb the menace of drugs in society, it is imperative that the laws of the land are followed strictly and law should never be taken into the hands of anyone. This is not at all a new thing for any democratic country. Any criminal should be given an opportunity to defend himself with due process of law and provided with legal assistance.

The Philippines has to just look around in its own backyard at other member countries of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) on how they have successfully coped with their drug problems over the past few decades. Singapore and Malaysia are prime examples. The Philippines first needs to have appropriate laws enacted in the Parliament for dealing effectively with its drug menace, and provide suitable sentencing guidelines to its Judiciary, instead of just shooting down all drug addicts and traffickers. There is no easy way out of the problem, and this cannot be the only problem facing the country. There are a myriad of problems faced by the Philippines which I am not going to enumerate here. It should not add its litany of challenges by killing its own citizens in broad daylight and become the subject of ridicule and actions by international institutions.

The President has earned a bad name for himself and his country by using vulgar language against world leaders such as the Secretary General of the U.N., and the President of the U.S. and others. While it is never the right thing to do, the President has to realize his exalted status as the Head of State, and be very careful in making unwarranted utterances which can damage his country’s image and reputation. He is not a dictator, he is the democratically elected President of a sovereign country, and he needs to respect global institutions and other heads of states. The “strongman” approach to solving problems does not work in this modern world, given also the fact that citizens who are murdered on the streets are a real fact in the Philippines today.

As usual, ASEAN will not interfere in any of its member country’s problems or challenges. It will stay quiet when it should be strongly nudging the President to curtail his non-judicial manner of eliminating drug traffickers and criminals. The U.N. cannot keep quiet and the Human Rights Watch has already raised strong objections to the situation in the Philippines. But the President and the Parliament are nonchalant, and this is no good. The Parliament has even refused to provide protection to a hitman who testified against the President last week.

It is again clear that non-interference can never be the answer to any one country’s problems. Had the U.S. invaded Syria, 300,000 citizens would not have been killed in the bloody war imposed by the Syrian Government on its own citizens. While the comparison is extreme, no country should be allowed to kill its own citizens without according due process of law. And, ASEAN countries need to speak up against such behaviour of its member countries. Further, the U.N. should take action if the killings continue. And, finally, the U.S. should not keep quiet at what is happening in one of its allied countries.

Stop the Killings.


Vijay Srinivasan

18th September 2016

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