MANILA, Philippines— Thousands of protesters marked the anniversary of the 1972 martial law declaration by late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos with an outcry against what they say is the current president’s authoritarian tendencies and his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs.
Hundreds of riot police deployed to secure the marches and rallies, which are expected to be among the largest against President Rodrigo Duterte since he took office last year.
Pro-Duterte followers also staged rallies in Manila and police say they would guard against possible confrontations.
Duterte has warned he would use force or expand nationwide his martial law declaration in the country’s south if anti-government protesters threaten public order. He placed the entire southern third of the largely Roman Catholic nation under martial law in May to deal with a bloody siege by pro-Islamic State group militants in southern Marawi city that has dragged on for nearly four months.
Marcos’ martial law era, which ended in 1981, had been marked by massive human rights violations and muzzling of civil liberties.
According to left-wing group Karapatan, “Duterte and his security cluster have utilized narratives and tactics straight out of Marcos’s playbook of repression, repeating and justifying rights violations, with increasing frequency and intensity.
Known for bombastic remarks, Duterte has said activists can stage street protests without government permits, and that even communist guerrillas can join as long as they don’t bring their guns. He said he was also ready to turn in his resignation to Congress anytime if the military agrees.
He warned protesters not to break the law. “I will not hesitate to use force even if it would mean my downfall as president of this country, remember that,” Duterte said Friday on state TV.
Waving red flags and carrying placards that read “Stop the Killings,” left-wing groups started to mass up in three Manila areas, including at the foot of a bridge leading to the presidential palace. A few thousands marched at a university area, yelling “Never again, never again to martial law.” They planned to gather later Friday at a park by Manila Bay for the main protest. Rallies at the nearby U.S. Embassy have been prohibited by police.
Another group of protesters were to stage a separate rally at the Commission on Human Rights, which has been repeatedly denounced by Duterte for raising an alarm over his police-led campaign against illegal drugs that has left thousands of suspects dead.
Duterte’s dominant allies in the House of Representatives initially voted to reduce the commission’s annual budget to 1,000 pesos ($20) but reconsidered the decision late Wednesday amid an outcry and after the human rights chief met congressional leaders.
Washington and European Union officials, along with the United Nations and human rights watchdogs, have expressed alarm over the drug killings in the Philippines, sparking expletives-laden outbursts from Duterte. The unorthodox president, however, has remained popular in his crime-weary country, helped by his common-guy demeanour and populist rhetoric.
Duterte said Wednesday he has ordered law enforcers to kill his own children, two of whom serve as mayor and vice mayor of his southern home city, if they’re involved in illegal drugs.
“You can just kill them so the people can’t say anything,” Duterte said. “I will protect the police who will kill you, if that is true.”