New York University law professor Paul Chevigny defines the “populism of fear” as continuously imparting a fear of crime among the public in order to maintain their support. The practice is common among democratic countries, particularly in Latin America, where governments often create artificial tensions to invoke fear and claim fragmentation among the populace. It is also used to whitewash economic inequality, such as when the government fails to deliver on social services.
Such an act requires parties to find an issue that appeal to all classes. In this context, I am referring to the virtuous versus the dangerous; or the national government versus the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and their pertinent associations.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ campaign to eradicate the New People’s Army (NPA) by 2019, following the termination of peace talks, will result in mass human rights violations.
In the case of the nine murdered Sagay City farmers, the government blamed the NPA by connecting it to a “Red October” plot, done as a means of putting the government in bad light in order to gain sympathy for the rebel group. However, the tactic is nothing new since, under the President Rodrigo Duterte administration, the killing of progressive leaders and activists has grown, due to so-called “red-tagging.” The practice has resulted in the deaths of 172 farmers; 45 of which were in Negros, where victims were earning an oppressive P245 per day (some as low as P80 per day) from abusive hacienderos. Most of the targets were associated with the National Federation of Sugar Workers (believed to be under the umbrella of the CPP).
Why farmers are subject to intimidation and violence
For farmers, it is a similar situation for indigenous people, who have experienced harassment due to beliefs they were communist collaborators. Aside from the military’s exploitation of people and the police force being “corrupt to the core,” recent abuses, including rape, extortion, and torture, have attributed to a declining trust of uniformed personnel. However, there are also those who applaud the killings as it speaks for Duterte’s promise to cleanse society of the “dangerous other.”
Earlier this month, Atty. Benjamin Ramos, Jr., secretary-general for human rights group, the National Union of the People’s Lawyers-Negros, was gunned down by riding-in-tandem suspects in Barangay 5, Kabankalan City. His murder made him the 24th lawyer murdered during the Duterte administration; killed for assisting the poor who are often oppressed by provincial bigwigs.
The transcending paradigm of human rights, from bad to worse, has turned the country into a playground for slaughtering human rights defenders critical of the government. The “red scare” has turned into a witch hunt and many of the wrongly-identified are executed, which are then covered up by fabricated tales of inciting rebellion against the state.
A culture of impunity
The culture of impunity exists as public support for the president’s campaign to eradicate communist presence remains. By tagging the CPP-NPA as a “terror organization,” the government has imposed emergency rule, which includes “purging” operations. This strategy against the communists is not to win a war, it is to promote an authoritarian agenda by establishing a climate of intimidation and fear. Such a position will result in the destruction of institutions, such as discrediting the church, silencing progressive groups, and labelling all opposition as enemies of the state; which provides a “walk in the park” towards authoritarian rule – the public is not yet mindful of such repercussions.
Cultivating fear to build public support and creating a repressive apparatus of tension leads to violations of human rights and other concerns. Fears are often covered-up by the media and positive government ratings, but with the rise of extrajudicial killings, vigilantism, and, more recently, crooked police officers using anti-illegal drug operations to engage in kidnap-for-ransom, who does one call when in need of assistance?
If the president continues his myopic war against the communists and fails to acknowledge the need to address more severe problems in the country, his government will steadily erode and the people will rise up. Duterte will reap the ire of the angry mobs hungry for change. His narrow-mindedness may bring about an even greater fear, creating a “Tyrant Reich.”/WDJ