Aquino warns of return to tyranny

Presidents Benigno Aquino and Barack Obama. The US will miss Aquino. Source: Wikimedia

Outgoing Philippine President Benigno Aquino has called for people to defend their freedoms and democracy, while remaining vigilant as he warned the horrors of martial law under dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

In his final independence day speech before leaving office on June 30, Aquino said the archipelago during his term had been transformed from the “Sick Man of Asia” to one of its fastest growing economies. He said progress came because of respect for the rule of law, legal processes and human rights.

Aquino’s remarks were a clear warning that Davao mayor Rodrigo Duterte could take a more authoritarian approach.

Duterte makes comments about extrajudicial killings, calling bishops “sons of whores” and joked about an Australian who was raped and murdered.

He said journalists were “not exempted from assassination” although he later explained that he did “not condone nor tolerate killing of journalists, regardless of the motive of the killers, or the reason for their killing”.

His speech contained a video about how his father and other relatives suffered under martial law. His father was assassinated in 1983 on the runway of Manila’s airport when he returned to his homeland, three years before a pro-democracy uprising toppled Marcos.

“If we are not going to be vigilant, it could happen again,” Aquino said.

Duterte has said he would allow the burial of Marcos at the “heroes’ cemetery”, despite strong opposition from the Aquino family.

Marcos’ son, also Ferdinand, said his father’s body, which is in a glass coffin in Ilocos Norte, would probably be transferred to the heroes’ cemetery in September.

Marcos Junior, who lost the vice presidential election on May 9, said he and Duterte had discussed the burial plans and the possibility of a cabinet position in the new administration.

US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated the Philippines on its 118th independence day, calling Aquino a strong ally and faithful friend of the United States.

“On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I want to congratulate the people of the Philippines as you celebrate the anniversary of your nation’s independence this June 12,” a statement from Kerry said.

While he said the US was looking forward to strong cooperation with Duterte, Washington will be apprehensive about its new outspoken partner. He recently threatened to send the Americans and Australians a “shit” and cut diplomatic ties after their ambassadors complained about his gang rape “joke”.

“I thank President Aquino for being a strong ally and a faithful friend for the United States over the last six years,” Kerry added.