Thousands of anti-government protesters thronged Manila Thursday in the largest outpouring of opposition against President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs and strongman style of governance, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The protests, planned to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, extend weeks of backlash against the Duterte administration following the alleged execution of a teenager by police officers last month.
“Human lives are indispensable. One death is too many,” said Robbie Solis, a 32-year-old who lives in Manila and joined a protest outside the Commission on Human Rights. “Even if there’s a high chance that the person is a criminal, people still have rights.”
Protests were planned all over the Philippines, concentrated in several locations in the capital. Early evening, thousands of mostly young protesters holding banners marched about a mile from two locations to the commission, chanting “never again to martial law.”
Later in the evening, a larger crowd braved heavy rain and dark to gather in Rizal Park, also known as Luneta. Speakers from activist groups denounced the Marcos regime and compared it to Duterte’s government, to the cheers and support of protesters hiding beneath a sea of umbrellas. Smaller pro-government protests were held elsewhere in the city.
Since Duterte took office last year promising to tackle drug activity, more than 3,800 people have been killed by police during anti-narcotics operations, according to the most recent official data. Estimates from human-rights organizations and local media place the number as high as 13,000 when killings by unknown vigilantes are included.
In a presidential proclamation this week, Duterte declared Thursday a national day of protest “in solidarity with the people’s call against all excesses and shortcomings of the government.”
Duterte was defiant in a televised interview broadcast Tuesday by the state-run People’s Television Network Inc. He encouraged those dissatisfied with his government to protest, but said it wouldn’t affect him.
“I do not care if you agree with me on the drug war, I do not worry about the things that you are criticizing me for,” Duterte said. On Thursday he visited a southern Philippines city where the military is battling an occupation by Islamic State-linked groups.
While most Filipinos still support the president, his high popularity “is not going to stay there,” said Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, a political-science professor at the University of the Philippines and a former government peace adviser.
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