Some 7,000 protesters marched on the Philippines’ House of Representatives in the Batasan district of Manila on Monday as ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte gave his second State of the Nation Address—in which he pledged to keep pursuing his bloody drug war.
“The fight will not stop,” said Duterte. “There is a jungle out there. There are beasts and vultures preying on the helpless. We will not be disheartened, we will not be cowed, we will not be overwhelmed.” He offered drug dealers and users a choice of “jail or hell.”
Clearly addressing the protesters, he said: “Your efforts will be better spent if you use it to educate people instead of condemning people.”
Indicating that the country remains divided over the populist strongman, a pro-Duterte rally was simultaneously held on the other side of the Batasan complex. But it is heartening that the protesters drew a larger crowd.
More encouraging still is that the protest was called by a new movement, Millennials Against Dictators, which has been mobilizing under the hashtag #YouthResist against Duterte’s “killing spree” and “emerging dictatorship.”
One of the leaders is social-media activist Shibby de Guzman, 13, who was a featured speaker at an “alternative” State of the Nation address the group held a week before the official one.
“Why do we let them abuse their power?” she asked at the event, noting the perhaps 8,000 extrajudicial killings since Duterte took office just over a year ago. Not surprisingly, she has been harassed online for her activism.
The group is also planning an outreach program for families that have lost loved ones to police terror.
Just two days before Duterte’s address, the Philippine Congress granted his request to have the state of martial law in the southern island of Mindanao extended through the end of the year—despite the fact that under the country’s constitution, martial law can only be declared for 60-day intervals.
Fighting with ISIS-aligned militants in the besieged Mindanao town of Marawi has left some 500 dead since fighting began there in May. But Duterte has threatened to have martial law extended throughout the country and use it as a tool in his drug war as well.