By Jeoffrey Maitem
The Duterte administration pushed back Wednesday against a U.S. intelligence report that listed the Philippines among some Southeast Asian countries where, it said, “autocratic tendencies” were deepening.
Manila is viewing the new report with some concern because parts pertaining to the Philippines could strain bilateral relations, presidential spokesman Harry Roque indicated.
“This is something we are taking very seriously. It is coming from the intelligence community. It is not even coming from the State Department. It is something that the president will take seriously as well,” he said.
“The Philippines still wants to be friends with the U.S. but with declarations such as this, it is very difficult to be friendly with the United States. … It doesn’t seem to be too friendly a declaration,” Roque said.
Duterte’s spokesman described portions of the U.S. Worldwide Threat Assessment that touched on the Philippines as “myopic and speculative at best.” He rejected the report’s insinuation that the Philippine leader had “autocratic tendencies.”
“He adheres to the rule of law and remains loyal to constitution,” Roque said. “An autocracy is not prevalent, as they would like everyone to believe.”
U.S. intelligence chief Daniel Coats delivered the annual assessment of worldwide security threats in a 28-report to an American congressional committee on Feb. 13.
“Democracy and human rights in many Southeast Asian countries will remain fragile in 2018 as autocratic tendencies deepen in some regimes,” Coats said in opening a section where he listed the Philippines under Duterte, military-ruled Thailand and the dictatorship of Hun Sen in Cambodia as examples.
“In the Philippines, President Duterte will continue to wage his signature campaign against drugs, corruption, and crime. Duterte has suggested he could suspend the Constitution, declare a ‘revolutionary government,’ and impose nationwide martial law. His declaration of martial law in Mindanao, responding to the ISIS-inspired siege of Marawi City, has been extended through the end of 2018,” Coats said in the report, referring to the extremist group Islamic State by another term.
Coats also pointed to the Philippines as one of 30 countries cited in a report by Freedom House, which said their governments used social media to spread pro-government views and counter online criticism of those governments.
“While it is true that the administration uses and maximizes social media to promote government messages and accomplishments, members of the political opposition and other cause oriented groups use the same media platform to advance their agenda,” Roque said.
He said the use of social media to promote the government’s agenda had become “part of the daily lives of Filipinos,” in much the same way that it is used for the same purpose in the United States.
Roque argued that the country’s media remained one of the freest in Southeast Asia, and the judiciary still functioned.
Roque’s statement, however, came a day after a reporter for the news portal Rappler was denied access to the presidential palace.
The move, according to Roque, stemmed from a case filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which accused Rappler of having foreign investors in violation of the constitution. The case is under appeal.
Meanwhile, Duterte’s allies in Congress have been moving to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on what she has said were trumped up charges of corruption.
Sereno voted against Duterte’s order to give dictator Ferdinand Marcos a hero’s burial as well as extending military rule in the southern Philippines. In both cases, she was in the voting minority.
Roque said Duterte may have become a favorite of the American intelligence community because his foreign policy veers away from being dependent on the U.S.
After taking office in June 2016, Duterte frequently criticized Americans and said he would kick out the last U.S. troops stationed in the Philippines. But he backtracked from the threat after a cordial meeting last year with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.