Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has deployed three powerful women to forestall a growing protest movement against human rights abuses, corruption, and his trademark misogyny. The country's Lower House of Congress in July elected former president Gloria Arroyo
as Speaker, replacing Pantaleon Alvarez, a close friend of Duterte. Duterte's daughter, Sara, mayor of the southern city of Davao, and Imee Marcos
, daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos
and governor of Ilocos Norte province, arranged Arroyo's coup. "Women's empowerment," crowed the president's aides. His social media army tweeted at feminist groups for refusing to hail development. What the three — Gloria, Sara and Imee — represent is a perversion of feminism, the use of power to strengthen misogyny and other abusive patterns of governance.
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They also highlight the Philippines' continuing problem with impunity. Sara once punched a local official in the face, justifying the assault as championing the rights of poor urban dwellers facing eviction. As mayor, she unleashed policemen to violently disperse protesting activists and striking agricultural workers. She displays her father's penchant for threatening perceived enemies, whether they be senators, indigenous folk or human rights workers, with bodily harm. The young Marcos, meanwhile, who is eyeing a Senate seat in 2019, recently jeered at Filipinos, telling them to "move on" and forget about her father's dictatorial rule that murdered about 3,000 activists and "disappeared" 1,500 others, including eight priests and religious leaders. The Marcos regime incarcerated more than 70,000 people, with more than half suffering electrocution, waterboarding, suffocation, burning, beatings and rape. Many of the 27 Filipino "martyrs and heroes" in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship underwent these horrors, as did hundreds of members of basic Christian communities. The abuses prompted strong words from Pope St. John Paul II during his 1981 Philippine visit. "Even in exceptional situations that may at times arise, one can never justify any violation of the fundamental dignity of the human person or of the basic rights that safeguard this dignity," the pontiff said. The courts and a special commission investigating martial law abuses have recognized the right of more than 11,000 Filipinos to receive compensation. The only response from Marcos' daughter is for people to "move on" and her gyrations on a stage at a state university last week to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of her dad's youth corps, which she used to lead. After her father's downfall, Imee was sued in Hawaii for the abduction, torture and murder of a college student, Archimedes Trajano, who questioned her credentials to lead the youth group. Trajano's mother, Agapita, won the suit. As for Arroyo, her nine-year rule resulted in the killing of more than a thousand activists. She simpered and called Jovito Palparan, a general accused of masterminding several abductions and killings, her "hero." Arroyo's rule also saw a mutiny by young military officers over corruption in the armed forces and accusations that the government was staging atrocities, such as bombings, as an excuse to crush secessionist rebels in the southern island of Mindanao. Her offensives against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front displaced almost half a million people in just six months in 2003. Arroyo was almost impeached after being caught on a wire tap discussing election fraud with a senior official from what was supposed to be an independent poll body. She and her husband and several top aides were later accused of receiving US$1.6 million in bribes to award a key telecommunications project to Chinese firm ZTE. Facing plunder and other graft charges, Arroyo was kept under hospital arrest from 2012 to 2016, still managing to win a congressional seat in her home province of Pampanga. Under her watch, the Philippines ranked as one of the three most dangerous places on earth for journalists. In 2009, her main allies in Mindanao, the Ampatuan clan, which also figured in the election fraud, were charged with the massacre of 58 people including 32 media workers. It didn't surprise anyone that raids on the Ampatuan mansion revealed a trove of weapons originally owned by the Defense Department and the armed forces. Duterte had always planned a comeback for the Marcoses and Arroyo. They all have a dream: the opening up of the country's lands and waters to foreign fat cats. An inept Speaker could not have handled the challenge posed by a restive Senate; that was why Arroyo was elected because of her talent in suborning the opposition with fat dole-outs. There is women's empowerment, and there are simply powerful women. Women are one half of the Philippine population. The three most powerful in the land right now would make life miserable not only for women but for all Filipinos. Inday Espina-Varona is an editor and opinion writer for various publications in Manila.