Ex-Philippine leader Benigno Aquino joined thousands of people on the streets of Manila on Saturday as protests broke out against President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.
Demonstrators amassed near the national police headquarters, with some warning the Duterte crackdown foreshadowed a repeat of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, which was toppled in a bloodless “People Power” revolution 31 years ago.
“We are taking the matter seriously. We are warning our people about the threat of rising fascism,” protest leader Bonifacio Ilagan told AFP after leading more than 1,000 protesters at a morning rally.
Ilagan, a playwright who was tortured over two years in a police prison under Marcos’ martial rule in the 1970s, cited the “culture of impunity” arising from Duterte’s crackdown.
Duterte, 71, won the presidential election last year after promising during the campaign to eradicate drugs in society by killing tens of thousands of people.
He launched the crackdown after taking office in June and police have reported killing 2,555 drug suspects since then, with about 4,000 other people murdered in unexplained circumstances.
He has not ruled out using martial law to prevent what he describes as the country’s slide to narco-state status.
Duterte, who ranks Marcos as one of the country’s best-ever presidents, last year allowed the Marcos family to bury the former leader’s remains at Manila’s Cemetery for Heroes, leading to large street protests.
Wearing a black shirt Duterte’s predecessor Aquino marched alongside political allies and around 2,000 other protesters.
Aquino denounced the government’s treatment of Senator Leila de Lima, the top critic of the Duterte drug war, who was arrested on Friday and faces life in prison if convicted of drugs charges.
De Lima, Aquino’s former justice minister, said the arrest was an act of revenge for her decade-long efforts to expose Duterte as the leader of death squads during his time as mayor of the southern city of Davao.
Aquino also rejected allegations by Duterte spokesperson that people associated with the previous government were plotting to destabilise the new administration.