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July 17, 2017 · 


One year assessment of the Duterte Administration
June 28, 2017 / 1:30 – 4:30 PM
Dr. Avelino P. Aventura Hall (DAPA Hall),
Philippine Heart Center, East Avenue, Quezon City

Change is Not Yet Coming

On the eve of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s assumption to the Presidency on June 30, 2016, a broad array of people’s organizations, cause-oriented groups, institutions and concerned individuals convened in a National People’s Summit and adopted a 15-point “People’s Agenda for Nationalist and Progressive Change,” including numerous short-term proposals for the President’s first 100 days in office.

The Summit, and the comprehensive agenda it adopted, was in direct response to the President’s promise of meaningful change for our people. It was a way to constructively engage the Duterte Administration in realizing much needed reforms in five critical areas: The National Economy, Progressive Social Policy, Peace and Human Rights, National Sovereignty and Foreign Policy, and Governance and Democracy.

Among the key reforms pushed were those pertaining to agrarian reform, national industrialization and economic sovereignty, economic relief for the working people, ending labor contractualization, an independent foreign policy, the resumption of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the campaign against corruption, a pro-people social policy especially in relation to health, education, housing and social protection.

One year has passed, and the nation finds itself still far from realizing these aspirations.

On Peace and Human Rights

The Duterte Administration has made great strides in resuming the peace process with the NDFP. Pres. Duterte’s action of resuming the talks based on previously signed agreements, releasing key NDFP leaders and consultants for the talks, and appointing a number of NDFP nominees to his cabinet and other high posts, have done well to establish confidence and goodwill on both sides.

Despite government’s failure to release 400 or so remaining political prisoners and its insistence on a bilateral ceasefire as a requirement for the talks to prosper, four rounds of formal negotiations have been held, resulting in unprecedented accomplishments in the effort to forge substantial agreements on social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces. A most important development in the talks for example is the agreement in principle on free land distribution for poor farmers.

Unfortunately, the pro-US, militarist clique in the Duterte government, led by Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año, has constantly tried to sabotage the talks by insisting on a prolonged or indefinite ceasefire even without substantial reforms, even as the AFP carries out an all-out war policy against the NPA. This was evident in the collapse of the 5th round of talks in the Netherlands.

Should the GRP insist, in the same way as its predecessors, on the capitulation on the NDFP, the peace talks would surely be headed for the rocks. There is a need, therefore, to counter the peace saboteurs and militarists in the Duterte Administration and work to further the gains made in the talks.

The people are likewise gravely concerned with the regime’s catastrophic human rights record. With more than 8,000 reported victims of extrajudicial killings in the government’s so-called war on illegal drugs, Duterte is being accused of tolerating, condoning, if not encouraging the mass murder of mostly poor drug suspects. Meanwhile, the extrajudicial killings of ordinary farmers, indigenous peoples and activists suspected of being members or sympathizers of the NPA and other armed groups continues unabated. In both drug-related and political killings, the suspected perpetrators are usually members of the police or military, their assets, or state-supported vigilante or paramilitary groups.

Unfortunately, Pres. Duterte’s human rights record is sure to worsen with his declaration of martial law in Mindanao and possibly other areas in the country. The brutal, unjustified, daily bombing of Marawi since May 23 has forced more than 403,052 residents to flee to makeshift evacuation sites and nearby homes of relatives, threatening to create a humanitarian crisis. Prior to Marawi, under the deceptively-titled Oplan Kapayapaan, government forces also dropped bombs on civilian communities in various parts of the country suspected of supporting the NPAs. These bombings resulted in thousands of internally displaced persons and the destruction of private property.

Such a militarist approach to complex social problems – as seen in Duterte’s drug war and Martial Law in Mindanao – not only fails to address the roots of criminality or rebellion but worse, results in even more violence and human rights abuses.

On the National Economy

Early in the Duterte Administration, the President’s economic team declared that they would continue the neoliberal, free market policies of the previous regime. The alternatives to neoliberalism as embodied in the various proposals contained in the People’s Agenda have been practically ignored by Duterte’s economic team. Instead, the economic policies of the last three or four decades – destructive trade and investment liberalization, economic deregulation, and the privatization of public utilities and services – remain in full force.

The effect of continuing such policies is shown by the lack of any significant improvement in terms of the people’s economic well being. Growth has eased slightly from 6.6% to 6.4% and like in prior years, has not translated to more jobs or higher incomes for the poor. There are 11.5 million Filipinos either jobless or looking for more work, and 24.4 million in low-paying and insecure jobs. Twenty one million Filipinos live in extreme poverty, earning less than P56/day, while 66 million live on a mere P125/day. As workers saw their real wages drop by .1%, the wealth of the 40 richest Filipinos grew by 13.8%.

Despite his rhetoric against oligarchs, Duterte’s neoliberal economic policies tend to favor rich, powerful and well-entrenched local players and their foreign partners. He appears to be totally dependent on the likes of Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez III, NEDA Chief Ernesto Pernia, and Budget Chief Benjamin Diokno who have opposed progressive proposals such as a moratorium on land use conversion, free tuition in state colleges and universities, and a substantial wage hike for workers.

Workers were particularly disappointed that Duterte’s promise to end labor contractualization merely resulted in Department Order (DOLE Order 174) that merely reiterated existing prohibitions against labor-only contracting while strengthening various flexible and contractual work arrangements. Equally disappointed are rank and file salary earners who were promised deductions in income taxes but, as contained in the Administration’s tax reform bill, will have to face higher prices of goods and services due to increased consumer taxes. Proposals for a substantial wage hike increase were all turned down.

Duterte’s appointment of peasant leader Rafael Mariano as secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform was widely welcomed by the country’s peasants. However, he is saddled by an inherently defective agrarian reform program. After 10 years, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) was convened by the President. However, the PARC’s proposal for Duterte to issue an executive order for a two-year moratorium on land use conversion is being blocked by his economic team. While Duterte has supported the farmers’ efforts in challenging big landlords like the Cojuangcos in Hacienda Luisita and the Lorenzos in Davao del Norte, it remains mainly up to them to overcome the many legal, political, not to mention security obstacles to finally getting back their land.

While practically ignoring the plight of workers and farmers, Duterte’s economic team has gone double time in catering to foreign investors and local oligarchs. The Aquino administration’s failed Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program has transformed into a “hybrid PPP” where government shoulders the entire cost of a project then let’s the private sector operate and maintain the project for a profit. Such big ticket infrastructure projects under the government’s “Build, Build, Build” campaign will be funded mainly by loans from China, operated and maintained by joint ventures between foreign and local big business, and ultimately paid for by Filipino taxpayers who will be hit by a triple whammy of high user fees, foreign debt and high taxes.

On National Sovereignty and Independent Foreign Policy

President Rodrigo Duterte’s barrage of criticism against US intervention in the Philippines, his expressed wish to end the Balikatan war games, revoke EDCA and the VFA, and his avowed intention to “separate” from the US and adopt an independent foreign policy gave progressives hope that his administration would indeed be truly different from past regimes. Duterte’s pronouncements were so bold and unusual that it reverberated around the world.

A year into the Duterte regime, many of his pronouncements on foreign policy have not been translated into action and worse, have not been consistent with his latest words and actions.

As far as “separating” from the US, what Duterte has managed to do is to merely scale down certain joint exercises (amphibious landings) and scrap joint patrols with the US in the West Philippine Sea, so as not to antagonize China. He has allowed the annual Balikatan exercises, the implementation of EDCA’s “agreed locations,” and the AFP’s continuous dependence on US military training, technology, arms and equipment. He has not done anything to abrogate the lopsided economic agreements entered into by the Philippines with the US and US-led multilateral agencies.

But it is the war in Marawi that has exposed Duterte’s vulnerability in the face of US intervention. Allowing US involvement in a raging armed conflict belied all his pronouncements of an independent foreign policy. It sets the stage for greater foreign military intervention, threatening even the stability of the Duterte regime. Duterte does not want to go against the pro-US militarists and Ultra Right, lest he fall victim to a coup.

Duterte is playing a dangerous gambit by allowing US intervention as he attempts to consolidate his regime. Increased US intervention may prove to be his own undoing.

Meanwhile, Duterte’s pivot to China has succeeded in getting Filipino fisherman back in Panatag Shoal. Furthermore, China has committed to pour in billions in private investments in the country and fund various infrastructure projects. All these in exchange for Duterte’s non-assertion of the Philippine’s sovereign rights in the disputed areas where China’s continues its military build-up and reclamation activities.

Address the crisis, hear the people

On his first year in office, Duterte is already beset by an unprecedented crisis of the ruling system. It is with a great sense of urgency that President Duterte is being called on to fulfill his promise of change and to break with the old policies that have crippled the economy, undermined national sovereignty and encouraged impunity. Only then can he be truly different from past regimes. Only then can he lay the foundations for change and prove that he is indeed “Left” and “socialist”.

Positive achievements in land reform and the expansion of social services should be supported. The peace talks as a venue to address the roots of the armed conflict must continue with the goal of achieving basic reforms for the people. Human rights violations, whether in the course of the drug war or counterinsurgency, should stop. The rotten system of bureaucrat capitalism, which has seen the efforts of progressives in government blocked by vested interests, should likewise end. Duterte must return to his 2016 pronouncements against US imperialism and rally the people to uphold national sovereignty instead of allowing US intervention in Marawi, Mindanao and the rest of the country.

Duterte is pressed to choose between the national and democratic interests of the people, or the impositions of the fascists, oligarchs and imperialists. The results of his actions, we will find out soon enough.

What is certain is that the people continue to demand change in various arenas of struggle. A rally is being planned for June 30, the first anniversary of the Duterte regime. An even bigger rally is set on July 24, the President’s second SONA. ###

Reprinted by:
Solidarity Philippines
July 8, 2017


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