Despite his tough guy, macho image and no-holds-barred, brash manner of speaking, President Duterte is turning out to be a practitioner of the politics of accommodation. Just yesterday, July 19, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo walked out free, after being held in custody, albeit in a hospital, for most of the previous Aquino administration’s term. One may say that it was the Supreme Court who set her free, purportedly for lack of evidence. It is also true that the dismissal of charges due to weak evidence should be blamed mainly on the previous Aquino administration for its failure to build an airtight case against Arroyo and for not aggressively pursuing the case after her arrest. But it could not be denied that even during his campaign for the presidency, Rodrigo Duterte promised to set Arroyo free and the Supreme Court, at least the majority of the justices, must have taken their cue from him.
With Arroyo’s release, President Duterte ended, for now, the precedent set by Arroyo herself, of running after and jailing the president’s predecessor. During her term as president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had former president Joseph Estrada prosecuted, jailed, and eventually convicted of plunder, only to pardon him later. Benigno Aquino III, in turn, had Arroyo prosecuted and jailed for plunder.
Of course, it was not the Arroyo nor the Aquino administration who filed the cases against their predecessors.
Arroyo rode on this case when her administration was embattled after being linked to cases of corruption and electoral fraud and she found out that Estrada was aligning himself with groups and individuals who were working for her ouster as president. Estrada’s arrest caused an uproar from among his supporters who took over the EDSA shrine and attacked Malacanang. The Arroyo administration hit Estrada’s supporters hard and this caused Estrada to back off and keep quiet. With Estrada’s pardon, the cause of justice suffered a setback.
Aquino, in turn, had Arroyo jailed as an example of his administration’s supposed campaign against corruption. Aquino also had three opposition senators, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla, jailed. But his supposed campaign against corruption stopped there to protect his own men and allies. And when the four were jailed, the Aquino administration, characteristically sat on the case. Thus, the findings of the Supreme Court that the evidence was weak on the plunder case involving funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office is not without basis. This does not prove, though, that Arroyo is innocent; it proves that the Aquino government did not do a good job at prosecuting her. Aquino was not interested in justice. It was only making Arroyo the poster girl, the villain, of Aquino’s “daang matuwid.”
Several groups and individuals have started filing cases against Aquino, but the Duterte administration appears to be keeping a hands-off policy. It was already reported by media that President Duterte does not intend to criticize or blame the Aquino administration, during his first State of the Nation Address on Monday July 25.
The Duterte administration’s politics of accommodation have been demonstrated earlier when he offered Cabinet positions to the Communist Party of the Philippines, which the latter responded to by nominating progressive individuals from the legal Left. President Duterte, even before his assumption to office, had already jumpstarted the resumption of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, signified his intention to abide by previous agreements signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, and expressed his commitment to release political prisoners. These were the sore points that caused the failure of the peace talks under the previous Aquino administration.
The Duterte administration has also declared its intention of talking peace with both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.
It also reached out to the Marcoses by declaring its intention to allow the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and to appoint the dictator’s son Bongbong Marcos to a Cabinet position after the one-year-prohibition for losing candidates expires.
Is this good or bad?
For one, the politics of accommodation tends to disregard the cause of justice. Individuals and groups who committed crimes against the people are rarely, if at all, held accountable and prosecuted for the sake of ‘unity.’
Second, societies and nations are comprised of groups with competing interests, opposing solutions to social problems, and contending priorities. Trying to harmonize all these competing interests would result in inconsistent policies and lack of a clear direction. The essential question will always be ‘for whom”? Who does the government want to serve first and foremost?
The Aquino administration declared that it was for the people, but its policies and programs favored the ruling elite and foreign and local big business, and the US, of course.
When Rodrigo Roa Duterte used as his campaign tagline “Change is coming,” it gave the people hope that finally, a candidate is willing to confront the oppressive, anti-people status quo. Finally, the rule of the elite against the backdrop of debilitating poverty and worsening social inequities would be put to an end. Finally, laws and policies that favor the few and have been sinking the toiling majority deeper into the quagmire of poverty would be repealed.
The people could not expect miracles from the Duterte administration. But President Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address would give the people a glimpse of his administration’s direction and priorities. This would provide a glimpse of the Duterte administration’s answer to the essential question: “For whom?”