“The contradictions will sharpen as pro-US factions of the ruling elite maneuver and resist President Duterte’s assertions of sovereignty. … The people should remain vigilant and should struggle even harder for fundamental reforms and social change.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – On his 100th day in office, progressive groups hailed President Duterte for certain positive changes surprisingly achieved early into his term, even as they challenged him to stop following the path left by the Aquino administration in economic and political policies.
“The Duterte regime has made some significant pronouncements and actions that are greatly appreciated by the people’s movement,” said Renato Reyes Jr, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), at a rally in Mendiola today, Oct. 8.
Reyes recalled the People’s Agenda that they submitted to the President in his inauguration on June 30. He stressed the role of people’s organizations in struggling for actual reforms, as they anticipate “sharpening contradictions” between the people and the ruling elite who resist these reforms.
The groups lauded Duterte mainly on three achievements: his pronouncements for an independent foreign policy, his push for peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and the appointment of progressive leaders in key Cabinet positions.
“Most significant among the accomplishments of the administration is Duterte’s consistent assertion of national sovereignty and his pursuit of an independent foreign policy. For the first time since Andres Bonifacio, we will have a Filipino president not beholden to US interests. This may pave the way for mutually beneficial relations with countries not aligned with the US which may be utilized for national development,” Reyes said.
He said Duterte should proceed with revoking the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and booting out the remaining 180 US servicemen in Mindanao.
Finding solutions to the roots of poverty and armed conflict also entered public consciousness under the Duterte administration, with the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace talks, and its substantive agenda on socio-economic reforms.
Duterte shortcomings in economic policies, human rights
In spite of its “historic achievements,” there is much to be done by the Duterte administration, particularly in observing human rights, Reyes stressed. He cited the intensified militarization in communities, the increasing number of political prisoners, and continuing impunity in human rights violations.
Under Duterte, 16 activists have been killed by suspected state perpetrators and paramilitary forces.
Reyes also pointed out the extrajudicial killings in the anti-drug operations.
“We are worried by the increasing number of people being killed in the war on drugs. This is not a simple police problem, but rather needs a comprehensive socio-economic solution. To simply kill the suspect is wrong and not enough to solve the problem,”Reyes said.
ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said the economy continues to be run under the neoliberal policies of deregulation, liberalization and privatization. “The country still relies on foreign investment and labor export policy continues,” he said.
Concrete gains in policies
The 3,000 rallyists were mostly peasants coming from Northern and Central Luzon, Bicol and Southern Tagalog, who loudly cheered when Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano came on stage to speak.
On his first day in office, Mariano took a hammer to break the locks on the two main gates of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) – symbolically opening the agency to farmers and their concerns.
Mariano enumerated the new thrusts and policies of DAR, which will protect the peasants’ right to land, promote their welfare, and contribute to rural development and food security.
Showcasing the Cojuangco-Aquino-owned Hacienda Luisita, Mariano vowed that he will ensure that all 6,296 beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) will have a farm to till. Mariano had already ordered the distribution of 358 hectares of land owned by the Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) inside Hacienda Luisita. Mariano also said DAR recognized the bungkalan, the collective, cooperative farming initiated by Luisita farm workers who took over abandoned sugar lands and planted vegetables and fruit trees.
Mariano cited the other main accomplishments of DAR as the following:
1. The scrapping of two contracts of stock distribution option (SDO) in Negros island and in Mindanao, which effectively overturns the exemption from distribution of some 1,400 hectares of agricultural lands, now to be returned to beneficiaries.
2. The convening of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) after 10 years, and its decision to condone some P4.4 billion-worth of amortization and interests which farmer-beneficiaries failed to pay due to indebtedness.
3. The PARC decision to impose a two-year moratorium on land use conversion of agricultural lands.
He said landlords in Negros were reportedly consolidating their ranks to resist further DAR decisions.
“This was not brought about by (my) decision, but was brought about by the intensifying anti-feudal struggle by farmers,” Mariano said.
Mariano said that DAR is limited by what is provided in the law, and that his stand remains: “That there is a need to implement genuine agrarian reform in the country, and we need a new law that will distribute the lands free to the tillers.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tinio cited Memorandum Circular 9 (MC9) issued by Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo which says the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is the sole authority in determining its beneficiaries.
“This is the first memorandum which clearly stands against pork barrel, against patronage politics. It says DSWD funds are for the poor and there is no more need for a letter or referral from any congressman,” Tinio said.
More battles ahead
“We are aware that even as we support the positive pronouncements, policies and direction of the Duterte administration, there is still much to struggle for,” Tinio said.
“It’s 50-50,” said Joseph Canlas, chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), when Bulatlat asked how he would rate Duterte’s first 100 days. He noted that harassment against Luisita farmers have stopped. But he lamented that many of the positive pronouncements are yet to be put into writing, such as the moratorium on land use conversion for which the President is yet to issue an executive order.
He also noted how the suspension order by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Denr) on erring mining companies in Zambales is yet to be enforced, as the mines continue to operate at night.
Bayan’s Reyes said “forces of the status quo… will continue to resist the growing demands for change.”
“There will be greater struggles ahead. The contradictions will sharpen as pro-US factions of the ruling elite maneuver and resist Duterte’s assertions of sovereignty. Big business will also resist the moves to ban contractualization of labor. Some militarists may also be opposing peace efforts. The rising body count in the war on drugs will continue to hound the Duterte regime. The people should remain vigilant and should struggle even harder for fundamental reforms and social change,” Reyes said.
Simultaneous rallies were held in other cities in the country: in Cagayan de Oro city, Misamis Oriental where 5,000 gathered; in Davao City, Tagbilaran City in Bohol, and Iloilo city in Iloilo province. With photos by Carlo Manalansan