Finding Rody, a year after


A year ago I described President Rodrigo Roa Duterte as a conundrum. Is he a “Leftist” or “Rightist”; a democrat or disguised autocrat; pro-people or wily demagogue; reformer or defender of the establishment? Is change really forthcoming or is this another empty slogan, the latest version of the politician’s con game?

Whimsically, I compared him to the smelly but heavenly durian fruit of Davao because of his foul mouth, sexist comments, and general crassness while making refreshing, if progressive and radical, political statements unheard of from any previous Malacañang occupant.

The reactionary character of the Duterte administration is defined by the fact that there has been no radical rupture from the “nature” of the Philippine state as protector, enabler, and promoter of foreign and domestic elite interests in a highly iniquitous social system. Perhaps to underscore this point, Duterte has stated matter-of-factly that as chief executive, he is now “The Enemy” because he is “sworn to” preserve the ruling system. At the same time, the self-proclaimed “Leftist” and “socialist” says the CPP-NPA-NDFP is presented with a golden opportunity to arrive at a negotiated political settlement with the Philippine government precisely because he is the current president.

Duterte is a political maverick to say the least.

For the first time, the country has a president who was once a radical student activist under the tutelage of Jose Maria Sison, founding chair of the CPP. He has a history of pragmatic, some say quite friendly, relations with the CPP-NPA during his decades-long stint as Davao City mayor. Duterte stood up to the US government on matters of security and national sovereignty while mayor. He even agreed to be an NDFP consultant in the peace talks until he was reminded he could not do so being an incumbent government official.

Photo from the Presidential Communications Operations Office official Facebook page. Photo by Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo.
Photo from the Presidential Communications Operations Office official Facebook page. Photo by Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo.

But Duterte is also quite within the bureaucrat capitalist mold having had a long, successful career as a local politician enjoying the perks and privileges of office while defending the status quo. What is unusual is his being catapulted to the presidency without having previously held national office; being from far-flung Mindanao considered the country’s backwoods; and not at all endowed with the traditional political pedigree.

While Duterte’s win was somewhat of a fluke, then again it is not so unfathomable. Every election time, candidates project their being the harbinger of change, the champion of the poor and downtrodden, with vastly different leadership qualities compared to the outgoing president.

Duterte’s “kanto boy” demeanor coupled with his bold pronouncements and promises of eradicating the drug menace, criminality, and corruption; his simple, no-nonsense manner of speaking peppered by curses and off-color jokes; his touted executive ability that transformed Davao into a progressive, safe, and peaceful city; even his “promdi” persona — all these captured the imagination of the electorate fed up with the rule of the old rich and the political dynasties. Duterte’s election was clearly a stunning rebuke of the administration of Benigno S. C. Aguino III.

So what has Duterte got to show for his first year in office? We daresay, a mixed bag of surprisingly good and outrageously bad.

Top of the list for the good is peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDFP going on its fifth round end of this month. Difficult, contentious, and at one point on the brink of a complete breakdown, nonetheless the peace negotiations are still on track, making significant and unprecedented headway on the substantive agenda of socioeconomic reforms; not least of which is an agreement on the principle of free distribution of land to the tillers as the basic land reform policy. All these have been made possible by Duterte’s decision to affirm the validity of all bilateral agreements with the NDFP, including the JASIG, and releasing detained NDFP consultants so that they could participate in the talks.

It remains to be seen whether government negotiators will continue to insist on placing the cart before the horse; that is, on an open-ended, bilateral cease-fire agreement before a pact on socioeconomic reforms and before general amnesty or release of all political prisoners.

It also remains to be seen whether the militarists and rabid anti-communists inside and outside government will succeed in sabotaging the talks through intrigues, labelling revolutionaries as “terrorists,” and the continued surveillance, harassment and arrests of NDFP peace consultants and other JASIG-protected personnel.

Closely related to the peace talks are the presence of three progressives in the Duterte Cabinet nominated by the NDFP — Social Work Secretary Judy Taguiwao, Land Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, and National Anti-Poverty Commission head Liza Maza. All of them have proven themselves highly competent, hardworking, and with nary a whiff of corruption. They are key to the implementation of whatever socioeconomic reforms will be agreed upon in the GRP-NDFP peace talks.

Unfortunately, the rejection by the Commission on Appointments (CA) of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez due to a powerful pro-mining lobby and the obvious lack of support by Duterte raises questions about the fate of Taguiwalo and Mariano who will also need to hurdle the CA. Will Duterte weigh in and prevail on his Congressional allies to confirm the two or will pork barrel-hungry legislators and landlord interests win the day?

On the other hand, top of the terribly bad, are the grievous human rights violations, most especially the extrajudicial or summary killings by government security forces, of the poor and powerless, in its brutal anti-drugs and bloody counterinsurgency campaigns.

Duterte has displayed an unmistakably fascist bent by publicly inciting the police and other law enforcement agencies to resort to extreme measures in dealing with suspected drug pushers and users, then promising to shield them from any accountability whatsoever. He has also given the military the go signal to bombard mountainous areas to flush out and decimate the NPA regardless of to the death and destruction these indiscriminate attacks inflict on civilians.

The wholesale militarization of the civilian bureaucracy with the appointment of several generals to top posts — Cimatu to replace Lopez at DENR; Año as DILG secretary; Esperon as National Security Adviser; and Lorenzana as Defense Secretary — along with scores of military officers in other civilian posts is alarming.

And who can forget Duterte’s unabashed admiration for the dictator Ferdinand Marcos; his connivance with the Marcos family to bury the dictator’s remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani; and his repeated threats to declare Martial Law to silence his critics and pursue his “war on drugs” unimpeded by the Bill of Rights and due process.

As to unfulfilled promises like ending labor contractualization, boasts like zero tolerance for corruption, and fearless pronouncements such as pursuing an independent foreign policy — Duterte’s limits, weaknesses, lack of political or all of the above are proving to be formidable.

Some of the leading lights of the CPP-NPA-NDFP who face government negotiators in peace talks abroad continue to describe Duterte as “unfolding,” meaning it is too early to dismiss or judge Duterte as a die-hard reactionary disguising himself as a Leftist, and that the basis for an alliance with him on just grounds remains despite unfulfilled promises and other drawbacks.

“Unfolding” does not discount exposing and opposing the “bad” and reactionary, anti-people and anti-national policies, statements and actuations (or sins of omission) of the Duterte regime. It incorporates supporting and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by it while opposing its reactionary side. So that the unfolding of Duterte can be pushed towards being more progressive. And so that the Filipino people benefit somehow or somewhat in ways not available prior to this administration, whichever way it finally unfolds.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published in Business World
May 15, 2017

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