“After a year in Malacañang, will Duterte stand up to his claim (of being a leftist), or will he allow himself to become another imperialist puppet? Is he for the military generals and neoliberals or for the people?”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – On his first year as Philippine President, Rodrigo Roa Duterte received a mixed review from leaders of progressive people’s organizations. On the one hand, they remain appreciative of Duterte’s progressive track record and promises. On the other hand, they are aware that the people have been dying to collect on his promises. Unfortunately, they noted, the more advanced section of these people are being repressed.
The Duterte presidency is “beset with a worsening crisis and it can’t be resolved with mere boladas and ‘peace and order’,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). He opened the people’s summit in Quezon City on Wednesday, June 28, where various groups shared the results of their members’ workshops assessing the Duterte government’s first year.
These groups presented their agenda to the President at the start of his term. If these were to be taken up, they said, it would start resolving the people’s chronic problems and thus constitute change as Duterte promised.
Duterte had raised the people’s expectations by distinguishing himself as somewhat different from past “puppet presidents.” He did not red-tag government critics but proclaimed himself as their ally. He said he’s a “leftist” or socialist. He appointed people recommended by leftists in his Cabinet. He revived the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. He issued orders matching the people’s demands: ending contractualization, leveling regionalized wage rates, freeing political prisoners, pursuing an independent foreign policy.
But, Reyes of Bayan asked during the opening the People’s Summit at Philippine Heart Center, “after a year in Malacañang, will Duterte stand up to his claim (of being a leftist), or will he allow himself to become another imperialist puppet? Is he for the military generals and neoliberals or for the people?”
Mixed results with threats of getting worse for the people
For workers, the major issues they submitted for action to Duterte were on contractualization, wages, union rights and workers’ welfare. Jerome Adonis, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno, said at the summit, “nothing has come out of Duterte’s promise to end contractualization.”
The Department Order (DO) 174, he said, doesn’t end but further institutionalize contractualization. The order allows firms to employ workers of manpower agencies. Although these workers are regularized in agencies, their job remains precarious and low-paid. As experiences showed, employers can simply get rid of unwanted workers by terminating their contract with concerned manpower agencies.
Nothing has also come out of Duterte’s promise to equalize the regional minimum wages. In fact, non-government think tank Ibon Foundation said workers’ wages have been eroding. The gap between the National Capital Region (NCR) minimum wage of P491 and the family living wage, estimated by IBON at Php1,119 ($22.18) for a family of six in 2016, widened this year.
Adonis said Duterte is continuing the implementation of the two-tier wage system began by the Aquino administration. It devalues the minimum wage further, Ibon said, because it assigns a floor wage that is below the minimum and a management-determined productivity allowance.
As for workers’ rights, nothing has also changed, Adonis sadly reported. Unionists continue to be slapped with trumped up charges. Union busting has gotten worse. He cited the military’s taking advantage of the martial law declaration in Mindanao. Soldiers attacked a workers’ two-month picket a few days after the island was placed under martial law.
As for workers’ welfare, Adonis said Duterte indeed hiked the SSS pension by P1,000 ($20), or half the amount approved by Congress but vetoed by former President Aquino. However, Adonis said the pension hike came at a cost. The SSS premium was hiked, also.
Neither were the workers and their families set to expect higher spending power. The Duterte administration’s intent to scrap the jeepneys plying today’s road in favor of wholly imported, corporate-managed units will result in higher fares, Adonis warned.
Farmers are also not better off. According to Antonio Flores, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, the six million-hectare lands up for land reform have not yet been distributed. While it’s true, he said, that 145 hectares were awarded to 159 farmers in the headline-grabbing Lapanday case, the more substantial pieces of land remained under control of big landowners.
Until now, poor farmers are still being treated as milking cows. Flores said peasants are still being made to pay irrigation service fees, for example. And the P85-billion ($1.684m) coco levy funds are still undistributed to farmers.
It is a big question if land reform will indeed be implemented, Flores said. Until now, there is no new land reform law. They said it would have resolved not just the poverty in the countryside but one of the roots of armed revolution. He called on Duterte to make good on his promises regarding land reform and change, saying this is the solution to rebellion and not martial law. The peasant leader also urged Duterte to not fall prey to peace spoilers in the military – and push through with the peace talks.
The peace negotiations between the GRP and the CPP-NDF have resulted in agreements for free land distribution. Peasants and many sectors of the country welcomed the signed statements about it. But the fifth round of talks was derailed by fighting in Marawi City and the US troops’ involvement in it.
Independent foreign policy?
Teddy Casiño, former Bayan Muna Rep. and spokesperson of Power Alliance, recalled how they had high hopes that the people’s demands for independent foreign policy and the revocation of unequal treaties would perhaps be met under Duterte.
“He’s the only president who courageously spoke of resisting imperialism. And he did it despite the US–armed and trained Armed Forces of the Philippines and the influences of big business,” Casiño said. He noted, too, Duterte’s efforts to be friendly with other superpowers such as China and Russia, known rivals of the US. But Casiño reported that it is worrying if Duterte ended up with US “replacements” rather than the kind of independence wished for by the people.
At any rate, the Marawi war, said Casiño, has shown Philippine dependence on US military. It showed, he said, how the Defense department is being used to make Duterte toe the (US) line.
In the end, Casiño said the people will still call for an independent foreign policy, and it will be a big challenge to Duterte to stand up to his earlier pronouncements for independence and sovereignty.
Ending corruption, changing governance?
A year into his term, the obvious change in Duterte’s administration is the presence of some progressives in the Cabinet. But as ACT Teacher’s Rep. Antonio Tinio noted in his report at the People’s Summit, it is instructive to note that the likes of former Environment Sec. Gina Lopez, who tried to check the plunder of the country’s mineral wealth, did not last long in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“The neoliberals swiftly got confirmed while Lopez was rejected and Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano were bypassed,” said Tinio.
In fact, the People’s Summit agreed that the country’s economic managers are not intent on bringing change. Tinio said the Duterte economic policies are the same anti-poor PPPs, debt-dependence, contractualization, cheap wages, regressive tax reforms geared to fund the neoliberals’ infrastructure-building.
These economic policies spell the opposite of democratization, said Tinio. What’s worse, he added, it that it is coupled with growing fascism. He pointed to the bloody war on drugs that excluded rehabilitation and due process; the attempt to re-impose death penalty, lower the age of criminality and Marcos’ much-disputed heroes burial. Also, he added, the all-out war against the CPP-NPA-NDF. In the latter, the government forces have reportedly been dropping bombs into communities even without martial law.
As for governance and licking corruption, Tinio said, “Corruption continues in government despite the Freedom of Information in place on government agencies,” Tinio said.
He said the pork barrel system is still here, bigger than before in lump sums and “hidden pork” in the national budget. He warned against the legislation of anti-poor tax reforms where consumption would be taxed more while the taxes of the rich are being cut.
All in all, Duterte’s first year showed some positive signs of change for the people but in the whole, neoliberal policies favoring the rich and corruption continued, Tinio concluded.
The climate of impunity is getting worse, observed Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay. She cited the growing number of former military officials in civilian, influential positions.
Most speakers at the People’s Summit maintained that the positive attributes (for the people) in Duterte’s first year in Malacañang owed much to the people’s movement.
“In the end, it’s the people’s struggle that will be decisive,” Palabay ended.
The program of the People’s Summit ended on a note urging everyone to come out and voice their demands for the President to make good on his promises.