By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Although a latecomer in the presidential race Rodrigo Roa Duterte overtook all his rivals with his no-nonsense administration of Davao City as its mayor for several terms and his promise of change. Before Duterte’s entry into the 2016 presidential race, it was Sen. Grace Poe, a fresh face in the Senate and Philippine politics, who was leading. But when Duterte entered the fray, it was clear that he presented a totally different perspective. Even the way his team ran his campaign was different: it was based on grassroots mobilization. The result: a landslide. The landslide win was comparable only to that of Joseph Erap Estrada, a former action star, in 1998.
It was clear that the people want change, and not more of the same policies even if packaged differently. And the people wanted genuine change to be really acted on, and not the rhetoric-reality divide of the former Aquino administration, where change was happening merely in speeches and press releases.
The subsequent policy declarations of President Duterte, early on into his term, did not disappoint:
1. An independent foreign policy – President Duterte threatened to abrogate unequal treaties with the US and ranted against the pronouncements of the European Union against the killings of drug suspects and the arrest of former Justice Sec. Leila de Lima. On the other hand, he courted the support of China and Russia.
2. He promised to end the contractualization of labor.
3. President Duterte ordered the resumption of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to address the roots of the armed conflict.
4. He threatened mining companies, which have been destroying the environment, and appointed Gina Lopez, an environmental advocate, to head the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.
5. President Duterte appointed progressives in his Cabinet, namely Social Welfare Sec. Judy Taguiwalo, Agrarian Reform Sec. Rafael Mariano, and National Anti-Poverty Commission Chair Liza Maza.
But it appears that President Duterte’s attempts at balancing the interests and concerns of the different power blocs in his government and in Philippine society has been negating the changes he promised.
While he gained some headway in the country’s relations with China, thereby easing the tension at the West Philippine Sea and even getting arms from China, the revelation that US troops are involved in the war in Marawi seemed to have negated his independent foreign policy.
Workers groups, from a broad array of persuasions and organizations, are one in saying that the Duterte administration’s Labor Department Order has failed to eliminate the practice of contractualization.
The GRP-NDFP peace talks have been on and off, punctuated by threats by the Duterte administration.
Gina Lopez is out, after being rejected by Congress. Social Welfare Sec. Judy Taguiwalo, Agrarian Reform Sec. Rafael Mariano, and NAPC lead convener Liza Maza have not yet been confirmed by Congress.
Without all these promised changes, what has so far defined the Duterte administration are its bloody war on drugs and the martial law in Mindanao.
Peace and order appeared to be the priority of the Duterte administration. But the Duterte administration should by now realize that trying to achieve peace and order by killing drug suspects and attempts at wiping out Islamic extremist groups from the face of the earth does not work.
First, it could not arrogate to itself the power of life and death over the country’s citizens. It violates the most basic, essential right of individuals. It is a recipe for abuse of power. And it simply does not work. Has the illegal drug menace been wiped out after thousands have been killed? Has peace and order been restored in Marawi after pouring in thousands of troops and incessantly bombarding the city?
Second, peace and order could not be had under oppressive and repressive conditions. There could be no peace without justice. There could be no peace without addressing the problems of poverty, social inequities, exploitation, and oppression.
Third, because of these, attempts to maintain peace and order by the use of force without addressing the social problems confronting society could only worsen what the government set out to do in the first place.
If the Duterte administration would want to achieve development, prosperity and peace in this country, it would be better for it to look back at why it was elected in office in the first place. It is about the yearning for change.
Featured image from the Presidential Communications Operations Office official Facebook page. Photo by Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo.