Duterte’s ‘erratic, crass’ style is woe for the people

Today marks the completion of President Duterte’s first two years in office. The two years are capped by controversies over multiple issues that have been stirred by his cuss-laden off-the-cuff speeches which his administration minions, often than not, pick up as the crux or elements of Executive policy.

His “erratic and crass leadership style” – the term used by the British research, analysis and forecasting firm, Capital Economics, in its two-year progress report on Duterte’s presidency – “is showing signs of putting off [foreign] investors [whom every administration has avidly sought to attract, in vain].” The bigger worry for businessmen, the report points out, was “a string of inflammatory comments and policy changes by Duterte that have raised concerns in the minds of investors over the President’s judgment and commitment to the rule of law.”

“Threats to declare martial law across the whole country and the sacking of the country’s chief justice,” the report observes, “have led to worrying comparisons with the disastrous presidency of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.” The biggest risk for the Philippines, it adds, “is that history now repeats itself. There are already signs that things are taking a turn for the worse.”

(Capital Economics, founded in 1994, involves 60 economists around the world in providing “quality and depth” to its analysis and forecast, the firm says in its website. It has mainly encouraged the neoliberal economic policies pursued by the Duterte government.)

Having left the conduct of economic and development policy entirely in the hands of his economic managers, Duterte’s problematic leadership style is a monkey wrench threatening to disrupt their work.

It’s not surprising that he has similarly been causing grave disruptions in the progress attained in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations – the pursuit and successful completion of which was one of his electoral campaign promises. The latest disruption was Duterte’s order, on June 14, to suspend for three months the scheduled start of the fifth round of formal negotiations on June 28 in Oslo, Norway. The date had been mutually agreed on after four rounds of informal/backchannel discussions in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

As in the realm of economic policy, so with the peace talks: The President has shown scant, if any, workable grasp or clear understanding of their basic principles, processes, and the nuances of the social, economic, political and constitutional reforms that constitute the core objectives of the negotiating agenda.

It was only this month that he expressed interest in reviewing all previously signed agreements (which date back to 1992-98), plus those arrived at in the four formal rounds of negotiations (August 2017 to April 2018) and in the latest backchannel discussions he himself had initiated. What impelled the three-month review period and what actions on his part it portends remain unclear.

Between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and Capital Economics there is no meeting of minds on economic and development policy. Yet, it’s clear in their tracking of Duterte’s erratic and crass leadership style the two disparate organizations converge on the conclusion that Duterte is leading toward setting up a fascist dictatorship akin to that of the dictator Marcos – a turn for the worse indeed.

Yesterday, news reports interpreted as “withdrawal from peace talks” Jose Ma. Sison’s critical review of Duterte’s actions vis-à-vis the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations during a Skype public forum in Quezon City and a statement he issued online. But Sison, the chief political consultant of the NDFP peace panel, was quick to clarify, in another online statement yesterday, that he wasn’t calling for terminating the peace talks.

“Only the National Council of the NDFP can make the decision to suspend, cancel or terminate the peace negotiations with the GRP,” he said, adding that the NDFP hasn’t made such a decision.

“Let Duterte have the singular dishonor of repeatedly terminating the negotiations within so short a time,” Sison declared. (The President has done that three times already.)

Duterte has shown he isn’t really interested in attaining a just and lasting peace with the Left revolutionary forces that have been fighting the government for almost 50 years, Sison said, citing the following points, among others:

• Duterte’s main objective is to obtain a bilateral ceasefire of protracted and indefinite duration without any preceding comprehensive agreement on basic reforms as required by the The Hague Joint Declaration. “He merely wants to paralyze the revolutionary movement and erode its strength through some dole-out schemes.” Strategically, he added, Duterte seeks the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary forces and has no interest in addressing the root causes of the armed conflict through deep-going reforms.

• His economic program is no different from those of his predecessors, and he emulates the late dictator Marcos’ infrastructure building program with its attendant opportunities for plunder and corruption. A Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) could have provided an economic program of national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform, plus wise utilization of the country’s rich natural resources beneficial to the people. But Duterte isn’t interested, Sison noted.

• Besides terminating the peace negotiations by Proclamation 360, Duterte issued Proclamation 374 declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as “terrorist organizations.” These are definitely obstacles to the resumption of peace negotiations.

• The above-cited objectives of Duterte would have been enough basis for the NDFP to conclude that he is not at all interested in the peace negotiations. “But in response to the demands of peace advocates,” Sison pointed out, “the NDFP persevered and worked out a number of agreements with the GRP representatives in backchannel talks from March to June 2018. The most important of these could have constituted the Interim Peace Agreement [which the GRP had pressed for] at the resumption of the formal talks in Oslo from June 28-30.”

In his clarificatory statement, Sison reiterated that Duterte is not interested in peace negotiations, but in “scapegoating the CPP and NPA for the purpose of declaring martial law nationwide or a state of [national] emergency in his mad drive to establish a fascist dictatorship under the guise of Charter change to federalism.”

Duterte’s retort to Sison was nonchalant: “If they are not willing to talk to me, that’s fine. I have no problem. So we can continue with the war.”

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in Philippine Star
June 30, 2018

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