Broader ‘People’s SONA’ to confront President Duterte

As he delivers his third state-of-the-nation address this Monday, President Duterte will face a much broader range of opposition forces – converging in a “United People’s SONA” – than the one he went out of the way to address directly last year, which was composed of progressive multisectoral organizations and allies gathered under the banner of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

This time around, other groups that had differed with Bayan and held parallel protest actions before will join the Bayan forces, along with the various independent formations, religious and civic, that have rallied behind former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno in her fight for judicial independence and the rule of law. Sereno herself will march and speak at the unified rally on Commonwealth Avenue.

The United People’s SONA will call Duterte to account for failing to fulfill his campaign promises: to end labor contractualization, uplift the dire conditions of the poor, and pursue peace negotiations to their logical conclusion by addressing the root causes of the armed conflict. Then there are the large-scale human rights violations in both his “war” against illegal drugs and the revved-up counterinsurgency program. Plus, the soaring prices of prime commodities (5.2 percent inflation) partly spurred by the TRAIN law’s excise taxes and sustained neoliberal economic policies and programs. These have all worsened mass poverty.

Besides the above issues, the broadening opposition forces have committed to confront and oppose the Duterte regime’s moves toward extending the terms of office of incumbent elective officials, concentrating power in the President and fast-tracking the replacement of the 1987 Constitution by a “federal” system of government – maneuvers that are certainly intended to install tyrannical rule.

This, in face of the latest (June 15-21) survey of Pulse Asia showing that 67 percent of adult respondents opposed amending the Constitution at this time, and the earlier Social Weather Station survey showing a very low public awareness of what federalism is all about.

Heedless, Malacañang has announced that the shift to federalism will be on President Duterte’s legislative agenda this year. This assumes that the mid-term congressional and local elections scheduled in May 2019 will not be the focus. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has already said that they can do nothing to stop a “people’s initiative” to cancel the elections, which Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is pushing. Of course, if that succeeds, this will then extend the stay in office of the incumbent senators, congressmen, and local officials, ensuring support for the federalism project.

Let’s take a brief look at Duterte’s unfulfilled promises cited above.

On labor contractualization: During the 2016 presidential election campaign, he was quoted as having declared, “The moment I assume the presidency, contractualization will stop.”

In the past two years, organized labor have pressed Duterte to fulfill this promise but got disappointing responses. Of late the disparate labor groupings have agreed tactically to work together to intensify the fight against all forms of labor contractualization. Last May 1’s observance of the International Day of Labor was marked by two rival formations marching and rallying together for the first time in years.

The issue, which has mainly occupied the attention of workers in the private sector, has now found resonance among the public sector employees, in light of data made available by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) showing that the government has been hiring more and more contractual workers.

In 2016, per the CSC data, of the 2.4 million state workforce more than 595,000 workers were hired on the basis of either “job orders” (JO) or “contracts of service” (COS). This year the number of JO and COS workers has increased to 660,390, or 27 percent of the total.

The Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) points out that JO and COS employees have no security of tenure and fringe benefits. “You should be the model,” Courage president Ferdinand Gaite rebuked the national government. “How can you enforce [laws against contractualization] if you yourself are violating those laws?”

Yesterday Courage led a protest of government employees in Quezon City during lunch break (12 noon to 1 pm) to call for a P16,000/month minimum wage for all government workers and for the regularization of JO and COS employees. Under Executive Order 201 (Salary Standardization Law), the current minimum wage in the public sector (national level) is pegged at P10,510/month. That’s hardly enough if measured against the P33,000 that the Ibon Research Foundation says should be the monthly living wage.

The situation is worse for the 830,000 employees in the 1,715 local government units. The minimum wage for a 6th class municipality, per EO 201, is only 65 percent of the minimum wage in the national government, or P6,831. The LGU minimum wage ranges from 90 percent for first-class municipalities and tapers down the scale to the lowest, 6th class municipality.

On the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations:
President Duterte suspended for three months the 5th round of formal negotiations scheduled last June 28-30, purportedly to enable him to review all the signed agreements since 1992. He then unilaterally set preconditions for the resumption, and authorized the LGUs to pursue “in the meantime,” localized talks with leaders of the CPP-NPA in their respective areas of responsibility.

Not surprisingly, this was promptly rejected by the NDFP. Existing agreements, protocols, and even the substantive agenda agreed upon as early as 1992 are violated by Duterte’s guidelines which include: adherence to the existing Constitution (noncompromise of constitutional integrity and sovereignty); pressuring the NPA forces to surrender (by offering an amnesty package based on disarmament, demobilization, “rehabilitation and reintegration to the mainstream society”); no coalition government or power sharing, no revolutionary taxes, arson and violent activities with the NPA fighters staying put in encampment areas as the “as the necessary enabling environment“ for the talks. Moreover, Duterte insists that the substantive agenda must be based on the “Medium Term Philippine Development Plan and Philippine Development Program 2040.”

Duterte wants to hijack the GRP-NDFP peace talks. I’m certain he will fail, as his predecessor did.

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Published in Philippine Star
July 21, 2018

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