Statement of Bayan Muna Partylist on President Rodrigo Duterte’s first year as president
The first year of the Duterte administration has been a virtual tug-of-war between those pursuing genuine and thorough-going reforms and those defending the status quo. However, it seems that in Duterte’s first year, the Right–the militarists, the imperialists’ lackeys and the neoliberals– had pulled the rope farther to their side. Essentially, while the Duterte administration has initiated some pro-people programs and policies, yet, over-all it is the same mainly pro-imperialists, neoliberal, anti-poor and repressive policies pushed by the pro-US, militarists and neoliberals in the Duterte cabinet that are dominant.
During his inauguration last year, the people welcomed President Duterte’s projection that his administration would bring about tangible positive change for the country. He let progressives take the reins on key Cabinet positions: peasant-leader Ka Paeng Mariano to the Department of Agrarian Reform, University of the Philippines professor and activist Judy Taguiwalo to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, former Bayan Muna and Gabriela Women’s Party representative Liza Maza to the National Anti-Poverty Commission, and staunch anti-mining advocate Gina Lopez to the Department for the Environment and Natural Resources.
However, pulling the other end of the rope are stalwarts of neoliberalism, pro-US militarists, and bureaucrat-capitalists as conservatives and reactionaries were also installed in, and even dominated, the Duterte administration. While the progressives struggle to be confirmed by the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA), that has so far resulted to the rejection of Gina Lopez, and the bypassing Ka Paeng and Judy three times; the neoliberals, the reactionaries, and the militarists breezed through the CA.
Bayan Muna has expressed its grave objection to the appointment of General Eduardo Año as the Chief-of-Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Widespread human rights violations dogged Año in his past assignments, such as the hamletting in Masbate in 2015 and the killings of lumads in Paquibato in 2014. The disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos in 2007, who was abducted in a mall in Quezon City by military agents, is also attributed to him.
The appointment of General Año as the AFP chief has ran counter to the peace process. Like a rabid dog straining from a leash, General Año was quick to declare an all-out-war against the CPP-NPA-NDF at any bump in the road of the peace process. Human rights violations quickly followed Año’s war drums, with the death of peasant leader in Bukidnon, the forced evacuation of 100 lumad families in Sarangani, the incarceration of a Jasig-protected NDFP consultant Ariel Arbitrario, the harassment of UP professors and students in Talaingod, and the aerial bombardments in Mindoro, Abra, and in parts of Mindanao.
Along with the appointments of Generals Delfin Lorenzana, Hermogenes Esperon, and fifty-six other former military and police officers in the Duterte government, the otherwise civilian bureaucracy is now converted into a highly militarized one.
State fascism is on the rise as seen in extra-judicial killings, militarization of the bureaucracy, proposed repressive laws, all out war and the imposition of martial law. The blood-drenched War on Drugs has snuffed more than 7,000 lives according to the Philippine National Police. Other organizations pit the numbers to as much as 12,000 people. However, despite so much blood spilled on the streets, Oplan Tokhang that mainly targeted poor peddlers of illegal drugs and has failed to eradicate the country’s serious drug problem.
In Congress, there is also a crass push for fascist legislation, such as the lowering the age of criminal liability to nine (9) years of age and the restoration of the death penalty — both of which were labelled “priority” by the Duterte government, there are legislation proposing a national ID system as well as the registration of pre-paid SIM cards.
Militarism also reigns in the realm of the peace talks. The All-Out-War declaration against the CPP-NPA-NDF is still in effect, despite the resumption of the peace talks and the unilateral ceasefire declaration of the NDFP. Contrary to his word, there are still 400 political prisoners who languish in jail. The 5th round of talks is now stalled because the President folded to the insistence of the militarists to make prolonged ceasefire a precondition to continue the peace talks.
But no other indication of the rising state fascism that is more palpable than the declaration of martial law in Mindanao in response to the activities of the Maute group in the Islamic City of Marawi. While Bayan Muna agrees that the terrorist acts of the Maute group and the Abu Sayaff group must be decisively defeated by state forces, the declaration of martial law in the whole of Mindanao and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus are totally out of proportion to the threat that these terror groups pose. Worse, surely, through the steering of the generals in the Cabinet, the martial law declaration even included “other rebel groups” as its targets. Bayan Muna and the rest of the members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives vigorously opposed the inclusion of these revolutionary groups in the martial law declaration, as it undermines the ongoing peace negotiations with the New People’s Army and Moro revolutionary organizations.
Today, hundreds of thousands of Moro people are displaced by the fighting. Making the most damage to the lives, homes and property of the Moro people are the aerial bombings of the AFP. A grave humanitarian crisis hangs over Marawi and other parts of Mindanao as martial law has stretched to more than a month.
Meanwhile, political activists are not spared by the repressive claws of martial law. The National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission to Marawi –that included members of the House representatives, Church leaders, human rights workers and volunteers — was barred from entering the city; the Mission members were also harassed with the use and abuse of unbridled military power. On the other hand, last June 28, peasant leaders and human rights advocates were illegally arrested in Davao City. Lito Lao, Pedro Arnado, and Jerry Alborme of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and KARAPATAN secretary general Hanimay Suazo were also detained for hours in Davao City without warrants of arrest.
Bayan Muna also warned the President of isolation over the appointment of neoliberal economic managers in the Cabinet: Finance secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Economic chief Ernesto Pernia. These purveyors of neoliberal policies will surely erode the pro-people pronouncements of Duterte.
The Duterte administration is now aggressively pushing for the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), a regressive and anti-poor tax reform package that will, among others, impose new excise taxes on fuel products, including gasoline, diesel, LPG, and kerosene; further expand the coverage of value-added tax (VAT); and introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. These new taxes will more than offset the loss in revenue from the lowering of personal income tax rates, which will mainly benefit the middle class. As regressive taxes on consumption, these will hit the poor hardest in the form of higher prices of basic commodities and services. These new taxes are intended to fund the Duterte administration’s infrastructure spending on export processing zones, giant mining companies, agri-business ventures, and tourism, among others. Clearly, these new taxes will be taken from the ordinary and poor Filipinos, to benefit mainly the rich.
However, in seeming contrast to all the said reactionary and repressive policies and actions, Pres. Duterte declared and maintain pro-people stance on some issues. He released 19 NDF peace consultants accused by the military as high ranking leaders of CPP-NPA in order to resume the GRP-NDFP peace talks. The government peace panel has also made ground breaking agreements on free land distribution and to the principles of agrarian reform and national industrialization. President Duterte has also agreed to the Social Security System (SSS) pension hike of P2,000.00 in two (2) tranches due to public protests; although, there is a supposed threat of contribution increase being pushed by neoliberals like DOF Sec. Carlos Dominguez, who threatened to resign if the same is not imposed. Pres. Duterte has also taken the side of the urban poor group Kadamay in the Occupy Pabahay campaign, saying that the poor deserved public housing. He has also taken the side of the peasants and farmworkers when he supported the installation of the MARBAI agrarian reform beneficiaries in Lapanday in Tagum, Davao del Norte, and the farmworkers of the Cojuangco-controlled Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. He also allowed free-tuition for this school year in state universities and colleges.
The democratic and progressive section of society could only pull Duterte towards their side by fortifying the mass movement, intensify the struggle for democratic reforms, and expose and oppose the anti-people and fascist elements and policies of the administration. The strength of the mass movement is the biggest impetus for Duterte to fulfill his promise of reform, and reject the neoliberal and fascist dictates of imperialist countries, particularly the United States and its lackeys. Genuine reforms for the people, just peace and democracy is still in the offing, and could only be achieved by the people’s struggle.