Duterte's 7 breakthroughs and their limits
By Rigoberto Tiglao / The Manila Times
IN his five years in office, President Duterte has changed the course of Philippine history, although his breakthroughs conceivably can still be reversed if there is no Duterte 2.0.
First, he has all but routed the communist insurgency. Duterte is the first president to undertake an all-out drive to end this scourge after 40 years, since Marcos' in the early 1970s.
Except for Duterte, all the five presidents immediately preceding him shirked in fighting the communists either because they were plain naïve (as Corazon "Cory" Aquino was) or were political opportunists that they couldn't risk losing the support of the Left and its many allies.
Cory even strengthened the communists, releasing, as soon as she grabbed power, its top leader and tactician par excellence, Jose Ma. Sison, whom Marcos had arrested in 1977. Cory even romanticized them as freedom fighters and undertook "peace talks" with them, which was nothing but the vast "democratic space" they used to expand their ranks. Cory got the Constitutional Commission she commanded to create the so-called party-list system, which the communists expertly maneuvered both to become major participants in Congress and to raise funds for their New People's Army.
Never before has there been a broad "National Task Force to End Local Communist Conflict" that has fought the communists in all fields - from propaganda to economic development of communities organizing the insurgents' victims to the battlefield.
Second, he has launched an all-out attack not just against the Left but also the Right. Duterte has put in the nation's agenda and in people's consciousness the need for the country to fight the Right, i.e., the oligarchs who have used the state to advance their own selfish interests. The Lopez clan, the maker of presidents that has been since independence emblematic of the Philippine oligarchy, has been overpowered, now sinking in billions of pesos in unpaid debt. Ask any politician, media man or observer of Philippine society, this was outrightly inconceivable before Duterte.
Duterte has attacked the oligarchy that holds the water distribution business in Metropolitan Manila, generating super-profits because of the unfair concessions given to it by past presidents, such as passing through their taxes to the consumers.
It is still a much-unfinished project to vanquish the oligarchs: after all, they have been, precisely, oligarchs because their tentacles reach far and wide. Duterte is aware of the newest, yet one of the most powerful oligarchic conglomerates in the country, the Indonesian-owned First (or Metro) Pacific group. Yet he seems to shirk away from even naming it. In his State of the Nation (SONA) address the other day, he only vaguely referred to it as " a cartel of Malaysia and Indonesia, and they form part of that mother corporation. It's being controlled up by the [inaudible]."
Third, Duterte has tamed an irresponsible and mercenary media, from the once-mammoth ABS- CBN to the Philippine Daily Inquirer owned by, compared to the Lopezes, a small-time oligarch, to the one run by and funded by Americans, rappler.com. Again, such an attack on these propaganda machines was inconceivable before Duterte. Duterte wasn't cowed by the US media, which had swallowed hook, line and sinker such lies of Maria Ressa, who claimed she was being threatened with rape 20 times a day by Duterte's trolls.
Duterte has, however, looked away from the media empire of the First Pacific group, which even if it is majority-owned through thick corporate layers, by a foreigner, the Indonesian Anthoni Salim. It has become the country's biggest multimedia outfit running the Philippine Star, Channel 5, interaksyon.com and dozens of radio stations around the country. It has started to be a combined Inquirer/ABS-CBN/Rappler, at the beck and call of the anti-Duterte and Sinophobe Albert del Rosario.
Fourth, Duterte, however, has stopped dead in its tracks the campaign of First Pacific (with two other oligarchs) to force China to allow it to extract gas in the Reed Bank. While it was a laudable plan to replace the Malampaya gas field that will be running out in 2024, First Pacific appears to have adopted the US-backed strategy of demonizing China as a bully in the South China Sea and filing an arbitration suit to pressure China to back down.
That the arbitration ruling was an "overwhelming victory" for the Philippines is the biggest deception of our time, demonstrating the tremendous capacity of oligarch- and US-controlled media to brainwash people. (I have written over two dozen columns to show this, with not a single point I've made contested by anyone. A "shortcut" to see that the arbitration was a hoax: Even if it ordered [and it didn't] China to vacate the Spratlys, there is still Vietnam which also claims the entire area.)
Duterte intuitively saw through this colossal pile of BS. If it had been Mar Roxas who won in the 2016 elections, he would have continued his predecessor's anti-China tack. That would have severely weakened our economy so much (like it or not, China now is the biggest economic engine in our part of the world), there would have been widespread poverty by now - at the time of the pandemic.
Fifth, and related to the fourth, Duterte has ended the Philippines' vassalage to its former colonial master, the US. Just as in ancient times, when vassals of an empire would troop to the emperor to express its vassalage, all Philippine presidents went to Washington, D.C. to meet with the US president. Benigno Aquino 3rd went to the US to meet President Obama barely three months after he assumed the presidency and would go to the US six more times. In 2011 he met with Obama to beg him to militarily intervene in the Scarborough stand-off with China. He was told instead to agree to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which will allow the US to use our own camps as their military bases, when they need it. Cheaper for the Americans of course. From a high-maintenance mistress, Aquino turned the country into a when-needed prostitute.
In Monday's SONA, Duterte repeated his past declarations that he will never visit the US. The Philippines has achieved independence under Duterte. He has yet to end the EDCA though, which was merely an executive agreement.
Duterte's sixth big breakthrough of course is his war against illegal drugs, which stopped the country from becoming during the Aquino 3rd regime Southeast Asia's first narco-state. To stop his campaign, the Yellows had savaged Duterte in his first year of office, claiming this had resulted, as Vice President Leni Robredo, the Inquirer and the Star repeated again, in massive extra-judicial killings. Together with US media, they touted that over "27,000" Filipinos were victims of Duterte's war against illegal drugs. No one dares quote that fabricated figure now.
The Ateneo (with funds from Columbia's Journalism School, where one Sheila Coronel was the dean of) two years ago, and more recently the UP's moribund Third World Studies Center, counted the victims of Duterte's war vs illegal drugs. Both could report only around 3,900 deaths, even less than the Philppine National Police's figure of about 7,000.
Those who have been shrieking to high heavens that the innocent, or even unarmed, drug dealers were summarily executed seem to assume that Duterte and the police simply have this perverted, satanic pleasure in killing the innocent. It is indeed naïve to think that police didn't kill unarmed drug suspects.
But then for three decades or so, the police have been frustrated by the spectacle of drug dealers being arrested and then released the next day, on bail, with these criminals even grinning at them, and telling them: "I'll be going after you and your family." This was the experience of the police in the municipality where I live.
It's an unfair world indeed: The choice is between one criminal's life, or even just freedom, to the many lives in a community.
And seventh, Duterte's government has demonstrated that with political will and with competent implementers (like Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar), the Philippines can build infrastructure that could rival those in the developed countries in the region. An expressway from Alabang to Quezon City to Manila leading to the north expressway? A light rail transit from Quezon City up to Antipolo? In a few years, an underground subway? C'mon, these were inconceivable just six years ago.
In contrast, Aquino even stopped linking the LRT from Manila with the one along EDSA, which would have created a line encircling the entire metropolis. Why? An oligarch close to him didn't like the idea that the "common station" linking these two systems were near the SM Mall instead of his mall. Duterte badgered both oligarchs to agree to a solomonic solution: have it equidistant to both!
Most if not all of these breakthroughs of course aren't yet full-fledged accomplishments. And they can still be reversed. The oligarchs hit by Duterte, not only the local but the international drug lords, and the US will throw everything they can against his anointed successor.
For the US, the stakes are high: before Duterte, we have been the most malleable pawn in its campaign to maintain its hegemony in Asia. The past regime even challenged China, hilariously pretending, as Aquino's foreign secretary del Rosario said several times, to be the heroic David fighting against the Chinese Goliath. He even said half in jest, that in a fight with China, the Philippines can deal it a "nasty bloody nose". My foot, one of the richest men in our county making at least P300 million a year from First Pacific firms, will be hiring a private jet to go to Spain at the first sign of hostilities.
Seven big earth-shaking breakthroughs, with an eighth actually: his very organized and institutionalized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in a country of 104 million people living in 17 regions in 100 main islands.
Two columnists seem to put the blame, quite stupidly I think, for the death of 27,000 Filipinos on Duterte and not the coronavirus. Aren't they aware that the US, India and Brazil all have more than half a million of their citizens dying of Covid-19? If there's anybody to blame for the continuous incidence here, it is the US and the West, which have cornered the supply of vaccines.
In Worldometers' statistics on 28 countries with at least 50 million population, the Philippines ranks 14th in terms of cases per 1 million with 13,996, compared, for instance, to the No. 1 US and Brazil, with 106,000 and 92,019, respectively. In terms of deaths per 1 million, we're in the 15th slot, with 245 per million, as against US and Brazil's 1,883 and 2,57, respectively. Our pandemic situation is not bad, not good, just in the middle, which isn't bad.
Hilarious though is that other columnist who listed Duterte's five ribald jokes and five "trademark" curses to condemn his presidency in her SONA column. I suspect she actually enjoys them.