Philippines: The contradictions of the Rodrigo Duterte regime


By Sonny Melencio

July 24, 2016 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Partido Lakas ng Masa with permission – The following text is based on a talk delivered at All Leaders Meeting of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (Solidarity of Filipino Workers, BMP)-Sanlakas-Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Labouring Masses, PLM) at Claret Parish Church on July 13, 2016.]
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1. The Rodrigo Duterte government is right now the most popular government since the Cory Aquino administration [1986-1992]. (It cannot be compared though to the euphoria that greeted Cory Aquino’s installation to power through the Edsa 1 uprising, which occurred in a different historical context and circumstance.) According to the Pulse Asia survey, President Duterte enjoys a 91% trust rating. This means 9 out 10 Filipinos trust him; and practically no one (0.2%) rejects him, as the remaining 8% are the undecided. 2. The Duterte win in the May 9 elections was a sound rejection of the Daang Matuwid propaganda of the Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III administration. The popularity of this regime is clearly borne out by the rejection of the masses of the Yellow administrations from the mother (Cory) to the son (Noynoy). It is a widely held view that the previous administrations failed in providing for the needs of the people, hence the slogan ‘Change is Coming’ of the Duterte electoral campaign has become a clarion call for many. 3. But the class character of the Duterte regime remains the same as ever with other regimes that ruled the country for decades. It is still a government of the elite, a government that represents the ruling class as against the exploited and oppressed classes in Philippine society. This analysis is echoed by the Communist Party of the Philippines, even if it has opened relations with the Duterte government. The CPP sees Duterte as “the chief political representative of the ruling classes and head of the reactionary client-state” in the country today. (See 4. Others on the Left have already labeled Duterte’s regime as a neofascist one. There are strong indications for this, but this characterization does not yet fit the rule of Duterte. The regime continues to rule under an elite liberal/bourgeois democratic order set up by the ruling classes after the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. Duterte’s strong-arm tactics (not to mention his authoritarian and gangster-type pronouncements) still has to traverse the rule and form of elite democracy under the so-called Edsa Republic (i.e., the regimes that come in succession after Edsa 1). Class character of President Duterte 1. Let’s start with the class character of President Rodrigo Duterte himself. 2. Duterte did not come from a poor family. He’s a scion of the Duterte-Roa clan that has ruled Cebu and Davao for a long time. Duterte’s father was a former mayor of Danao, Cebu who became a governor of Davao after the family migrated to Mindanao. Duterte’s mother was from the political clan of Roas in Leyte. Duterte is also related to the political clans of the Duranos and Almendrases in Cebu. 3. But the local clans that Duterte represent can be seen as outsiders to the political clans that have ruled the country for decades, i.e., the oligarchy that monopolizes central power under what local clans called the Imperial Manila. So it is not surprising that these local clans have been leading a campaign to change the form of government from an overly-centralized set up to a federal state with almost equal powers to the national center. For the local clans, this is a demand to level the playing field for all the ruling classes, be they in Manila or in the province. As a provincial politician, Duterte has experienced decades of neglect and abuse by Imperial Manila. 4. Duterte’s circumstance and experience also differ from other trapos. He was a product of the First Quarter Storm and was involved with Kabataang Makabayan and other radical groups during his student days, with Jose Ma. Sison tutoring him on nationalist and radical politics. After Edsa 1, he became a provincial official (first an OIC and later mayor of Davao City), but he maintained his links and fostered a friendly relation with the CPP-NPA in his area. 5. This explains the ambivalent character of Duterte on national matters. He belongs to the ruling class, but he shares the views of nationalism and radical politics espoused by his peers and friends in the Left movement. Contradictions of the Duterte regime 1. That’s just one of the contradictions of the President. But there are more that we have to take into account when we take stock of his entire government today. 2. The main forces in the Duterte cabinet come from the political clans and supporters of the neoliberal economic regime, such as Secretary of Finance Sonny Dominguez; Secretary of Energy Alfonso Cusi; National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon; Secretary of Public Works & Highway, Mark Villar; and others. Many of them have served the governments of Fidel Ramos and Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo. Many are also in big mining businesses. 3. On the other hand, a good number of Left leaders have been appointed by the Duterte government in various cabinet or key positions, such as long-term labor leader Joel Maglunsod, who’s now an undersecretary at the Department of Labor & Employment; peasant-leader Paeng Mariano, who heads the Department of Agrarian Reform; activist professor Judy Taguiwalo, who heads the Department of Social Welfare and Development; and woman-activist leader Liza Masa, who heads the National Anti-Poverty Commission. We also have to mention nationalist economist Liling Briones who now heads the Department of Education and anti-mining advocate Gina Lopez who heads the Department of Energy and Natural Resources. 4. There is a contradiction in maintaining and even extending the neoliberal policies of the government such as PPP projects (public-private partnership), economic liberalization, deregulation and the likes – while pronouncing a stand against contractualization, stopping the privatization of certain government hospitals, extending agrarian reform, criticizing the imperial powers of the United States and making anti-EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) pronouncements, and others. While a similar duality existed in previous administrations, the Duterte regime advances a step forward by putting Left and progressive individuals in key positions (more than any other administration that we can remember) and by not blocking their initiatives so far (DENR Secretary Gina Lopez has ordered the closure of a number of mining companies; DAR head Paeng Mariano has started an aggressive land distribution campaign under his department; and so on). 5. However, one big bundle of contradictions with alarming implication is the War on Drugs launched by the Duterte government. This has led to a killing spree that targeted small-time drug pushers, users and petty drug lords. A few weeks after Duterte’s inauguration, the number of killings has reached more than 160 (it is bordering on 400 at this time). The DDS (Davao Death Squad) tactics seems to cover the entire country today. What is chilling is that it is the police force that has been killing suspected drug traffickers in the communities (70% of killings according to ABS-CBN report). 6. At the other end of the spectrum is the public censure and exposure of PNP generals, local officials and big-time drug lords (including foreigners) as drug coddlers and syndicate henchmen. This is the first time a Philippine president has pointed to top people in government and in the police force as heading the drug syndicates. However, while small-time pushers are wasted wantonly in the streets and in their homes during police operations, the big-time drug traffickers remain free. 7. Where will all these contradictory policies, pronouncements and actions of the Duterte government lead to? Pronouncements could be deceiving. To have an understanding on where these are leading, we need to know the main strategy being implemented by the Duterte government in all these issues. Strategies of the Duterte government 1. Let us look at the War on Drugs campaign. What is the strategy of the Duterte government in this campaign? 2. What is being implemented is a ‘shock and awe’ strategy launched at the community level. This is meant to curtail the drug trade by cutting off its tentacles through executions of a vast number of drug pushers, users and traffickers in the community. But this strategy only exacerbates the problem even if it temporarily puts a stop to the community drug trade. One, the killings are aimed at the poor people and the poor neighborhood. Two, this has impelled a gangland-type of execution which has resulted in more killings, now perpetrated not only by the police but by drug syndicates and vigilante groups supporting the war rhetoric of the campaign. The drug spree in the community is now replaced by a killing spree that spares no one, as reports of occasional drug users and innocent victims being wasted in their homes are starting to come in. 3. There has been a clamor by many to shift the strategy towards going after the heads of the syndicates – the police forces, public officials and big-time drug lords in the country. This has not been successful at this stage. 4. However, this entire strategy of treating the drug trafficking problem as a police matter is bound to fail. This has been done in many countries and has produced very limited outcomes. And it is clear that the war on drugs cannot be implemented by a PNP which has become a key part of the problem. We need to thoroughly revamp the PNP and transform it from being a protector of the syndicate to a protector of the people. Or establish a community-based body that informs and mobilizes the people on the campaign against the drug menace. 5. But the war on drugs cannot be successful without initiating a war on poverty – i.e., a war that will eradicate poverty at its roots. Poverty underpins the proliferation of the drug trade especially at the community level. We are not only talking of hardened criminals in the drug trade, but families who have made small-time drug trafficking as a source of livelihood. In fact, small-time drug trafficking has replaced community jueteng game in most areas. 6. The war on poverty also connects with our campaign against neoliberalism, contractualization, land monopoly, environmental degradation and others. These are campaigns that find resonance in the government departments headed by progressives and Left leaders in the Duterte administration which we have better chances of engaging with in the pursuit of practical solutions. Strategy on contractualization 1. Job contractualization that robs the working class of regular employment and basic benefits is a major issue that Duterte himself has vowed to eradicate during his rule. But what is the strategy of the Duterte government to do this? 2. A key part of this strategy involves putting genuine labor leaders at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), like undersecretary Joel Maglunsod, who’s from the working class, a KMU leader, and therefore has the commitment and will to genuinely push for anti-contractualization policies using the resources and power of the labor agency. 3. However, the DOLE is not the agency that can get rid of contractualization in the industries. DOLE is infested by pro-capitalist dealers who have been operating under the premise that what is good for business is good for the workers. Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod himself stated that there are only two pro-labor heads in the agency so far (Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello is the other one, a presumed ally of KMU and other Left groups). The two are overwhelmed by pro-capitalist lawyers and dealers dominating the government agency. 4. The working class cannot also depend on laws, or on the legal and law-making institutions, to implement changes in the industrial front. The Philippine Senate and Congress and various instrumentalities of the government, including the Supreme Court, have been making laws and dispensing justice that only serve the interests of the capitalists, landlords and the elite in society. How can we account for the release of chief plunderer Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from hospital arrest, except to say that justice has been served as they say, although it’s the elite justice that has nothing to do with justice for the working class and the poor. 5. Therefore, the strategy against contractualization and other issues of the working class can only be based on the development of a strong working class movement that can deal blows against the perpetrators of these unjust system. The DOLE cannot do it but we need to bolster the efforts of the Left and progressive individuals at DOLE by mobilizing the workers in every industry. 6. It means that the main strategy that can advance and implement the changes that society needs cannot be based on the government or its corrupt, rotten and pro-elite agencies – it could only be outside the elite state. We need a strong working class movement that can push the government and its various agencies to implement the changes we need. And we need the unity of the working class and its various sectors and organizations to do this. This cannot be undertaken by any one group, however big and well-positioned in the government and in the political arena they think they are. The future of the Duterte regime 1. We have characterized the Duterte regime before as a coalition of Right and Left forces in society, with the forces of the Right dominating the equation. It may be too soon to declare that Duterte himself will break the coalition in favor of the Right. At this stage, he seems to savor the situation where he can have the two forces, forever at loggerheads with each other, under his regime and supporting his various moves. 2. We do not have the illusion that the balance of forces between the Right and the Left in the Duterte government will be at par with each other (it’s going to break before it even reaches parity). The dominant forces today are still the Rightists, and the Left forces are bargaining with Duterte from a weak position, given that the mass struggle is still not on the upswing and working class unity is still a goal to be reached. 3. If we want to stamp out contractualization, it will need the mobilization of the workers through protest actions and strikes that will generate counter-reaction from the capitalists, including imposing lockouts and closures of workplaces. How the Duterte government responds to this situation may not be very clear now. 4. In this regard, I find it instructive to be always reminded of Karl Marx’s maxim that “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, rather [or ultimately] it is their being [class existence] that determines their consciousness.” Meaning, while Duterte may have been imbued with radical consciousness during his youth, his status as the chief political representative of the ruling classes today will be the main determinant on his development as president in the days to come. 5. Class interest will be the most prevailing factor as against conscious will. This has happened before in a number of countries where liberal governments tried to set up Right-Left coalition in the initial stages of their rule (see “ The Duterte Phenomenon” where I compared the Right-Left coalition with Peron’s tact in Argentina). This has also happened in the Philippines when former president Cory Aquino replaced all the progressives in her cabinet after a series of Rightist-led coup d’etat against her administration. 6. The future of the Duterte government will be based on the class character, or the dominant class character, of the regime. Even in this bleak scenario, the defense and liberation of the working class remain in the hands of the class – in their mobilization, their struggle and their unity aimed at capturing political power and establishing a socialist society. 7. As a footnote (though this needs to be developed soon as a separate topic of discussion), the Left also has to formulate its strategy and tactics with regards to the Duterte regime. Given the strategic nature of the regime that is no different from any state dominated by the ruling classes, but with the presence of a number of Left and progressives in key areas of government, what is the apt and relevant tactics to pursue? 8. Tactics take into account the level of consciousness of the working class masses – where they are at, and how the movement can develop their consciousness towards becoming a revolutionary force. Lenin always believed that Left-wing positioning is not enough. The working class masses must go through a political experience that will show them the truth that there is no other way but to seize political power through their own actions. 9. At this stage, it is better to make use of the openings to broadly mobilize the working class masses while raising their level of consciousness to that of an insurgent force in society.