As he is about to finish the first year of his six-year term of office in June, Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is being assessed and evaluated by a broad spectrum of commentators in terms of performance and fulfillment of promises. His trust rating in poll surveys is still relatively high but this has begun to erode noticeably from the 80 percent peak of his popularity upon his election by a plurality vote of 38 per cent or 16 million of the electorate in May last year.
Those who continue to support him assert that performance in a year is not enough basis for a final judgment and that there is more than enough time ahead for him to accomplish promises that have most impressed them, such as the eradication of the drug problem, criminality, and corruption.
In recent days, President Duterte has, in fact, pleaded that he needs three or four more years to bring about the significant changes that he previously thought would be done in six months’ time. His promised campaign against the pork barrel and other forms of corruption of the defunct B. S. Aquino regime has not yet materialized.
Where he has been most successful at, projecting himself as a strong leader by calling on the police and the public to kill drug addict-pushers, he has attracted the most severe and sustained condemnation by institutions, the mass organizations, the human rights formations, various churches, major mass media and respected personages in the Philippines and abroad. These detractors allege on the basis of mass media reports and police records that 7,000 to 10,000 extra-judicial killings have been perpetrated in violation of human rights and with impunity by the police and by police-directed vigilantes. The victims are overwhelmingly poor people in urban slum areas. Thus, there is a growing complaint that the drug lords and the governors and generals involved in the drug trade have been spared.
A publicly known group of retired and active military officers called the Magdalo has backed up the motion to impeach Duterte from office. Knowing that the motion would not prosper against Duterte’s “super-majority” in Congress, the group claims to lay the ground for the eventual prosecution and trial of Duterte before the International Criminal Court under the Rome Statute. But most threatening to the Duterte regime is a secret movement among military and police officers who are probably linked to the “yellows” (pro-Aquino political opposition) and are complaining against the system of giving cash rewards to police officers and vigilantes for accomplishing murder missions. They avert that such reward system is corrupting the armed services and destroying their reputation and professional standards.
They are emboldened to wage an anti-Duterte campaign because U.S. officials and the European Commission have criticized the Duterte regime and threatened to impose certain sanctions. Most recently, the representatives of 45 out of 47 governments in the U.N. Human Rights Commission universal periodic review of the human rights situation have urged the Philippine government to investigate the alleged extrajudicial killings. In turn, the Duterte regime has expressed fears that the dissenting military and police officers are engaged in a coup plot. To counter the coup threat, Duterte has appointed to his Cabinet more retired military officers whom he considers personally loyal to him. But the United States is still the master of the coup through its Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Philippines.
Aside from the vulnerability of the regime to charges of mass murder, the crisis of the Philippine ruling system and the world capitalist system is ever worsening to the detriment of the Filipino people. The deterioration of the economy is underway to undermine and isolate the regime in the forthcoming year. Foreign exchange remittances from overseas contract workers are slowing down. The export of raw material and semi-manufactures has plunged amidst the global depression.
Credit from Western sources is tightening. The foreign exchange reserves are decreasing. The peso is being devalued in view of a large public debt. Portfolio investments have been flowing out since 2014. While the debt-driven and import-dependent service sector is growing, agriculture and manufacturing have declining shares in the gross domestic product. The prices of staple food and other basic commodities are rising, while regular employment and real wages are decreasing. Social services are becoming more expensive and the public utilities are breaking down.
But President Duterte cannot be underestimated. He describes his government as “inclusive” by mixing up Cabinet members from different political and economic persuasions. He is known for his political skills at talking or acting in the style of the Left, Center and Right, whichever serves him best from moment to moment. He has appointed some patriotic and progressive elements to his Cabinet while surrounding them with an overwhelming majority of Rightists and an increasing number of retired military officers.
He has released political prisoners of high caliber, although he has held back from releasing all political prisoners who are being held in violation of the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, CARHRIHL. When patriotic and progressive mass organizations hold protests in front of the presidential palace, he invites the leaders for discussion and expresses support and sympathy. In a recent symbolic act, he went out of the palace to meet and mingle with the peasant protesters who demanded land reform. He denounced the landed oligarchs and expressed support for the protests.
To gain support from the reactionary armed forces, he has used strong words against the New People’s Army whenever he visits military camps and casualties in funeral parlors and hospitals and he has arrived at an all-out war policy against the revolutionary movement. But keenly aware of the popular demand for a just and lasting peace, he has manifested willingness to continue the peace negotiations between the Government of Republic of the Philippines, GRP, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, NDFP.
The NDFP, which represents the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and 16 other revolutionary organizations, continues to consider the peace negotiations as the way to test and find out what Duterte means by wishing to be the first Left president of the Philippines, agreeing to negotiate social, economic and political reforms to address the roots of the civil war and pursuing an independent foreign policy in a multipolar world. The patriotic and progressive forces and the broad masses of the people support the peace negotiations.
Only a few but powerful who may be described as the pro-U.S., ultra-Right wish to spoil the peace negotiations. They wish to precondition the peace negotiations with a cease-fire that is protracted and indefinite, push the revolutionary forces towards capitulation and pacification and lay aside the substantive agenda of social, economic and political reforms. They wish the Commission on Appointments of Congress to remove from the Duterte Cabinet the patriotic and progressive elements who are in positions to help in the implementation of agreed reforms in the peace negotiations.
The NDFP is observing whether Duterte has the political will and the leadership to direct the GRP Negotiating Panel to come to terms with its NDFP counterpart on social and economic reforms band then on political and constitutional reforms before the end of hostilities and the disposition of the armed forces of both sides can be negotiated.
The Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, CASER, is the “meat” of the entire peace negotiations. The NDFP has demanded national industrialization and genuine land reform. The Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms determines what authority and how all the reforms shall be implemented. The NDFP has offered to co-found with the GRP the Federal Republic of the Philippines in order to override the current existence of two governments, one reactionary, and the other revolutionary, which are belligerent forces in the civil war that started in 1969.
So long as the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations are moving forward from one round of formal talks to another, we can watch unfold the positions of the Duterte government and NDFP and whether or not the two sides can make the necessary comprehensive agreements to put into effect the reforms that are necessary for a just and lasting peace. The fifth round of formal talks shall be held in Noordwik aan Zee in the Netherlands from May 27 to June 2, 2017. The focus shall be on the demand for the release of nearly 400 political prisoners listed by the NDFP in accordance with CARHRIHL, the further negotiation of CASER and the question of a cease-fire.
Prof. Jose Maria Sison is Chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle and Chief Political Consultant, National Democratic Front of the Philippines.