• Amazing that Duterte has lasted this long

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    MAURO GIA SAMONTE

    THE policies and actions undertaken from the outset by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte have been extremely difficult to define within a definitive theme. One moment it was heading in one direction, the next moment in another. As in a potpourri, the Duterte government has appeared to be treading the path of a medley, musical, yes, maybe, but with no single unifying melodic thread.

    To begin with, until now, serious observers of Philippine affairs have yet to really make a sensible connection between unbridled extrajudicial killings, allegedly of illegal drugs dealers and users, and sound political administration. Does good governance require that you throw constitutionally enshrined rights and liberties down the drain? The spate of such killings which was the principal aspect of the Duterte government the minute it began has been unabated, reportedly reaching a record of 8,000 victims to date.

    In other words, are such killings necessary for good governance to succeed?

    Have summary killings of suspected illegal drugs dealers and users, for instance, solved the daily traffic mess in the Manila metropolis? I had an appointment in the Ermita area recently, set at 1:30 p.m., and so I left Antipolo at 9 a.m., giving more than four hours allowance for travel time. I reached the appointed place at 2:30 p.m.—still an hour late.

    Must the government go on a killing rampage to improve the services of the MRT and the LRT? Line 3, for one example, of the LRT has been experiencing shortcut travels at the J. Ruiz station during which the passengers pour out into the street, scrambling for public rides way into the night.

    And in the cyber services sector—mainly Globe Telecom and Smart Communications Inc.— have extrajudicial killings effectively addressed the regular downing of the Internet that almost always lasts up to eight hours.

    Even just confining the issue of extrajudicial killings to the realm of the illegal drugs trade, the recent massacre of the Carlos matriarch and children, including a one-year-old, in Bulacan should attest to the fact that extrajudicial killings as a government policy have hardly made a dent in whatever noble program the Duterte administration may have for the social uplift of the Filipino people.

    Because of the widespread condemnation of the EJKs from the international community, travel advisories against the Philippines have resulted in a sharp drop in tourist arrivals. During the first half of 2016, tourist arrivals in the country numbered some 5.9 million, with tourism department estimates pointing to the 6.5 million target for that year being met. In contrast, tourist arrivals for 2017 during the same period have so far reached only some 1.8 million, with visitors from China accounting for half of that number. Granted you may yet double that figure for the remainder of the year, it would mean only 3.6 million arrivals for the whole year.

    Now, tourism is one of the major contributors, if not the main contributor, to the economy. A drop in tourism revenues must reflect a corresponding general reduction of the country’s income. True enough, the peso has already plummeted to P50.50 to $1, compared to P47 during the same period last year.

    The current situation in the tourism sector certainly suffers from the disastrous effect of the recent Resorts World attack and the continuing crisis in Marawi City. Because of these incidents, countries have issued advisories to their nationals against travel to the Philippines.

    That the Marawi rebellion could turn out to be the precursor of a nationwide martial law situation seems to be predicted by the recent Supreme Court decision recognizing the authority of the President to declare martial law anywhere in the country. In past columns, I have dared say this as an occurrence not farfetched in the Philippine scenario. And citing historical pattern as foreboding the declaration of martial law by Duterte in the immediate future, I said that if another declaration of martial law will take place, it will be on September 22, 2017, the first two such declarations occurring on such a date, September 22, the first one in September 1944 by President Jose P. Laurel, and the second one by President Ferdinand E. Marcos in September 1972.

    No other declaration of martial law took place in Philippine history except on a September 22.

    President Duterte appears to have scored big in international media hype, landing a spot (together with imprisoned senator Leila de Lima) in Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people of the world, with his verbal tiffs with world dignitaries such as Pope Francis, US President Barrack Obama, the United Nations and the European Union. His pivot to socialist China and Russia (more to the former) has been touted as producing impetus for the economic development of the Philippines, but the tangible fruits of the hype are yet to come. The much publicized over-a-million Chinese tourist arrivals has yet to materialize. One thing is sure: the travel advisories against travel by Chinese nationals to the country issued at the height of the South China Sea tension in 2015 was lifted as a result of the President’s visit to China in October 2016.

    But the South China crisis continues. And the Marawi siege by Maute and Abbu Sayyaf extremists on the very day President Duterte concluded an arms deal with Russia forebodes an underhanded machination by the United States to create the situation in which it may with an imprimatur of legality to militarily intervene. That US special forces are now physically present in Marawi presents already a grim picture of the Syrian civil war already obtaining in the Philippines.

    At no point in Philippine history has there been a President so much pilloried in such a short time in office as President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. It is amazing he stays in power.

    (To be continued tomorrow)

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