The indefinite ceasefire accord in Oslo between the Duterte government and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front is by far the most promising development in the nation’s age-old communist insurgency. So convinced of the impact of this accord were those who participated in the talks that some of them think the formal signing of the agreement should be done at the Vatican with the Pope as a possible witness.
I cannot confirm the report that some friendly Jesuits from Mindanao have suggested the idea. Wherever it is coming from, it seems to suggest that the Holy See will want to get involved in the negotiations. That may be entirely wishful.
In October 1979, Saint Pope John Paul II mediated the conflict between Chile and Argentina after the two governments signed the Act of Motevideo on Jan. 9, 1979 formally requesting mediation by the Vatican and renouncing the use of force. But there appears to be no precedent for the Holy See getting involved in settling an internal conflict within any nation.
Will the Oslo accord work?
Whether or not the Oslo accord will work as advertised, depends, to a large measure, on the insurgents’ readiness to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate into the body politic, and not simply use the truce to expand its mass base and sphere of influence within and outside the government. Between 1944 and 2010, Wikipedia counts 13 of 71 insurgencies that had been settled, in which neither the government nor the insurgents unambiguously prevailed in the peace negotiations. Success was attributed to seven key factors:
Military stalemate and war-weariness created an environment that was “ripe for resolution;”
The government accepted the insurgents as legitimate negotiating partners;
The parties brokered one or more ceasefires;
The government and the insurgents entered into official intermediate agreements;
The government offered power-sharing to the insurgents;
The insurgents became moderate and more willing to engage in a political compromise; and
A third party guarantor helped reinforce the settlement and transition.
On the eve of the talks, President Rodrigo Duterte said there would be no discussion of a coalition government. And there were no reports of any. But even without such discussions, a quasi-coalition has already been established. At least three seasoned communists are now in the Cabinet, a few more are in the subCabinet, and so many more could join, in various capacities, once those who had been appointed by previous presidents had vacated their posts as ordered by DU30. The more critical element will be in terms of policy, as an expression of ideology.
This should make the coalition’s existence self-evident.
What to expect from the Left
Socialism is dead, and China, the biggest country still run by the communist party, has become the world’s fastest-growing economy only by adopting free market economic policies. Vietnam is not far behind, either. But if the Filipino post-Cold War communists insisted on pursuing their failed ideology, they would want the government to adopt radical measures, beginning with those related to private property. Aside from what Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano is trying to do to the land-owning class at Hacienda Luisita, we might be seeing more things like it all over the country.
We should be seeing pronounced State action against the oligarchy. For one, the Ayala patriarch and the Lopez patriarch, rather than the laughably powerless Roberto Ongpin, will probably be singled out as “the oligarchs” who need to explain their real usefulness to the country. In particular, the Ayala clan, Manny and Cynthia Villar and their kind will probably have to explain why they own such an overabundance of land everywhere, while millions of Filipino families don’t own even a small plot to bury their dead. The biggest Filipino dollar-billionaires on the Forbes Magazine annual listing will probably have to explain why they have allowed the TV actress and former presidential sister Kris Aquino to pay so much more in taxes than any of them.
On a matter directly related to governance, the Left will probably want to ask Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar how he expects to make sure that his family, which is a big-time property developer, does not unduly benefit from any government decision to build roads, bridges, parks, ports or airports, etc. in any part of the Philippines. After all, is he not in a position to use “inside” official information on government infrastructure projects, for his family to acquire large, dirt-cheap pieces of property, knowing the value will appreciate as soon as the projects in the pipeline are rolled out?
Honest graft at DPWH, DOT an Ayala subsidiary?
George Washington Plunkitt (1924-42), the New York Tammany Hall politician, explained it this way: “My party is in power in the city and it is going to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I’m tipped off, say, that they’re going to lay out a new park at a certain place. I see the opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy all the land I can in that neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there’s a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.” He called it “honest graft,” but it’s graft, nevertheless.
The Left will also probably want to ask Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade whether it is true that as soon as DU30 announced his name for his position, he called on the chief honchos of the two big telcos to pay his respects. They will most probably ask him what happened during those two separate meetings. They will then ask him why certain individuals who used to be associated with certain firms belonging to the Ayala group of companies, and “regulated” by the former DOTC, have now become “regulators” of the same entities.
These are not DU30’s appointees but Tugade’s. The Left will probably want to be assured that the DOT and the Department of Information and Communication Technology (the two departments that have sprung from DOTC) have not become Ayala “subsidiaries.”
Reinventing govt anew
And the Left will probably want to overhaul the current practice of letting the private sector build roads, bridges, railroads, ports, airports and all sorts of infrastructure, and requiring the public to pay for their use. All these are public goods, which the state has a duty to provide from the taxes it collects from the citizens. But ever since David Osborne and Ted Gaebler sold the idea of “reinventing government,” (1992), many governments have adopted “privatization, liberalization, and deregulation” as the easiest way to stay in power while letting the private sector do the things it was supposed to do for the citizens.
Now, if the transport and communications sector is a scandal, the energy sector is so much more. Investors, both foreign and local, stand to earn 300 percent or more in profits from their investments in energy projects, while Filipino consumers pay the highest electricity rates in the world, just because the State has, by law—-(the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001), renounced its basic right and duty to generate and distribute cheap electricity.
The EPIRA was intended to open up competition, increase the supply of power and bring down prices; it, instead, created a cartel that has since punished the public it was supposed to serve. Given a say in government, the Left will probably want the State to reassert its right and duty to provide cheap electricity (and water) rates for all by amending, if not altogether repealing, this law.
Rising above the drug war
With or without the Left in government, these are some of the issues the DU30 presidency could begin to work on, outside of its war on drugs. This ‘war’ has virtually reduced the President into a whistle-blower, exposing alleged crime in a campaign of shock and shame, when his sworn duty is to execute the laws and prosecute those who commit crime. This has reduced the law-and-order campaign into a daily search for a sound bite or a news headline, producing so much sound and fury with a spiraling count of summary killings.
The Oslo accord offers DU30 the opportunity to broaden the range of his press statements to other major issues that do not offer the sturm und Drang of his anti-narcotics war. It allows him to talk of higher and more substantive things beyond “killing” or “shaming” drug suspects, or eating durian with lady reporters who catch his eye during press briefings. It allows him to enlarge his official vocabulary and the vision and agenda of his presidency and move away from the rustic gaffes and booboos that have caused us (much more than him) so much unnecessary embarrassment, and prompted some observers to compare him, not necessarily favorably, to Donald Trump, the temperamental Republican presidential nominee who is ranged against the Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.
DU30, Trump and Cleon
I have just been talking to a much younger friend, who seems afflicted with that precise perception. He cites an article by Professor Chris Mackie, who teaches Greek studies at La Trobe University in Victoria, Australia, and finds no contemporary political prototype or model to explain Trump, but sees some similarity between him and the 5th century Athenian demagogue Cleon. The historian Thucydides found Cleon remarkable among the Athenians for the violence of his character. The article, “Can we learn from Thucydides’ writings on the Trump of ancient Athens?,” appears on Mercatornet.
It says in part: “Cleon…seems to have been a kind of Donald Trump of ancient Athenian politics. Classical scholars have described him in the following way: ‘He was an effective, if vulgar, speaker, and seems to have been given to extravagant promises and extravagant accusations against opponents. He was one of the first of a new kind of politicians, who were not for the old aristocracy and whose predominance depended on persuasive speeches in the assembly and law-courts rather than on regular office-holding’.”
Now, substitute DU30 for Trump, my friend says, and you have someone who lived 2,500 years ago acting like our President. Or you have our President acting like Cleon, with a lot of add-ons. The house seems divided as to whether DU30’s defects are still curable, and he remains teachable. But the media offensive has intensified. Aside from the usual Western media outlets, which make a career and an industry of bashing Third World leaders who fall out of line as far as Western standards are concerned, some regional outlets have also started picking on the man.
Is mental health the question?
Last weekend, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post carried an article entitled, “The Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte: Saviour or Madman.” This coincides with the circulation of the copy an official court document tending to show that in 2000, DU30, while serving in Congress, was diagnosed to be suffering from a serious “narcissistic personality disorder,” which became the basis of the annulment of his marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman, the mother of his three children, two of whom are the mayor and vice mayor of the city of Davao.
Whether or not this report is true, I hope and pray that the President’s reported physical and mental afflictions are entirely curable, and that he remains not only eminently teachable, but above all with the latent capability and desire to morph into a “teaching President.”