Those who keep on harping on the supposed many similarities of President Duterte and President Trump have been focusing on the skin-deep and not on the substantial issues. Mr. Trump, using populist guises and nativist rhetoric, is really after the personal profits that his presidency will bring to his Trump brand and his cronies. He packed his Cabinet with billionaires known to have ejected homeowners with an obligation of a few dollars. It is the economics and profiteering that power brings, stupid.
The blood-curdling, globally repelling policies that he has been writing through executive actions, just provide the cover for his true and real agenda – which is to shaft the common man through reckless policies that will tilt all the rules in favor of the billionaire class. Just look at the attempt to gut Obamacare and roll back Dodd-Frank.
Mr. Duterte appears to be without a profiteering agenda. His Cabinet is without A-listers in terms of wealth and the single blue blood in his cabinet, Ms. Lopez, has been the scourge of the billionaire mining class.
But here is the rub. Mr. Duterte and his Cabinet are missing the chance to reshape economic policies despite the absence of the profiteering motive. In place of bold, radical economic policies that will help the alienated and vulnerable, Mr. Duterte has been sticking to economic orthodoxy and his policies are not very different from Aquinomics. If the Duterte people were all as bold as the DENR boss, they could change the country’s economic policies profoundly.
The root of the failure to reshape economic policies in favor of egalitarian ones is simple. Mr. Duterte does not want to wade into the complexities of economic policy-making and has left the formulation of economic policies to technocrats who could comfortably serve in the previous government. In fact, Mr. Pernia is more conservative and orthodox and pro-business than Arcy Balisacan.
Mr. Duterte could have gutted the PPP to spread out opportunities to the non-billionaire contractors. Mr. Duterte could have adopted a “Soak the Rich” tax policy but has preferred a standard-issue reduction of both personal and corporate income taxes. Nothing bold and game-changing there.
So, where would he leave a policy imprint? Two areas are still left. These are RH, where he is strong and will most likely succeed. The second is the peace process. His signature policy, the war on drugs, will not really matter much despite the huge body count because of the context of poverty.
On RH, he will succeed. The Church does not really have the sort of traction that will make its opposition to the RH succeed. For God’s sake, the RH program falls short of abortion and it is among the mildest RH programs across the globe.
The problem area is the peace process. The big gains of the past several weeks will be back to Zero should Mr. Duterte scale back on his determination to see the peace of the living be a reality under his administration.
That is what we are seeing right now. Mr. Duterte has called the CPP “ terrorist.” He has ordered the arrest of several leaders released from prison to help in the peace talks. The offensive against the armed Left has resumed. While both parties say that the peace process will not be aborted, we have to be reminded of one thing. With blood being shed by both the military and the NPA, the ideal environment for the pursuit of peace is gone. The two parties cannot talk peace with blood being spilled all around.
And not one within the Cabinet of Mr. Duterte, except for Mr. Dureza who has not much clout, is actively working to ease the tension.
There are big, big problems attached to the waning determination to push through with the peace talks and the wavering enthusiasm on the part of Mr. Duterte.
Mr. Duterte can call the Left’s party, army and broad coalition all the negative names in the world but that would not bother the Left’s Trinity one bit. The claim that the Left has opened up more guerrilla fronts during the time of Mr. Aquino is true. The momentum is still there as poverty and alienation from the mainstream could only enhance recruitment of new leaders and members, not slow down that process.
Unlike drug lords and crime gangs, the Left’s underground forces are not easy quarries for both the police and the military. You could jail the top leaders of the party, army and broad coalition today and the result would be a short-lived, but otherwise meaningless victory for the government. The second-tier leaders will just assume the prime leadership roles and the third-tier leaders will assume the secondary roles in a seamless segueing into new roles.
The Left is an ideology with an army and a formal structure that allows for seamless transitions. No amount of “all-out wars” would weaken the fighting resolve, the fundraising efforts and the recruitment of fresh young fighters and ideologues.
As all previous governments have proven, which Mr. Duterte is painfully aware of, there is no military solution to the problem of insurgency.
The war with the Left will remain an unwinnable war unless change would come in the communities of despair, hopelessness and abject poverty. Change is not coming for now and Mr. Duterte, with his timidity on economic policies, has no option but push through with the peace talks.
The quest for peace has never been an easy process.