AT the Manila Times business forum in Davao City last Friday, the paper proclaimed its guest of honor and speaker, President Rodrigo Duterte, as Man of the Year for 2016. I write three times a week on the Times’s front page, but I had no involvement in this project. In his speech, the President, who has been in office for less than a year, said he was accepting the award, but admonished his audience, with obvious playfulness, not to read the paper’s columnists. I felt obviously referred to, having been reviled in an earlier nationwide broadcast over a controversial piece, but having but having pointed out in my column, that same Friday, that his rant was entirely misplaced, I thought this was his merry way of putting his error to rest. I was happy to hear it. Pax Christi, Mr. President.
But given the many controversial things the President wants to do—the drug war, the restoration of the capital sentence, lowering the age of criminal responsibility to nine years old, limiting the number of children per family to three, peace talks or total war with the CPP/NPA/NDF, preventing the arms buildup for Islamic extremists, an independent and balanced foreign policy posture vis-a-vis China, Japan and the US, etc.—he would be crossing a vast minefield in the next five years. He will have to tread gently on all these issues, and in dealing with his local and foreign critics, in official and unofficial circles around the world. Although Himmler mechanically drew his revolver every time anyone tried to reason with him, DU30 cannot simply continue to call stupid, idiot or sonofabitch, etc. everyone who disagrees with him or crosses his path.
The killings not the drug war
He needs to serve the rule of law in truth, with reason and justice, avoiding all non sequiturs and specious arguments. On the issue of the extra-judicial killings, for instance, he has to see that no one who condemns the killings is against the war on drugs as a legitimate activity of the State. But he has to show that every drug killing is documented, unavoidable and justified. During his Philconsa speech on February 8 at the Manila Hotel, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the Constitution provides that “the maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty and property, and the promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy,” and then asked whether the government should do nothing in the face of the horrible drug menace?
It does not. But that is not the issue before DU30 and the public. The issue is whether the extra-judicial killings are necessary, unavoidable and justified. Former Mayor Alfred Lim of Manila, who used to be also a chief of the Manila police and of the National Bureau of Investigation, told Aguirre that when he was both mayor, police and NBI chief, every police killing of a suspected criminal resulted in an investigation and charges being filed against the responsible policeman, whether he was guilty or not. It was then left for the legal process to determine his innocence or guilt. He wanted to know whether this standard procedure was still being followed still. The justice secretary did not have a ready answer, but with close to 7,000 suspects already killed, there is no indication that the deaths have been investigated and that corresponding charges have been filed.
Clarity in everything
Beyond the drug problem, the President will have to make a clear and convincing presentation of his position on all issues, so that the public and the courts, if ever they are called to do so, could decide correctly and intelligently whether he is in the right or not. He should be open to discussion of every issue, especially when not all the facts are known, or when the known facts could be easily controverted. He cannot allow false pride and intellectual conceit to scorn the empirical experience by others, such as Colombia’s former President Cesar Gaviria’s recounting of his own errors in fighting his country’s murderous drug cartels.
He cannot insist on his word being automatically the last word on anything or everything, from which there is no appeal; this risks a despotism against which all the various political, economic and social forces could coalesce. He cannot fail as a democrat by trying to succeed as a despot.
The death proposals
On the proposal to revive the capital sentence on heinous crimes, lower the age of criminal liability from 15 years to nine, and limit the number of children per family, DU30 must have the humility to recognize that these are highly divisive issues that cannot be easily resolved by imperial diktat from Davao. These are matters of conscience, and no matter what kind of political opportunism keeps the so-called “super majority” together, DU30 and his puppet Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez do not have the power to abolish the conscience of legislators.
Alvarez has warned congressmen, including former President and Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, that they could be ousted from their House positions if they failed to toe the line on the death sentence. The choice is between their committee positions and the peace of their souls. The man is utterly ill-mannered and power-drunk and has even learned to use DU30’s foul language in talking to department undersecretaries attending committee hearings. But he could still be left holding an empty bag in the end.
A number of congressmen appear to be seriously considering the idea of having the Speakership declared vacant in order to install GMA as Speaker. DU30 should welcome this, if he wants to instill some credibility and respect in the House of Representatives. He could always send Alvarez back to the Department of Transportation, which he used to head and where he reportedly left a lot of “unfinished business.”
The truth about the peace talks and the ‘terrorist organization’
DU30 needs to provide even greater clarity on his decision to scuttle the peace talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF and to resume the shooting war. Just what is the real score here? After DU30 branded the CPP/NPA/NDF a “terrorist organization,” the rebel group said DU30 could not scuttle the peace talks even if the fighting should continue. Then DU30 started praising his communist appointees instead of weeding them out for being part of the “terrorist organization.” Will DU30 soon tell us he was merely joking when he called the CPP/NPA/NDF a “terrorist organization”? Where will the double-speak end?
The CPP/NPA/NDF blamed DU30 for his failure to release all the political prisoners they had asked him to release. So the ceasefire collapsed, and some soldiers were killed by insurgents. But what did the CPP/NPA/NDF promise the government? Did they ever commit to disarm and demobilize and subsequently reintegrate into the mainstream? Or did DU30 agree to an undeclared transition to a resurgent communist state, led by his communist Cabinet appointees, and supported by the CPP-led Kilusang Pagbabago (Movement for Change) and its barangay-based MASA-MASID?
In theory, a communist resurgence seems totally absurd. The Cold War has long ended, the market political economy has won, and even China, the biggest remaining communist nation, now practices free market economics. But highly informed sources within the country and outside claim that a spate of arms shipments from communist sources within the region had entered the country to promote a resurgence of armed conflict within our basically Catholic Christian country. When the CPP/NPA/NDF says the peace talks “cannot not continue,” and the presidential spokesman says DU30 is a “listening President” and may have to resume talks with the “terrorist organization,” does it mean the State is being effectively disarmed, while a more powerful and better armed “alternative state” (if this term is permissible) is being prepared to take its place?
We could use a clearer exposition on this from Malacañang.
Rebalancing our foreign policy
In the end, the major players—the US, Japan and China—will decide whether we are going to have stability or instability, peace or war in Asia. A proper balance has yet to be found between US State Secretary Rex Tillerson’s tough position on China and Defense Secretary James Mattis’s advocacy of “less dramatic” moves in the area, but DU30 could help shape the direction of US-China relations. DU30 has clearly reconsidered his threat to “separate” economically and militarily from the US and align himself with China and Russia “against the world,” after Barack Obama, with whom he had a run-in on the drug killings, left the presidency. He should now work for an equidistant relationship with the US and China.
Despite his declared support for Trump, DU30 has announced he is not sending a permanent Philippine ambassador to Washington, D.C. for a while; this happens only when diplomatic relations between two countries have soured. He seems to suspect that despite Trump, the US government is capable of taking him to the International Criminal Court at The Hague for the drug killings. Nikki Haley, Trump’s permanent representative to the UN, has already threatened to look into the matter; she appears to have prevailed upon Trump not to lift sanctions against Moscow. While relations with the US remain fluid, DU30 appears to be in the best of terms with Beijing. I doubt that this paper’s news reporting is correct, but it says the Chinese ambassador in Manila has proposed the grant of “emergency powers” to DU30 in implementing projects funded by Beijing. That would put DU30’s “independent foreign policy” in serious trouble.
In a recent forum, several analysts argued the real test of DU30’s “independence” is economic and financial rather than political. The loosening of our political entanglement with one power and the strengthening of our economic ties with another should help our pursuit of economic and financial sovereignty rather than constrict it. But we have to make sure that we have not replaced one political master with a new economic master. Still, our ultimate goal should be how to break away from the international financial and monetary system run by the global moneylending oligarchy through the central banks, which control governments instead of being controlled by them.
This is the challenge to all governments, including the most powerful. We do not have the space or time now, but we only have to look at our most vital economic institutions. Take the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. As one analyst points out, the BSP operates independently of, and above, the national government, it is not subject to the Commission on Audit, or to congressional hearings on the international reserves it manages, the income it derives from gold trading, and securities, among others, the cost of security paper and of printing our money abroad or the metal content of coins it mints, or reports of corruption in the ranks.
The BSP post—a litmus test
So, although DU30 has left economic policymaking solely in the hands of his economic managers, it is to be hoped that after BSP Governor Amando Tetangco retires in July, DU30 would name in his place a highly qualified, forward-looking banker who would like to see the BSP become more transparent, accountable and responsive to the nation’s massive development potential. This has to be someone other than the names we are hearing from the boardroom lobby—a non-performing Cabinet member with unresolved criminal court cases, a reputed “toy boy” of a prominent high society matron, and a BSP insider with some unexplained involvements. Whoever is named should be prepared to pursue the economic and financial sovereignty of the Philippines, rather than serve the usual international masters.
There is no room for failure here.