Last of 2 Parts
WILL President Rodrigo Duterte win the battle against powerful entities running roughshod over laws and the common good, and global powers seeking to maintain hegemony over the Philippines?
The first part on Tuesday cited these struggles against long-entrenched realities dominating the nation, from wealthy, well-connected elites and armed lawless groups, to Western nations, organizations and media ruling the global roost.
So far, Duterte is scoring big, despite much criticism here and abroad. Lawless groups are reeling from his anti-narcotics war and, now, the military campaign against Mindanao extremists and, if Norway peace talks totally collapse, communist rebels.
And vested interests in business, politics and government are feeling the heat from Duterte’s push to crack down on labor exploitation, state corruption, destructive mining, tax evasion and illegal gambling.
What has kept the President’s battles royale going are two crucial pillars of support. One is the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
AFP and PNP support and protection have not only made opponents here and abroad reluctant to openly challenge Duterte. The security forces have also blocked drug lords, terrorists, and even political or business bigwigs who have no qualms about putting a bullet in his head.
The other bastion of support is the Filipino people, who have kept their faith, trust, and approval of the mayor-turned-President. With that mass base behind him, Duterte can test the limits of law and government in his fight against the powers that be, and those who would stand in his way know that they would have to contend with a nation believing his call for change by whatever means.
So, is Duterte headed for success in his recasting of the nation? Yes and no.
Yes, change will advance
With his open and staunch backing of security forces, declaring that he would even assume responsibility of unlawful acts like rape, Duterte has wedded the stature and security of soldiers and police to his continued stay in power. And, as chief driving forces of his change agenda, the AFP and the PNP enjoy more clout and purpose than at any other time outside of the civilian-military People Power uprisings.
Further prodding the security forces are the people’s overwhelming support for crushing narco-syndicates, extremists, and rebel groups not in peace talks with the government. And the lawless, of course, cannot plead for protection under the law and the niceties of due process.
Hence, while Duterte is alive and in power, don’t expect the crackdown on drugs and terrorism to end until these scourges are utterly wiped out.
Ditto the fight against corruption and oligarchy. Among the anti-elite initiatives are tax evasion cases against Mighty Corp. and the crackdown on the Fontana online gaming, plus this week’s justice department order to end the decades-old onerous lease of prison land to the Floirendo clan’s Tagum Development Corp.
To be sure, there will be underhanded schemes to get targeted firms and tycoons off the hook. But President Duterte’s quick action on any whiff of sleaze has made corruptly circumventing laws and rules far more risky.
As for his effort to free the country from Western hegemony, both America and Europe may be waning in their tussle with Duterte. The European Union can end aid programs and perhaps withdraw trade privileges, but that would precisely reduce their influence and involvement in the Philippines.
Regarding the United States, it may be getting set for the loss of the Philippines as its key strategic partner in Asia. What seems to show this is the White House’s red carpet welcome to visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Huan Phuc, in the hope of building ties with the former wartime adversary.
Meanwhile, Duterte’s outreach to China, Japan, Russia and the Middle East is yielding many times more in assistance, investment and trade than the West provides. And it’s not like US and EU funds and businesses would all go away, since there are still advantages for the West to keep aid and investment flowing to the country.
No, change will revert
Now, for the downside. Despite major gains even before the first year of Duterte’s presidency is up, there remain many hurdles to clear — and opposition to beat back.
Neither the drug problem, nor the terrorist threat are anywhere near being solved. The recent seizure of 550 kilograms of shabu from a Valenzuela City warehouse, worth P5 billion on the street, shows that narcotics are still gushing in.
And the way the contraband slipped in — hidden in printing gear cleared without inspection through the Bureau of Customs “express lane” for legitimate importers — only shows that sleaze, incompetence, or both, are still weighing down law enforcement.
Turning to extremist and rebel violence, the Marawi conflict seems to have turned decisively in the government’s favor. But the forces and weaponry mustered by the Maute group, probably joined by other extremists, indicate that the terror groups are no pushovers with peashooters.
And if the communist New People’s Army joins the fray and mounts attacks nationwide, Duterte may well have to consider extending martial law to other parts of the country — or nationwide.
On the battle against oligarchy and corruption, the ouster of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, despite the President’s unbending support, shows that the elite will not easily yield its privileges and lucre.
Moreover, the difficulty faced by tax reforms seeking to shift wealth from the haves to the don’t-haves, also manifests the power of money. And we haven’t even begun pushing the biggest redistribution of power and wealth in Duterte’s change program: federalism.
But the biggest question mark in Duterte’s national recasting is Duterte himself — the time limits on his time in the Palace and on earth. The entrenched powers now reeling before his assault can bide their time and plot their comeback after 2022.
That is probably why Duterte is using drastic measures to win decisively in a few years, so that the enemies of change and national liberation cannot so easily come back.
But they will — unless the people take up his struggle and stand up to their longtime masters, oppressors, and destroyers even after Duterte fades from the scene.
This is where the third recasting comes in: Like Duterte, the Filipino people must show the mettle to strike out on what they want and need to do for their liberation, even if the elite, the educated, the moral leaders, and other establishment voices object.
When the oppressed can cuss and kill if they have to, then their march to freedom from drugs, crime, corruption, oppression and hegemony may finally lead to real change.
(The first part was published this past Tuesday.)