During the campaign season, the President was adamant in his stand regarding ensuring that peace comes to this country during his term. Talks with the Moro libetration fighters as well as the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Amry-National Democrtic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) were at the top of the political agenda when he won the electoral exercise. Yet not even one year, he has already declared an all-out war against the Communists, whom he has called friends and allies several times in the not-too-distant past.
He appointed several Cabinet members whose stands are definitely progressive, such as Welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo, militant women’s liberationist Liza Maza for the National Anti-Poverty Commission and land rights activist and lawmaker Rafael Mariano for the Agrarian Reform post. He even appointed anti-large scale mining activist Gina Lopez as head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Another former lawmaker, labor leader Jole Maglunsod, is undersecretary of the Labor department, while former youth representative and activist Terry Ridon is now head of the Presidential Commission on the Urban Poor. Aiza Seguerra, a well-known LGBT and indigenous rights advocate, now leads the National Youth Commission.
Yet it seems putting progressives in one’s Cabinet does not necessarily make the President a progressive one. Just a few days after Lopez’s order cancelling the permits of 75 mining companies that violated environmental laws, Duterte is already reconsidering Lopez’s order, saying it has already created such a “mess.” True, large mining companies do contribute billions of pesos to government coffers, yet this amount is a pittance compared to the income that large scale mining companies bring outside the country. Caraga region, home to the largest number of mining companies in the Philippines, still remains one of the nation’s poorest areas. While large mining companies continue to rake in billions of dollars in profits, Indigenous Peoples continue to suffer from landgrabbing and other rights violations.
While the President talks of alleviating the situation of farmers in the country, the Cojuangcos continued to demolish the farms and houses of peasants in their home province of Tarlac. In the city of Tagum near Duterte’s home city of Davao, armed goons allegedly employed by Lapanday Corporation shot at farmers who were agrarian reform beneficiaries.
The recent fire in the HTI factory in Cavite province, which conservative estimates say claimed the lives of at least 100 workers and injured hundreds of others, also reminds us that the problem of contractualization has yet to be solved by Duterte. Millions of workers labor daily with no job security, and without any hope of social security and other benefits. Unions are considered illegal in economic processing zones, where many factories are located and where many workers are at the mercy of their bosses.
Free education was supposedly assured for all students of state universities and colleges (SUCs) for 2017, yet suddenly SUCs are setting up stricter rules and regulations for who gets free education and who doesn’t. Health care has not improved, and until now it is not clear what public health policies aim to achieve in the future.
Development activists and workers are being arrested and even killed one by one, even as they work hard to provide services to far-flung communities that the government cannot–or does not want to–provide basic social services with. This does not include the thousands upon thousands of lives lost in the President’s so-called anti-drug war.
To top it all off, all-out war has been declared against the CPP-NPA-NDFP, and encounters between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the NPA forces have happened in different parts of the country. The President’s declaration will bring additional hardships to the millions of lives that have already been affected, many adversely, by this on-going civil war.
When Duterte won as president, I was hoping fervently that he was of a different breed from that of his predecessors in Malacanang. After all, he had repeatedly proclaimed that, along with him, “change is coming.” That is not to say that I pinned all my hopes on him; I am realistic enough to know how things in this country work. And right now I cannot help but notice that the situation in our country seems much the same as the situation during past presidents.
Unfortunately for me, my hopes are being shattered little by little. His recent actions are giving me cause for worry, as well as terrible headaches. In fact, the only change I can see right now with Duterte is how fast he changes his tune and his mind.