To win in the 2016 presidential elections, Rodrigo R. Duterte rode on the people’s clamor for change. Astutely, he concentrated on denouncing the outgoing administration and its presidential candidate for allowing prohibited drugs, criminality and corruption to flourish. He used strong street language, the methods of the mass movement and social media to catch the attention and support of the electorate and spend less than his rivals on TV and radio infomercials.
Since becoming president, Duterte has described himself as the first Left president in the Philippines and has formed a mixed kind of cabinet. Most key posts like finance, defense and foreign affairs have been given to known exponents of neoliberalism and U.S. security policy. But for the first time, posts responsible for agrarian reform, labor and social welfare have been given to outstandingly patriotic and progressive personages after Duterte’s consultations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
To nurture the hope that he is for change, President Duterte has paid special attention to the resumption of formal talks in the longrunning peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP. The talks have been successfully resumed in Oslo since August 22-26, 2016, with all existing agreements reaffirmed. Twenty-two detained NDFP consultants have been released to allow them to participate in peace negotiations.
A plan to accelerate the peace negotiations has been agreed upon, with definite work and output schedules. The forthcoming meetings in Oslo on October 6 to 10 will be mainly work sessions by reciprocal working committees on social and economic reforms and working groups on political and constitutional reforms. The principal aim of social and economic reforms is to carry out a program of national industrialization and land reform and expand social services for the working people.
A ceasefire agreement through similar unilateral ceasefire declarations by the GRP and NDFP has been in effect since August 27. So far there has been no offensive military campaign, operation or action undertaken by one side against the other to inflict physical harm on persons and property. It is expected that a more stable bilateral ceasefire agreement can be worked out on the basis of the unilateral ceasefire declarations, after all the political prisoners (more than 500) are amnestied and released.
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As President Duterte proves himself serious about pursuing the peace negotiations with the NDFP, he can be sure of getting the support of the millions of people led by the aboveground and underground patriotic and progressive forces in the Philippines. The NDFP has expressed willingness to go along with Duterte in truce, alliance and cooperation and in making constitutional amendments, involving adoption of federalism and parliamentary form of government, so long as national independence, democracy, social justice and all-round development are upheld and advanced.
On his own initiative, Duterte has vigorously pursued a campaign to rid the Philippines of the drugs problem. The campaign is quite popular and tends to buttress his electoral victory and his image as a strong man needed for confronting the problems of drugs, criminality and corruption. But critics have come forward from the ranks of the opposition as well as from local and international human rights organizations.
They have brought up to the attention of U.S. and U.N. authorities and the Philippine and media the following: that more than 3000 users and pushers and even innocents have been murdered at street level and in urban poor slums, that drug lords at the top and medium levels have gone scotfree and 600,000 addicts have surrendered for rehabilitation but there is a lack of rehabilitation personnel and facilities.
After long wanting to turn the anti-drugs campaign against Duterte, the yellow pro-Aquino opposition in Manila was beside itself with glee when it received assurance from the U.S. embassy that U.S. President Obama would lecture and scold Duterte on human rights violations in the premises of the recent ASEAN Summit in Laos. But Duterte reacted promptly and declared that the Philippines was no longer a U.S. colony and that he would not be lectured on human rights by an imperialist power that had not even apologized for killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in order to conquer the Philippines.
Since then, President Duterte has declared his determination to pursue an independent foreign policy. He has spoken of ending U.S. military presence in the Philippines and joint U.S.-Philippine naval patrols in the West Philippines, accessing weapons from China and Russia and availing of economic and trade relations beyond the confines of U.S. hegemony. Indeed, if he stays within the bounds of U.S. hegemony, it is only a matter of time that the old oligarchs based in Manila will make short shrift of his administration either through a military coup or what appears to be impossible at the moment, impeachment by Congress.
There are factors which Duterte can avail of in order to stay in his elected position, do his best for the people and resist the attempts of the United States and the Manila super-rich to incapacitate or remove him from power. First, he has his own mass following and command over the armed personnel of the state. Second, he can cooperate with the legal patriotic and progressive forces of the masses. Third, he can have peace with the armed revolution and cooperate with the latter in active defense against threats of the United States and the local exploiters. Fourth, he can use an independent foreign policy to bring all the needed moral, political and material support for the Filipino people.
Prof. Jose Maria Sison is Chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle and Chief Political Consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.