teleSUR spoke to the Communist Party of the Philippines Information Bureau and professors Jose Maria Sison and Roland Simbulan following President Rodrigo Duterte's second State of the Nation Address.
A loud, filthy murderer. A rusty, tired liar who surrounds himself with fascists and is little more than a weak puppet of U.S. imperialism.
Speaking to teleSUR, this was how the communists and leftists of the Philippines characterized President Rodrigo Duterte on the occasion of his second State of the Nation Address, or SONA, delivered Monday in Quezon City.
Duterte has never been known for speaking softly or having a stable temperament, but Monday's landmark major address — rife with blood, thunder, and curses — dashed whatever optimism may have lingered that the self-described “first left president” of the country would pursue peace talks and socio-economic reform negotiations in earnest with the country's leftist forces represented by the National Democratic Front, Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army.
“Words pour out of Duterte so cheaply,” exiled CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison said from the Netherlands following the speech, in which the president lodged a personal death threat against the 78-year old veteran revolutionary. “He does not mean what he says when he is out to hoodwink the people.”
Speaking for two hours in his typical meandering style to a fawning audience of legislators and officials, Duterte declared that peace talks would be decisively halted to make way for a campaign of state terror against the communists, to be pursued with renewed vigor following the end of his devastating U.S.-supported war on the handful of Islamists holed up in Marawi City. Invoking the Code of Hammurabi — “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” — he promised to restore the death penalty as a means to legalize the extra-judicial killings targeting poor communities. Tagging the Indigenous Lumad people in general as communist supporters, the president even threatened to use “the Philippine Air Force” to bomb Lumad children's schools for “teaching the children to rebel against the government.”
“They said I’m a bully. You’re all fools. I am really a bully, son of a bitch. I am really a bully, especially to the enemies of the state,” he declared in comments directed at his leftist critics. "So if you don't want me, to talk to me, I do not want to talk to you, and I do not want you."
Ever unpredictable, Duterte following his speech with an impromptu thirteen-minute appearance before over 10,000 protesters comprised of workers' unions, youth groups and students, clergy, Moro and Lumad organizations and countless other mass organizations who assembled for a “People's SONA” that featured, for the first time, colorful effigies of the president – one of which featured Duterte resembling Adolf Hitler festooned in the U.S. “stars and stripes.”
"As we march today in angry protest, we hold no more illusions that Duterte is fundamentally any different from past regimes that have been subservient mainly to the interests of U.S. imperialism and the oligarchic ruling classes," youth group Anakbayan said in a statement. "We must assert our democratic rights and interests and advance the national democratic struggle against a rotting ruling system which now has at its apex the ruling militarist U.S.-Duterte clique."
Attempting to extract sympathy from the protesters, Duterte was instead jeered down for his broken promises, rights abuses and termination of the peace talks. Tell his aggrieved constituents to "shut up," Duterte abruptly stormed off the stage in a clearly sour mood.
“Duterte has long made use of bullying tactics, legal and extralegal threats against his political opponents in order to establish himself as a strongman,” CPP Information Bureau media liaison Vim Montes told teleSUR, noting that his administration is centered on mass murder, all-out suppression and open fascist rule. “This is, however, not a sign of strength — if anything, it shows the inability and weakness of the ruling regime to govern the country according to its established rules and increasing reliance on violence to perpetuate the system.”
According to human rights monitor Karapatan, Duterte's first year alone has entailed 68 politically-motivated murders, 842 arbitrary and illegal arrests, and 42,894 were subjected to threat, harassment and intimidation — including, most recently, Karapatan Secretary-General Tinay Palabray. 416,005 people have faced displacement while U.S.-backed counterinsurgency efforts have subjected 357,569 people to indiscriminate gunfire and aerial bombardments. Human Rights Watch estimates that well over 7,000 predominantly poor drug users have been killed since he took office in 2016.
For the country's leftists, Duterte's “anti-people” agenda is driven primarily by neoliberal motives and a continued dependence on the United States, which precludes any tolerance of the country's communist revolutionaries.
“Duterte has been tested in the (Government)-NDFP peace negotiations, he has stubbornly violated the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights violations and International Humanitarian Law by refusing to release all the political prisoners who have been detained on trumped up charges of common crimes, by carrying out so many atrocities under a ceaseless all-out war policy against the revolutionary movement and by engaging in the extrajudicial killing of poor drug addicts and low-level pushers while favoring certain drug lords and boasting openly that he and the police can kill with impunity,” Sison explained to teleSUR.
"He has demanded the surrender of the revolutionary movement through a protracted and indefinite kind of bilateral ceasefire prior to any negotiations of social, economic and political reforms," he added. "At the same time, he has offended the working classs by continuing to condone unfair labor practices, especially the exploitative practice of subjecting workers to a series of five-month contracts in order to avoid employing them on a regular basis. He has enraged the peasant masses by favoring the landlords and the export-crop plantations."
Sison, like the rest of the Philippine anti-imperialist left, fails to see any progress in breaking the U.S. chokehold over the archipelago despite some anti-U.S. outbursts primarily directed at former U.S. President Barack Obama.
“He has been exposed as a puppet of U.S. imperialism despite his pretense at wishing for an independent foreign policy,” Sison continued. “He has not abrogated a single one of many treaties by which U.S. imperialism dominates the Philippines economically, politically and militarily,” he added, noting that the Marawi onslaught following the May 23 attack by the Maute group Islamists exposed his subordination to and dependency on Washington and the circle of pro-U.S. security officials surrounding him at Malacañang presidential palace.
“In approaching China and Russia, he is only after infrastructure loans and some military assistance to augment what he can get from the U.S., Japan and the EU,” Sison noted.
University of the Philippines Professor Roland Simbulan agrees, describing the historic ties of dependency binding the Armed Forces of the Philippines to the U.S. military. Simbulan has written eight books on relations between the Philippines and the U.S., as well as the long history of U.S. military interventions in the Philippines and Asia-Pacific region.
“Despite his track record of being an anti-imperialist mayor of Davao, President Duterte has now allowed himself to be advised and surrounded by known pro-U.S. former military generals whom he has appointed to his cabinet,” the professor said. “As of the latest count, around 60 former generals and high-ranking officers have been appointed to key government positions: national security, interior and local government, environment and natural resources, customs, national irrigation, and so on.”
“The Philippine military has, historically, been the most reliable pro-U.S. institution in the country — and in many ways, the relationship between the AFP and U.S. Armed Forces is symbiotic,” Simbulan continued. “U.S. military training for the AFP officers' corps includes not only war-fighting skills but also indoctrination in U.S. National Security doctrines and logistics, and is dependent on U.S. military assistance woven through a web of treaties and international agreements including secret military-to-military agreements.”
Simbulan added that Duterte's failure to fulfill his promises of “change” reflect the continuation of U.S.-dictated neocolonialism in the country.
“Of course, the U.S. will not tolerate a president who will break their choking embrace,” Simbulan acknowledged. “That is why they are relying on the pro-U.S. generals and technocrats, to make sure that while the Philippines will rely less on its traditional ally — which anyway does not anymore have enough resources and capability — the Philippines will remain in the orbit of U.S. plans and strategies in the western Pacific.”
Simbulan also explained that while a small section of Chinese-descendant Filipino elites such as the Cojuangco clan may prefer expanded ties with China, the country remains in the grips of the U.S. and EU chambers of commerce as well as Korean and Japanese corporations.
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For Montes, speaking on behalf of the Communist Party of the Philippines Information Bureau, these economic ties explain Duterte's moves to crush any form of resistance and cancel good-faith negotiations.
“Before dealing with the substantial socio-economic and political issues that are at the root of the civil war in the Philippines, he wanted first for the NPA to silence its guns through a bilateral ceasefire agreement, this is unacceptable,” Montes said.
“Duterte considers the progressives and revolutionaries as the biggest stumbling block to his push for neoliberal policies and corruption-laden projects,” Montes noted. “The national democratic movement is determined to defend the rights and interests of the people especially in the face of detrimental plans to build new railroads, dams and other projects.”
"Fully aware that he only has six years — possibly less if his reported stem cell treatment will not extend the life of his diseased body — he wants to railroad all these projects and demand everyone's support," Montes postulated. "However, the divisions among the ruling elite run deep and cannot be healed by Duterte's economic enticements."
Montes exudes optimism when speaking of the NPA's ability to weather the approaching storm. The red fighters have been waging armed struggle since 1969 in one of the world's longest ongoing communist insurgencies, and have launched a string of attacks on state security forces as well as government-aligned criminals such as drug dealers and rapists in recent weeks.
“The NPA is in a position to effectively resist, and thereby, grow in strength as it fights the U.S.-Duterte regime's all-out war and martial law,” he continued. “The NPA is set to surpass its peak strength in the 1980s (and) is firmly united and determined to wage extensive and intensive guerrilla warfare. Tactical offensives are being carried out nationwide from the northern tip of Luzon, to the middle regions of the Visayas islands and across the Mindanao island in the south. The reactionary defense establishment has taken notice of the nationwide spread of the increasing staccato of NPA tactical offensives.”
“The NPA can intensify the revolutionary armed struggle because of the deep and wide support of the people,” Montes declaimed. “The Filipino people, especially the workers and peasants, as well as the petty-bourgeoisie, are increasingly indignant over the worsening forms of oppression and exploitation (and) in response, more and more are joining the NPA. Agrarian revolution is being waged by the NPA together with the peasant masses. The people's democratic government is being steadily built on the basis of the mass strength of the Party and the people's revolutionary organizations comprising the NDFP.”
“Duterte is determined to crush the progressive and revolutionary forces but the national democratic movement stands to become the solid core of a broad united front against the anti-people and fascist regime.”