Duterte’s Gamble: From Left to Right

He has been a year and a month in office, and basing on your ideological persuasion, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte may either be “progressing” or “retrogressing” in terms of his political actions. After declaring war against so-called ISIS-inspired local terror groups in Mindanao, Duterte is now focusing his attention at the mainstream Left, whom he accused of betraying him and the peace process. The feisty President even threatened to arrest and detain NDF peace consultants and bomb schools of the Lumads. If you support constitutionally allowed strong arm tactics, Duterte is progressing. If you rather believe in liberal democratic ideals, Duterte’s actions are alarming because he is practically threatening every institution of democracy in this country.

For days now, Duterte has engaged Jose Maria Sison, the aging consultant of the National Democratic Front (NDF) based in the Netherlands. At his State of the Nation Address (SONA), Duterte lambasted the Left for reportedly attempting to kill him “in an ambush”, while sitting in-front of government peace negotiators purportedly to end Asia’s longest insurgency. He vowed revenge. He also vowed to order the arrest of NDF peace consultants.

This is a stark departure from those photos a year ago, showing Duterte happily taking selfies with major Leftist leaders inside Malacanan. Describing himself as a “Leftist”, Duterte has toyed the idea of securing a major peace deal with the insurgents, a thing which his predecessor, former Liberal President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, failed to accomplish in his six-year term. President Duterte confessed of having a strong relationship with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Davao-based NPA during his storied 23 year old career as a local politician. He even boasted in one news that he gives them funds.

Now, Duterte is singing a new tune. He engaged Sison in a verbal tussle, and revealed that his 76 year old former professor is suffering from colon cancer. Sison responded and denied the highly public disclosure. Duterte then dared the CPP founder to go home and engage him in a fight in the Philippines. Again, Sison replied that, if the revolutionary movement requires him to lead the charge against Duterte, he would gladly come home.

Such exchanges coming from two Septuagenarians  show how ideologically divided the Duterte administration is. There are still four Leftist personalities working for Duterte: Liza Masa for the National Commission for the Poor, Ka Paeng Mariano who heads the agrarian reform department , Leonor Briones of the DECS and Taguiwalo, a former professor who heads the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Most members of Duterte’s Cabinet belong to either the military or private sectors who either served in previous administrations or new yet no ideological persuasions except as staunch Duterte campaign supporters. Some are nominees of electoral financiers.

There is some proof that Duterte’s administration is more of a reactionary government than progressive. Former military men, like retired general Roy Cimatu heads the very important environments department, while Duterte’s classmate, Tugade, leads the transportation department. The son of his political and financial ally, the Villars, control the public works, while his main economic managers, Dominguez, Pernia and Prof. Diokno are all free trade economists. Down the line, in several important agencies of government, these are peopled with either Duterte’s closest fraternity brothers or former AFP officials.

So, why is Duterte distancing himself from the Left, whom he formerly described as “closest friends”?  One word—Duterte’s presidency is now called a “besieged presidency” and the reason for this is when he committed a grievous mistake declaring martial law in Mindanao.

Duterte has slowly aligned himself with the hawks within his government and his political circles because he has no choice. There is an active destabilization effort against him, and inspite of being president for a year, Duterte is weaker than when he ascended the chief executive post. For all his posturing and his highly public bravado, Duterte pales in comparison with Marcos, his idol. The fact is—Duterte is now being held hostage by the oligarchs and the military elite due to this war which he now unwittingly created for himself and for which, Duterte sacrificed most of his political capital. 

The truth of the matter, Duterte’s situation right now is like that of Gloria’s. Duterte may appear to have consolidated power but in truth, Duterte is not a dominant power. Yes, constitutionally, Mr. Duterte remains the Chief Executive, but his legitimacy lies not on popularity or surveys, but on how the people perceive him thru his public posturing and policies. Analyze the events closely, and you will arrive at a conclusion that, inspite of being in power for more than a year, Mr. Duterte has not been able to muster a force or even a political movement that he can conveniently call his own.

Yes, Mr. Duterte may look tough but those who know him and those who already experienced his one year rule know that he is even weaker than Estrada or Aquino. One example is how his own defense secretary Lorenzana contradicts his publicly announced policies. His economic managers, like Carlos Dominguez and Diokno, in several instances, countermanded Duterte. Duterte’s failure to even support Gina Lopez’s appointment which was actively opposed by big-time mining powers is also another example of how politically weak Mr. Duterte truly is.

That is exactly the problem when an outlier is elected into a national office—you suffer from lack of political power. This weakness however, can actually be remedied but in the case of Mr. Duterte, he failed. Among the perceived outliers, the only one who succeeded and eventually transformed himself as the strongest political force is Marcos.

Like Duterte, Marcos was an outlier. Even with his Romualdez connexion, Marcos was then perceived as a regional leader. During those times, traditional political oligarchs lord it over the national scene. Most of the perceived political forces all came from Metro Manila and environs. These oligarchs have their respective turfs and people admired or supported their political brands after years of being in the national scene.

Marcos was able to fully distanced himself from these traditional oligarchs by creating his own dynamic persona and his own ideological framework. By convincing the people that he had an ideology to share with them which was a counterforce against rising public inamorata for Socialism and Communism, Marcos was able to prop himself not just a strong political force, but likewise, a strong intellectual one as well. That attracted the middle classes, the intelligentsia, who supported him when he declared martial law in 1972 and he only lost it in 1983, when Ninoy Aquino’s assassination was blamed on him.

His “New Society” call became the rallying Idea for the dictatorship. People gave him the chance to realize this concept. That explains why several people, and even those who suffered during Martial law, gave glowing narratives on the first five years under Martial law. Marcos began to lose support when he decided to create his own oligarchical elites and carved the economy into enclaves for his cronies. Rising abuses and highly public expressions of contemptuous behavior by his family led to the loss of middle class support and which eventually contributed to his eventual ouster.

Duterte does not have what Marcos had–time to consolidate his own forces. His trusted Cabinet secretary, a former rebel, tried to organize thru Kilusang Pagbabago (KP), but other political forces within Duterte’s circle, formed their own. Duterte’s forces are fragmented and are not consolidated under PDP-Laban.  These groups seemed unable to unite under Duterte’s banner because the Leader himself does not know how to lead and what to offer, ideologically.

Despite his popularity, Duterte has no visible mass constituency. What people see online, those so-called “online millions” have not been seen or manifest in real life. Efforts at massing these so-called “die hard DDS” supporters encountered a terrible snag. Those who already knew this problem, tried to rally supporters under “Dutertismo” which is still unknown and an indescribable concept.

What his supporters tried to push is an economic platform called Dutertenomics, which, frankly, does not solve the first problem which is political. Instead, Dutertenomics just tied the hands of Mr. Duterte and forced him to commit for the advancement of liberal economics, a continuation of the policies of his predecessor.

Duterte’s supporters are going in various directions, without a visible head. This is not surprising considering that these groups are really expected to accomplish only their individual and personal interests which, frankly, are geared towards amassing wealth for themselves.

What is going against Duterte right now is the slowly developing perception that his group wants the entire economic pie all for themselves. By asking for the amendment of the procurement law, Mr. Duterte is opening the floodgates of corruption. For those who don’t know, Mr. Duterte’s group wants to change policies so that they would be able to dominate biddings of PPP projects.

Absent his close supervision, Duterte’s supporters appointed to various positions in government are now acting like him, flexing their muscles and threatening legitimate businesses and perceived enemies by blocking them from doing business with government. This is exactly the true reason why Marcos and Estrada fell from their respective positions–when they fostered a climate of uncertainty and promoted an uneven playing field.

By shifting Left to Right, Mr. Duterte is trying to frustrate existing efforts at ousting him from power. Duterte believes that military alone, will preserve him to power. That is exactly what Mr. Marcos believed back in 1986. And for all his posturing, Mr. Duterte stands to commit the same errors his idol once did in his time.



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