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Streetwise by Carol Pagaduan Araullo: Clearing the air

On the eve of the September 21 protests against the Duterte regime, it has become necessary to clear the air of certain misconceptions as well as false judgments against the Left that stand in the way of forging a broad unity across the political spectrum.

To those who denigrate the Left, or more specifically, the national democratic movement, for having given Duterte the benefit of the doubt in his claim to being a Leftist and a socialist despite a checkered record as Davao City mayor, allow me to say this.

There was good reason to do so: Duterte’s solemn promise to release all political prisoners through amnesty; the resumption of peace talks; the appointment of four progressive, competent and upright individuals to the Cabinet; his stance on ending contractualization, upping SSS pension for seniors, land to the tiller, prioritizing public spending on education, health care, and other social services; his openness to dialogue with the Left on various issues; and his pronouncements to pursue an independent foreign policy.

On the other hand, there was also Duterte’s mailed-fist policy on crime and drugs; his sexism; the preponderance of crooks, militarists, neoliberals and pro-US imperialists in his Cabinet; more-of-the-same neoliberal economic policy frame, policies and programs; and not least of all, his alliance with the Marcoses and former President Gloria Arroyo.

The Left decided to gamble on Duterte, to give him time to deliver on his promises and to prove his Leftist leanings. But the leeway that the Left gave to Duterte did not preclude sharply criticizing and vigorously opposing his administration’s anti-people, anti-national policies and programs.

The open democratic mass movement was unrelenting in doing so in several venues — the parliament of the streets, the mass media, the courts and even in the Lower House of Congress where the Left has a miniscule number.

Restraint was shown only by distinguishing between Duterte and the ultrareactionaries in his Cabinet especially his economic managers and the triad of Lorenzana- Año-Esperon. For more than a year no effigies of Duterte were burned at demonstrations. Instead the Left met with him on several occasions to bring up the grievances of urban poor, the lumad of Mindanao, striking workers and land reform beneficiaries.

The armed revolutionaries under the CPP-NPA-NDFP continued to wage people’s war – armed struggle, agrarian revolution, and a shadow people’s government operating in the countryside. While initially expressing willingness to contribute to Duterte’s campaign against drug trafficking by interdicting drug lords, the CPP-NPA declared early on that they would not be a party to the kind of brutal war being waged against hapless drug addicts and small-time drug pushers.

In a short period of time, the true character of Duterte begun to reveal itself.

Duterte veered more and more to the Right: EJKs galore combined with impunity for the police and military perpetrators; all-out war against the CPP-NPA with bombardments and displacement of thousands of peasants and indigenous peoples; a militarist response to the Marawi crisis leading to the city’s destruction, civilian casualties, the exodus of the populace; the extension of martial law in Mindanao; political persecution of critics and oppositionists; attempts to neutralize government institutions that can act as a check to his tyrannical rule; the scuttling of peace talks; kowtowing to China and maintaining a modus vivendi with the US; a humongous budget going to the failed “war on drugs”, counterinsurgency, the president’s intelligence fund and building a grassroots spy network while gutting the budget of the Human Rights Commission; looming mind-boggling corrupt infrastructure deals with the “build,build,build” frenzy; coddling of pork barrel-hungry legislators; cover up of billions worth of smuggling of shabu involving his son and son-in-law; and the list goes on.

Things finally came to a head leading to the NPA’s intensification of armed tactical offensives against the military and police upon the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. This year’s State-of-the-Nation protests denounced the US-backed Duterte fascist regime. Duterte’s effigies are being burned without remorse in demonstration after demonstration.

The brazen summary execution by the police of several youths in urban poor communities sparked public outrage. Progressive church organizations and other national democratic mass organizations mounted mass protests, gave succor and sanctuary to victims, their families and witnesses.

The rejection of Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano by the Commission on Appointments (CA) manifested Duterte’s utter lack of support for them. He just let the CA do the dirty job of kicking them out.

This was the last straw that led to the decision of the Makabayan Coalition of progressive political parties to bolt from the Supermajority of Duterte allies in the House of Representatives. Nonetheless, even before this move, the Makabayan congresspersons had consistently stood their ground on contentious issues such as martial law, the death penalty, lowering the age of criminal accountability of minors, oppressive tax reform measures, and many, many more.

There are those who want to place the onus of a fully evolved corrupt, puppet and fascist Duterte on the Left. In doing so, they wish to put the Left on the defensive. The charge or innuendo that the Left “enabled” the Duterte regime is patently wrong even if it appears to be a backhanded compliment to the capability of the Left to shape a reactionary ruling regime.

There are those who honestly disagreed with giving Duterte the benefit of the doubt that he could or would go in a progressive direction. Yet they acknowledge the reasons for the Left doing so; recognize the Left’s sustained, principled position on issues; and their never giving up the fight for genuine change. They are not making puerile demands that the Left apologize for having been duped by Duterte and they welcome the Left’s earnest efforts to build a strong and broad opposition against the Duterte regime’s EJKS and rising tyranny.

To the former, we say good luck to your demolition job. To the latter, see you in Luneta on September 21, 4pm. Please wear black, bring an umbrella and your own scathing placards. #

(Streetwise is Dr Carol P Araullo’s regular column at Business World.)

STREETWISE by Carol Pagaduan Araullo: No love lost between Duterte and the Left

One need not be such a keen observer of Philippine politics to note the quite dramatic deterioration in the relationship between the Left and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, self-styled “Leftist” and “socialist” president of the Philippines.

At the beginning, a de facto tactical alliance existed between the two. It was premised on Duterte’s promise that he would bring about a real change in government. For the Left, foremost was the release of all political prisoners, peace talks to arrive at fundamental socioeconomic and political reforms, and an independent foreign policy to reverse decades of US neocolonial domination.

A year later, Duterte has reneged on his promise to amnesty all political prisoners and has practically, if not formally, scuttled the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. He is brandishing what he thinks is a more formidable “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA-NDFP topped by a martial law declaration in Mindanao, targeting what the AFP claims to be the movement’s strongest base of operations.

For the Left, Duterte has emerged as a full-blown reactionary president, a fascist defender of the exploitative and oppressive status quo, while still trying to deceive the people with token, populist measures and an image of being tough against corruption and criminality.

The signal fire, in retrospect, was when Duterte collapsed the 5th round of GRP-NDFP peace talks saying that he would not pursue negotiations unless the CPP-NPA-NDFP entered into an indefinite bilateral cease-fire. Echoing the hawkish line of his security officials, Duterte said talks can not go anywhere if the NPA continues to launch attacks against the AFP and engages in “criminal extortion” or what the CPP-NPA calls “revolutionary taxation.”

But what supposedly got Duterte’s ire was the directive of the CPP leadership to the NPA to intensify its tactical offensives against the military and police upon the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. Glossed over is the fact that no cease-fire was in effect at that time because the Duterte government failed to declare a unilateral cease-fire before the 4th round of talks even though the two sides had earlier agreed upon a simultaneous declaration of unilateral cease-fires.

The preconditioning of the peace talks to an open-ended cease-fire before any bilateral agreement on socioeconomic reforms had been reached not only violates previous agreements that the Duterte government affirmed when it revived talks with the NDFP, bottom line is that the GRP wants the revolutionary movement to agree to its voluntary pacification in exchange for nothing. In effect, to surrender on the negotiating table as a prelude to surrendering in the battle field without achieving any meaningful reforms through a supposedly negotiated political settlement.

It appears that the NDFP Negotiating Panel tried its best to salvage the situation by proposing ways of easing pressure on the Duterte government with the onset of the Marawi crisis.

Unfortunately, Duterte quickly swung rightward. He allowed the militarist troika of Lorenzana-Año-Esperon to lead the way, not only in dealing with the ISIS-inspired Maute rebellion in Lanao province by aerial and artillery bombardment leading to the destruction of Marawi City, but in pursuing the government’s counterinsurgency program against the CPP-NPA-NDFP, this time utilizing the vast powers of martial law in all of Mindanao to tamp down any opposition.

Flush with the imprimatur given by the Supreme Court to the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, Duterte railroaded its extension until yearend via a pliant Congress. Independent reporting on the continuing devastation of Marawi City and its after effects is virtually impossible with the military controlling all sources of information. Heightened human rights violations in other parts of Mindanao have been swept under the rug.

The direct involvement of the US Armed Forces in the military campaign against the Maute Group has been welcomed and justified by Duterte despite his posture that he is against US intervention in the country’s internal affairs. (Apparently he was only referring to US criticism of his bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign).

His anti-US tirades have softened of late and been replaced with friendly meetings with the US ambassador and US Secretary of State; echoing the US line against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and reports of an agreement to allow armed US drones to strike at ISIS and other “terrorist” targets.

Clearly the ISIS “threat” is being overblown as an excuse to prolong martial law and possibly even expand it outside Mindanao. It is also providing the rational for expanding US military presence in the country and steadily growing US military involvement in armed conflicts labelled as “terrorist”.

Duterte’s attempt to appear conciliatory when he addressed the Left-led SONA protest failed to mollify the protesters who persistently chanted their calls for genuine reforms, an end to martial law, and the continuation of peace talks. Duterte was forced to end his pretense at openness and departed in a huff.

Duterte’s speeches have become consistently virulent against not just the revolutionary Left but also political and social activists who are leading the fight for reforms. He threatened to bomb lumad schools that he said were NPA schools. He said he would not hesitate to use violence against militant urban poor if they again tried to occupy abandoned public housing. He rained invectives on activists and said he would not heed their demands even if they resorted to nonstop protest in the streets.

In response, activists are stepping up their opposition to what they now call the “US-Duterte fascist regime.”

What is interesting is that Duterte has not fired three Leftist Cabinet members despite the downward spiral of relations with the Left. For one he has no basis to kick them out except that they are identified with the Left. For another, they are no threat to him; in fact, one might say they are objectively helping to deodorize his regime by just doing their jobs competently and consistent with their pro-people stand.

Neither have the three tendered their resignations to the wonderment of those who tend to think the Left one-track minded and monolithic. Perhaps this is all that remains of what once was a promising alliance between Duterte and the Left. A tenuous bridge for communications before all hell breaks loose.

(This article first appeared in an opinion column of the same title on BusinessWorld. http://bworldonline.com/no-love-lost-between-duterte-and-the-left/

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.)

carol_araullo@yahoo.com