Troubling politics and policies of the Duterte administration (Part I)
TWO years into his presidency, Rodrigo Duterte continues to capture the attention of Filipinos with his populist promises. His rhetoric significantly catapulted him to the presidency in the 2016 elections. While his fellow candidates were struggling to formulate technocratic answers to human problems, Duterte was very confident in providing practical and, at times, comical solutions to the delight mostly of the country’s gullible voters.
He promised then to wipe out illegal drugs in three months. He asserted Philippine ownership of the West Philippine Sea and even vowed to ride a jet-ski for it. He swore to end contractualization in the labor sector. He assured an increase in the salaries of the members of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police. He also guaranteed an increase in the Social Security System (SSS) pension of retirees. Some, if not all of them, remain unfulfilled and the President was at it again during his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA).
His supporters are vying for time claiming these are daunting tasks that cannot be accomplished overnight. But time is not the problem here. It’s the president’s policy decisions that are betraying his own pact with the people.
Instead of going after big fish in the illegal drug trade, it’s the poor drug peddlers and users who are being accosted and killed. Arrest, prosecute, and put these people behind bars, but don’t just simply kill them in cold blood. Whoever agrees that the extermination of these small-time druggies will end the drug problem in the country lacks an absolute comprehension of the problem. Destroy relentlessly and chillingly the sources of illegal drugs, surely, like the claimed economic growth that is not felt by the poor, the supply of illegal drugs will not trickle down to them.
The unwise and illogical distinction between human life and human rights to justify government action doesn’t also help, precisely because of its being fallacious at the very core. Such a distinction will delight only those with brainwashed and illiterate minds, those who wouldn’t know the difference between propaganda and a sound policy. Alas, with the way the President delivered it in his SONA, with emphatic tone and with an almost taunting voice, it seems pretty obvious that for him, drug dependents are not really humans. Needless to say, this kind of irrational behavior should really give us plenty of reasons to be chillingly terrified.
It doesn’t also help that President Duterte seems to lack the political will to push for our ownership of the West Philippine Sea (WSP). In his mind, going after it is like going to war with China. A small country like Vietnam stood up to mighty China with the same claim such as ours and it is still a whole country until now. China has gone to great lengths lavishing us with financial aid and projects and President Duterte, like a vanquished brat, has heaped praises on our potential conqueror while continuously cursing our long-time ally, the United States of America (USA). Duterte’s strategic playbook in this issue is confusing. His rhetoric of claiming WSP seems like a veneer strategy meant to appease his long-time fans and supporters in the country. Duterte’s hubris is heading to a pernicious polarization of the country simply because many are already growing impatient with his posturing that essentially leads to nothing.
It’s not that he lacks policy alternatives he can pursue. The collective interests of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) gives him an opening to insist on our claims, making it not simply an issue of national interest but of regional interest as well, which can lead to a formulation of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that will possibly allow our fisherman to navigate the area freely for their livelihood and for our country to own whatever resources can be found. Or, he can utilize conflict resolution mechanisms such as subjecting it to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
Is the Philippines hedging in this issue? Looks like it. This strategy of balancing and engaging basically appeases China, so it will not be angered by our claim. So, after being robbed of our islands, we are simply too happy to appease the robber because we are merely a David to China’s Goliath and we are being paid anyway with grants and projects.