The President swings from left to right
President Duterte has swung from left to right in less than two years of his term, just like a pendulum.
Upon assuming the presidency, Mr. Duterte appointed personalities identified with leftist organizations to high positions in his administration. These include former Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chair Rafael Mariano as secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, former University of the Philippines professor Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and former Gabriela party-list representative Liza Maza as head of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.
The President also appointed former Kabataan party-list representative Terry Ridon as chair of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, and former Anakpawis party-list representative Joel Maglunsod as undersecretary of the Department of Labor and Employment.
The appointments must have been made because of the Left’s support that helped Mr. Duterte win in the 2016 presidential election. The capacity of the Left to deliver command votes has been demonstrated by its consistent ability to elect multiple party-list representatives in Congress.
The appointments must have also been made because Mr. Duterte has had links with the Left in his two decades as Davao City mayor, and the Left considered him an ally for many years. Mr. Duterte even admitted that he is “the president belonging to the Left” early in his administration. He also claimed that he is the “idol” of the New People’s Army (NPA) and that the Reds “will die for me.”
The appointments must have also been made because Mr. Duterte was hankering to sign a peace agreement that would put an end to the communist rebellion. The President facilitated the release of political prisoners including NPA ranking leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, in furtherance of this objective.
But, in less than two years, the President has reversed course. He has shifted to the extreme Right, citing as reason the alleged refusal of the Left to sign a peace agreement, and their purported continuing attacks against government military forces.
Mr. Duterte didn’t lift a finger to help Mariano and Taguiwalo hurdle confirmation in the Commission on Appointments, leaving legislators free reign to reject them. He unceremoniously dismissed Ridon and Maglunsod. Maza was forced to resign after she was harassed with trumped-up criminal charges.
The President began packing his administration with former military and police officers. The Inquirer has listed 59 retired military generals, police directors, admirals and colonels who have been appointed to the Cabinet and other agencies, including government-owned corporations. All Armed Forces of the Philippines chiefs of staff who had served in the Duterte administration were awarded with civilian government posts upon their retirement.
The President also signed a proclamation designating the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA as terrorist organizations. He declared an all-out war policy against the NPA, even as he instructed the Armed Forces to “flatten the hills” and bomb communities where communist rebels are operating.
There has been on-and-off resumption of peace talks, but judging by the rhetoric and actions from both sides, Mr. Duterte will not clinch the legacy of being the leader who ended Asia’s longest-running communist rebellion.
What is the scorecard between the President and the Left? For the President, he has reached the pinnacle of power, aided in no small part by his alliance with the Left. For the Left, it has gained a resurgence in its ranks aided in no small part by the President’s draconian approach to the communist rebellion and his bloody solution to the war on drugs.
The irony in any insurgency campaign is that the rebel ranks multiply when the government resorts to an intensified military approach instead of strengthening economic solutions. As it was during the Marcos dictatorship, it will be so under Mr. Duterte’s reign as well.
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