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Documenting Duterte

PEOPLE REMAIN ambivalent about Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. He wants to jail Vice President Jejomar Binay for plunder; Binay wants to jail him for his “death squad.” Sen. Grace Poe wants to make him crime czar. (Mar Roxas supporters say, Elect him and nail two for the price of one.)

With Duterte’s current lead in the election surveys, however, people should begin considering what a Duterte presidency might mean. Not so easy to do; he has performed as a one-note musician, trumpeting his law-and-order credentials in Davao City.

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His political opponents have questioned his record, citing police data (2010-15) documenting Davao as third highest in the number of
robbery cases, second in rape cases, and first in murder cases. Then there is the “death squad”
issue—that, whatever the achievements, the Duterte approach to controlling crime had come at the high cost of other crimes, involving extrajudicial executions that allow no appeal.

Duterte has repeatedly pledged to end criminality in the country within three to six months, or give up the presidency. Perhaps it’s just empty talk, although his official running mate, Sen. Alan Cayetano, is now echoing the six-month schedule. To be fair, Duterte had warned the public to be careful about what it asked for in “forcing” him to run: Blood will have to flow for him to keep his promise.

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But he should now expect more rigorous research on his past record and policy-related statements. He had been quite ready to speak his mind, even on delicate political issues—as when he addressed the Davao Trade Expo on Oct. 29, 2013, at the SMX Convention Center. (Davao Today’s report appeared on its website and on that of Bulatlat.com, but both links are no longer functioning.)

In that speech, Duterte tackled the issue of the “revolutionary taxation” imposed by the New People’s Army in Region 11. Davao Today headlined his typically blunt advice to businessmen confronted by NPA tax collectors: “NPA taxation a reality, just pay them.” The actual quote: “If you pay to the [Bureau of Internal Revenue], you prepare also for the NPA.”

In December 2012, Duterte was quoted as admitting to paying revolutionary taxes amounting to P125 million a year. He later explained that he had spoken at a Communist Party of the Philippines anniversary celebration in an area that Typhoon “Pablo” had devastated. The money he gave, he said, was not a revolutionary tax payment, but donations he had solicited for disaster victims. In the absence of any barangay captain, he entrusted the money to the NPA.

He also lauded the NPA for offering to pay compensation to all the victims of its grenade attack on a gym in Paquibato. “When they informed me they will pay P5,000, I said, ‘Good.’ When I asked where they will get the money, they said they will get it from banana planters,” he quipped.

The quip meant that businessmen will have to pay for the violence that the NPA had inflicted on undeserving victims. This did not seem to bother Duterte, who pointed out that the CPP had been the victim of “historical injustice.” Sadly, he is not as concerned about the “historical injustice” dealt to the victims of martial law.

According to the survey agencies, Duterte draws support from the A, B, C sectors from which would come the investors with money to risk in Mindanao. Did they give this support knowing of the Duterte prescription on revolutionary taxes?

Duterte has admitted that his experience was in dealing with criminals, conceding that the national government must handle revolutionary groups. But the prospect of assuming the presidency has already tempted him to make unilateral policy pronouncements on the longest-running insurgency in the world.

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Many in the business sector, and even among the military, would support the P-Noy administration’s plan to engage in talks with the CPP/National Democratic Front, which Duterte also favors. But without careful preparation to arrive at mutually acceptable terms of engagement, such talks are unlikely to bear fruit. And yet, Duterte has already announced that he would invite “[Jose Ma.] Sison and other communist leaders” to join his Cabinet. He further declared that he would give the CPP/NPA three Cabinet portfolios: agrarian reform, social welfare and development, and environment and natural resources.

His supporters applaud Duterte’s decisiveness and his readiness to take action. As mayor, he has probably not encountered much resistance from the City Council to any of his initiatives. He will find the legislature and the Supreme Court more challenging governance partners, and Malacañang a more complex environment.

The NDF was more realistic in its assessment of the Duterte offer. Luis Jalandoni, chair of the NDF peace panel, courteously declined the invitation to take Cabinet appointments in the Duterte Cabinet. Even the NDF recognized that the issue of peace required more than a private understanding between Sison and the Philippine president, even if he happens to be Duterte.

Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management. Prof. Rofel Brion’s Tagalog translation of this column and others earlier published, together with other commentaries, are in http://secondthoughts.ph.

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