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Tougher than tough

No longer presumptive, no longer president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte is the 16th president of the Philippines, brought into office with expectations to get tough on criminality. The focus is very male as people call on him to live up to the reputation of the tough punisher.

But last Wednesday I had a sudden realization that those expectations of peace and order may actually be easier to handle for the new administration. Even before Mr. Duterte’s assuming office, the get-tough agenda had gone into high gear with police operations and killings of alleged drug lords which have, in turn, led to the surrender of others involved in the drug trade.

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The media play the game, simply using the term “drug lord,” which gives an image that the big evil bosses are coming under control.

Mr. Duterte’s promise of six months to control crime may not be that quixotic then, if we are talking about surface appearances. I will boldly predict there will be some kind of peace and order, with the criminals going low-profile for the time being.  But it will be another matter whether that can be maintained in the long run, especially if the true big bosses, including those in the police and military, remain scot-free.

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All these thoughts ran through my head on Wednesday as I attended the National People’s Summit organized by the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. The attendance was impressive: The UP Film Center was packed and overflowing to the outside grounds. Most of those present were from among the poor—workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, supported by students and professionals.

People’s Agenda for Change

At the summit, delegates presented a 15-point People’s Agenda for Change for the next 100 days, the result of several consultations among various sectors, and in different parts of the country. It is this 15-point agenda which I would describe as the tougher agenda for Mr. Duterte.

Quite striking is that the agenda does not mention street criminality and drug lords but emphasizes national sovereignty and inclusive development. There is mention of a continuing anticorruption drive and the abolition of pork barrel, budgetary increases for social services, cessation of militarization in indigenous communities, and a rejection of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Curiously, one of the 15 points is the increase of the minimum broadband speed to at least 1.5 mbps and the removal of data caps.

While the People’s Agenda for Change is almost predictable, I was in for several surprises observed at the cultural presentations where more specific demands were made.  The most applauded demands were tough ones; some—including an end to labor contractualization—were not even in the 15-point agenda.

The tough agenda can very well be a women’s agenda because it deals with problems of day-to-day survival.

Just as an example, there were a number of references to the dismal mass transit system, with even a call for the government to take over. Bibeth Orteza, one of the summit’s emcees, had arrived late, joking that she left her home in Makati as a member of the youth sector and arrived at UP a senior citizen.

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Who would have thought that traffic would become one of the complaints of a militant political bloc?  But I’ve written about this many times through the years, watching the LRT and MRT deteriorate and warning that this is a very sensitive political issue. Poor Mar Roxas lost many votes because of the neglect of mass transport by the previous administration.

At the summit, I was reminded that more than the long queues and rundown trains, the issue of mass transit is economic, with so many members of the working class having to commute long distances from home to work and back, and paying exorbitant fares for bus, jeepney, tricycle, and, of late, the LRT and MRT.

Mothers feel the burden even more because it is they who allot the children’s allowances or baon, a word which used to be limited to food expenses but is now associated with transportation costs that can even exceed the costs of food… and lead to a child dropping out of school.

Security

The toughest agenda still relates to the poor’s needs for security in jobs, housing, health, education. The indefatigable Sr. Mary John Mananzan, still fiery at the age of 81, was seated to my right and just had to ask: After all these years, why haven’t our presidents come up with housing for the poor?  The good nun also said we could have solved the broadband speed problem years ago, mentioning the national broadband network scandal of 2007, when corruption was exposed in the forging of a $329-million contract with the

Chinese company ZTE.

After the summit I had to go to the internet to find out what had happened after the exposé, which resulted in huge protest rallies demanding that then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo step down. Other than a voiding of the contract, nothing happened. No prosecution. No new project.

Give it to women like Sister Mary John who will not forget, and who will make sure the nation does not forget. (Sr. Mary John is also determined to bring about another change which is not on the people’s agenda: getting rid of the foul language that has been so identified with the new President. As only she can, she publicly scolded one of the earlier speakers who had used the curse word p—ngina in his speech.  She appealed, in Filipino, for more respect for women, and for mothers.)

Men can and do recognize the tougher agenda. At the summit I thought of a recent conversation I had with a waiter serving food at a function in UP. (We used an outside caterer because the University Food Service had full commitments.) I asked the waiter who he had voted for president and he said his candidate was Mar Roxas. He went on to explain that his family—he has three children—have benefited from the conditional cash transfers of the Aquino administration. The monthly subsidy from the government—a mere P1,500—has gone a long way to help him keep the kids in school.

He hopes the conditional cash transfers will continue, and worries that it will be tougher to keep the kids in school as they move to the higher levels. He wonders about their

even reaching senior high school. College? That’s just not on his horizon.

In the meantime, he says, he’ll just have to hope that there will always be new jobs when a contract ends. He and his fellow waiters have figured out the networks, knowing that sometimes all they have to do is return to a previous employer.

Tough, tougher, toughest. The next 100 days will say a lot about our future.

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TAGS: Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, crime, National People’s Summit, People’s Agenda for Change, Poor, Rodrigo Duterte, Sr. Mary John Mananzan
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