100 Duterte days: hits and misses, counsel and criticism
In his first 100 days in office, President Duterte has demonstrated both strengths and weaknesses in arguably equal measure, and a colorful character that one may love or hate. And while he has so far succeeded in ushering notable developments, he has at the same time failed to address persisting issues and challenges for the better.
He has been rightfully lauded for his firmness in pursuing the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front, creating a favorable climate for peace talks when he affirmed previously signed agreements and released unjustly detained peace consultants.
His appointments of progressive individuals to key Cabinet positions were a welcome surprise that no president before him has ever sprung. Thus far, these appointees have been making good on his propeople aspirations (e.g, providing efficient services to indigent applicants and victims of calamities sans patronage politics, freezing land use conversion across the country, and distributing 358 hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita to farmer-beneficiaries).
It was likewise a historic and patriotic feat for the President to declare the end of our neocolonial slavishness to the United States and the beginning of a foreign policy independent of US intervention. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers welcomes his plan to end joint military exercises with the United States and to open our doors to nations not aligned with America, with the hope, however, that such new relations will only take our national interest to heart. The President was moreover correct in questioning the validity of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which, being unconstitutional and submissive to America, must immediately be abrogated.
Despite these achievements, it will be remiss not to take a critical, principled look at his conflicting statements on policies and the continuing implementation of the neoliberal economic framework, such as the privatization of health services, lack of effective mass transportation, antipeople tax reform initiatives, and dependence on foreign investments. Serious efforts on addressing poverty need improvement in contrast to the boldness of measures against drugs and criminality.
The war on drugs will succeed if, among other ways, it departs from the quick fix of killing petty drug users who are mostly nameless, shirtless and powerless. The double standard by which the poor suspects are treated with gunfire, as against the big-time offenders like the coddlers in government who are given the opportunity to surrender and just given a dressing down, is as well ignominious.
The flawed perception of the victims of the drug menace and human rights abuses must be rectified. Some of them are like our client, OFW and death row convict Mary Jane Veloso, unwitting victims preyed upon by unscrupulous drug syndicates because of their vulnerability and poverty.
It is our bold foresight that when the dust settles, and if this counsel is not heeded, the drug problem will only come back with a vengeance. Innocent lives will have been lost and the streets bloodied, with the campaign ultimately ending up a failure. But it is not too late to stop the killing rampage, address the socioeconomic roots of the drug menace, and go after the real perpetrators of the illegal drug trade.
The human rights situation has not substantially improved as the climate of impunity continues to permeate the country. Oplan Bayanihan continues, especially in the countryside where notorious paramilitary forces have not been dismantled. Punishment is yet to be meted out to the likes of Jovito Palparan, while his former boss, Gloria Arroyo, has successfully escaped prosecution. It also does not help that the President has ordered a hero’s burial for the most reviled human rights violator of them all, the fascist dictator Marcos.
Meanwhile, the seriously ill, the elderly, the mothers and the long-forgotten, incarcerated by cruel regimes of the past, remain locked up in subhuman conditions.
It is in times of reckoning like this that we are reminded of our duty to ever be vigilant, even as we should fairly give credit where it is due and rightfully condemn wrongdoing.
As human rights lawyers, we will continue to give counsel and criticism, call a spade a spade, brook no injustice, perversion or abuses in any form or by any other name, yet objectively commend whatever benefits the Filipino people, especially the poor and the oppressed.
We want change, too. The people are waiting for what is wanting.
EDRE U. OLALIA, secretary general, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
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