Sara Duterte (photo) – daughter of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the current Mayor of Davao City – is offering an olive branch to all political factions who oppose her father. She believes that the political tension that’s been raging since the president took office just over 15 months ago is detrimental to the country and is not serving the Filipino people.
That’s an understatement to put it mildly. The entire presidential term to date has been a running assault on Duterte and members of his administration. Congress, rather than pushing ahead with legislating new laws and much-needed reforms, has disproportionately been involved with political enquiries and witch hunts. We’ve lost count of how many of these there’ve been, but they literally stretch right across the term to date.
Of course there should be opposition in politics – that’s at the core of the democratic parliamentary system. A political opposition provides checks and balances; its members speak for that part of the electorate which they represent. It’s integral to the working of democracy. Legislation, for example, benefits from a pooling of views and discussions to hammer out what’s best for the country.
But that’s not what’s been happening. In fact, legislating has taken a backseat to undermining the institution of government. To date, for example, there have been at least three attempts to impeach the president – to drive him from office. Meanwhile, the ‘elected’ vice president, Leni Robredo who heads the opposition Liberal Party, rejoices by telling the country – and the world – that’s she’s working as an opponent of the government while serving as a member of it.
That, of course, is an outrageous position to take by someone who’s been chosen by the people to represent them at the second-highest office of state – though there’s considerable doubt that she was. She’s currently the subject of a challenge in the courts by former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos who, according to the disputed polling, came a close second to her in the May 2016 elections.
You would think – given the enormity of that charge – that the machinery of government would have been thrown into top gear to resolve it. One way or the other. The doubt in people’s minds over the legitimacy of Robredo as VP is immense and permeates the entire archipelago. It’s actually one of the major bones of contention between the opposing political camps.
And yet, the reverse is the case. Marcos’s complaint to the Presidential Election Tribunal was lodged on the eve of Duterte’s inauguration and in real terms – as far as getting this thing into court is concerned – it’s no further forward now than it was then. The people still don’t have a clue what the truth is.
How is that serving the interests of the people? It’s not; it’s serving the Liberal camp’s interests by ensuring its leader remains in her pivotal role, and it serves its interest of keeping the people divided.
Meanwhile, despite all that hanging over her, Robredo has used her time up until now to launch, lead and support attacks on the country’s president and, by extension, the nation. And not just in the domestic arena; she’s taken her anti-Duterte campaign on an international road show gathering support with Liberal groups in the US and across Europe.
Significantly, she’s not tried that in her own backyard – the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). She’s not been broadcasting her views in Bangkok or Jakarta, for example, and that’s because they wouldn’t tolerate them. Duterte – much to her annoyance we’re sure – is respected by every single member of Asean.
So, how do Robredo’s road shows serve a nation that’s struggled for so long to have any relevance in the world – and which under Duterte finally has? It doesn’t; it’s an attempt to restore the Philippines to the former status quo in which it sat on a low stool at the side of the American throne like some court clown. That certainly characterises its role during the last administration – the one she was a part of.
What those anti-government displays have succeeded in doing though – apart from reducing Congress, particularly the Senate, to a bear garden – has been to polarise the country. In short, the Liberal Party and its allies – in Congress, in the media, in the human-rights’ lobbies – rather than working to heal divisions, have been exploiting them and making them more chasmic.
How is that in the interests of the country? It’s not; it’s solely in the vested interests of these groups. They want their chosen people in power and they’ll certainly sell-out the country to achieve it. Let’s face it, they couldn’t manage that through a fair and free election; this then is Plan B – to generate enough ill feeling against the government in the hope that for the third time in 30 years a Philippine president can be removed from office by a people’s uprising.
Consequently pro- and anti-Duterte groups and their followers are fighting running battles across the platforms of social media – most notably on Facebook. ‘False news’, ‘fake news’ – actually propaganda to call it what is – is round-the-clock and unrelenting. And there’s no doubt that this is having a destabilising effect on the Philippine project – the reform-driven policies of the Duterte administration that seek to elevate the country in everything from its economy to its international status.
Sara Duterte believes it’s time all that is stopped – that the people and the nation should come ahead of political theatre and blatant attempts to seize power by systematically destroying the president’s reputation and the validity of the policies he’s been putting in place – policies, incidentally, on the strength of which he was elected with a staggering majority in the first place.
And that’s why the Mayor of Davao City has launched an initiative aimed at ending this period of unprecedented political warfare. Entitled “Tapang at Malasakit” – Courage and Concern – it seeks to buttress the administration by promoting the importance of nation building. That cause, she believes, is the one that’s most important for the country – particularly at this stage of its development when, finally, its significance on the world stage is being appreciated by the large Western democracies that for so long had virtually ignored it.
Make no mistake; “Tapang at Malasakit” is a pro-Duterte alliance. To see that, you don’t need to look much further than the guests who attended the launch – among them, Foreign Affairs Secretary and close Duterte confidante, Allan Peter Cayetano; the daughter of former president Ferdinand E Marcos and Ilocos Norte Governor, Imee Marcos, and former president and the current Manila Mayor, Joseph Estrada.
At the politician level, then, it’s not likely to become bipartisan. In today’s Philippines – with a Liberal Party desperate to make itself relevant – that’s a lost cause. Those congressman and women who form the Liberal Party-led destabilisation movement are not going to change; they’re going to continue berating Duterte until the end of his term in 2022.
They’ll do everything to keep their people in important positions of power – Liberal Party appointees; people like Chief Justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio Morales. We saw that recently when the House of Representatives’ Committee on Justice attempted to bury an impeachment complain against Andre Bautista, at the time chairman of the powerful Commission on Elections.
In the next five-plus years, the Liberal cabal could do plenty of damage – particularly where the government’s reform policies are concerned. They will object to them and stall them as they have been doing – on principle; that principle being that it was Duterte who proposed them.
For example, he’s asked Congress to enact freedom of information legislation – and has even shown the way; establishing it for the executive branch by issuing a presidential order. The Senate, in particular, has attached no urgency to this matter. And, from everything we’ve seen, is unlikely to.
Let’s face the facts. Duterte’s socio-economic agenda and his anti-crime policies are the boldest reform packages of any Philippine president in the entire history of the Philippines – a period that stretches back to the ill-fated and short-lived First Philippine Republic (the Mololos cabinet) of 1899. He stands apart from most of his predecessors who compromised, ignored or acquiesced when large problems presented theselves. All long legacy problems, Duterte’s chosen to confront them all.
Here’s a brief snapshot of some of these to give an idea of the scale and extent of what he inherited. Four million drug addicts and a culture of drugs that pervades every strata of society, from the halls of government to the broken shacks of the barangays; crime and corruption that occupies every part of those same spaces; poverty that’s left a quarter of the population struggling to survive. They’re just three of the items in the “socio” column of the socio-economic malaise.
The list that forms the ‘economic’ column is practically endless. A paucity of infrastructure which in some parts of the country would be flattered to be referred to as “Third World”; an oligarchic system in business that has ensured the stunted growth of an economy which should be leading its Southeast Asian peers rather than struggling to keep up with them like a cripple in a marathon; a telecommunications sector that’s still living in the last century, as is much of industry.
We could go on, but frankly there isn’t the space available to list everything that’s wrong in the Philippines which Duterte is doing his best to put right – in many cases, comprehensively addressing for the first time.
He’s taking these issues on, and with them the drug barons who’ve looted the country of a healthy youth so they may live in luxury; corrupt officials in Manila and the provinces who live like princes as those, supposedly in their care, live like paupers; the tycoons who’ve grown fat from decades of government patronage and ‘tax holidays’; politicians who hide behind their national status as they rob the country of its money and its integrity.
Much of this is downplayed or obfuscated by the anti Duterte movement in its relentless campaign to remove him. His efforts to deal with two other monumental problems which he again inherited – the twin insurgencies of rabid Islamists and rabid communists – are rarely supported by his opponents. Worse, they’re seized on in some way – any way – to further denounce him.
And so it’s at the grassroots level that “Tapang at Malasakit” is being aimed. Sara Duterte, and the politicians who support her initiative, are endeavouring to enervate the political sideshow that’s become mainstream politics in the Philippines, by elevating the importance of the government’s policies.
In short, she’s going back to the people to reinvigorate support for her father – a people’s uprising, this time, not aimed at removing a president but of reinforcing one. The purpose of “Tapang at Malasakit”, is, as Sarah Duterte explained at its launch: “that we come together for our country not go against each other to the detriment of our country … [and yet] we’re still bickering at each other when we should be working together”.
Hopefully, it will have the desired effect so the Philippines is no longer robbed of the energy it needs to re-build the nation. One thing it has achieved, though, is to propel Sara Duterte to the floodlit national stage. And that may well be part of this also – to show the country that she, like her father, is determined to pursue a reform agenda. And maybe to suggest that continuity of that agenda – at some future time – would be safe with her.