Some Prospects for the Philippines in the Wake of the May 9 General Election

The Philippines had a general election last May 9, an exercise which featured the usual contest among political dynasties and traditional politicians who benefit from, and support the perpetuation of, the neocolonial capitalist system. This is a system where an oligarchy composed of foreign and local plunderers is lording it over our national economy.

            With the support of the present and past administrations, this oligarchy controls all vital sectors of the economy --- water, electricity, petroleum, telecommunications, commuter railways, expressways, banks and other financial institutions, airlines and shipping, malls and ports, special economic zones, housing estates and other utilities. This oligarchy dictates increases in commodity prices and utility charges ; and dictates as well the depression of wages and benefits for workers, peasants and other sectors of the working masses. 

            The continued growth of this oligarchy, and its growing investments in other countries, have come from the exploitation of the workers, peasants, consumers and other sectors of the Filipino masses. The oligarchy benefits from the grave crime of privatization which transfers public assets to their private exploitative control. The oligarchy also benefits from the systematic corruption innate in the policies of business deregulation and import liberalization.

            It was this oligarchy which covertly funded the candidates for president and other top positions during the recent electoral campaign, although most of the candidates for the presidency were themselves millionaires and even billionaires who personally set up (or even “borrowed”) political parties without regard for any clear program or ideological distinction. Under this condition, no real change away from the neocolonial capitalist system could be expected, and the electorate (as in past elections) could only choose candidates according to their perception of the “lesser evil”.

Of the 5 candidates to the most important position of president, the most colorful is the foul-mouthed populist mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte. After 3 decades in local politics, he now has his own political dynasty which keeps this city in awe and fear as the Duterte clan instills discipline and threatens drug dealers and other criminals with extra-judicial execution. In a past interview, Mayor Duterte admitted to supporting the dreaded “Davao Death Squad” (DDS), a vigilante group said to include former policemen and maoist gunmen, and responsible for the  murder of 1,424 persons in Davao City from 1998 to 2015, including children as young as 14. Those murdered were mostly small-time drug pushers/users and petty criminals, and also include more than a dozen innocent victims of mistaken identity. With Duterte as presumptive president-elect, the ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the DDS was stopped, with the vital first-hand witness withdrawing from the case and going into hiding.  

During the electoral campaign, Duterte promised to end crime and corruption in 3 to 6 months, and fill Manila Bay with the cadavers of those summarily executed. An admirer of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Duterte warned that he will stop any impeachment attempt by abolishing Congress and instituting dictatorial rule. Duterte regaled crowds with his populist-style of cursing and sexist jokes, his boasting about his multiple paramours, his demands for strict “discipline” under his rule, and his harping upon his fearsome campaign against drug dealers, criminals and the grafters in the government bureaucracy. In a time of growing uncertainty and widespread impoverishment, an electorate tired of the daily news about crime and corruption was taken by his populist appeal, and gave him more than 16.6-million votes, or one-third of the total 43.7-million votes cast (representing almost 80% participation by the 55.7-million registered voters). 

Trailing him with more than 9.9-million and 9.1-million votes each were former cabinet secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas III, and Senator Grace Poe Llamanzares, respectively. Roxas was the lame-duck candidate of the ruling Liberal Party of President Benigno Aquino III, and both Roxas and Aquino are products of old political dynasties, with their grandfathers serving leading positions in the Japanese puppet government during WW-II. Manuel Roxas, the grandfather of Mar Roxas, became president in 1946 and was responsible for giving the USA military bases and parity rights (national treatment for US businesses). Aquino is the son of Corazon “Cory” Aquino, who became president in 1986 and was responsible for the wholesale privatization of the state sector of the economy which was built up during the Marcos period.

On the other hand, Grace Poe Llamanzares is the adopted daughter of actor Fernando Poe, Jr., who ran for president in 2004. She was a US citizen before reacquiring Philippine citizenship when she accepted a position in the Aquino government in 2010. Duterte's run for the presidency was partly in protest against Llamanzares' qualification as a presidential candidate. 

Another presidential candidate was Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who got only  5.4-million votes due to allegations of widespread corruption during the 3 decades of his dynastic rule over Makati City, the country's financial center in Metropolitan Manila. The fifth candidate for the presidency was the ailing Senator Miriam Santiago (with 1.4-million votes only), who is better known for her ego hypes, and whose candidacy was perceived to serve only as a platform for the vice-presidential bid of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., the son of the former dictator.

In the vice-presidential race, Marcos Jr. lost by a slim margin (14.4-million vs. 14.1-million votes) to Congresswoman Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, widow of a former member of the Aquino cabinet. Four other vice-presidential candidates were senators --- 2 scions of political dynasties, and 2 ex-military officers who rose to prominence after leading failed coup attempts. The fact that Marcos Jr. almost won the vice-presidency is a sad indication that many people have forgotten the human rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship, and have apparently lost interest in the just quest to recover the loot that the Marcos family plundered from the country.

The list of 12 elected senators also reflect the sad state of Philippine politics. The list includes mostly re-electionists, 2 of them with show-biz ties. Newcomers include boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, whose earlier stint at the lower house of Congress was marked with constant absenteeism ; and a scion of the country's plastics business king. All the winners in the senatorial election were the biggest campaign spenders, adding fortunes to TV, radio and print moguls. While all the elected senators profess concern for the poor, they all represent the main parties which uphold the interests of big business, and support the different aspects of neoliberal economic orthodoxy designed to protect corporate profits, budget balancing, debt servicing, and privatization to further downsize the state sector of the economy.

There were fears that the automated or computerized election system run by a foreign company may be open to irregularities in vote counting and result transmission, which irregularities cannot be easily detected and proven. Past elections have shown that “vote padding” and “vote shaving” may be programmed to ensure the victory or defeat of particular candidates. The past election of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and of former senator Miguel Zubiri, were suspected to be the handiwork of a group of hackers within the central offices of the Commission on Elections. According to Senator Sergio Osmena III, this group still exists, and had even offered to ensure his victory in the last election for a certain fee. He blames this group for the defeat of his re-electon bid when he did not play along.

            In the case of Duterte, he could not be cheated in his presidential bid due to the overwhelming number of votes that he garnered. Even the anti-Duterte campaign of the Catholic church --- in reaction to his cursing the pope, and his attacks against the clergy's hypocrisy --- was unable to diminish popular support for him. A belated revelation by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV about Duterte's hidden wealth and acceptance of “birthday gifts” or donations running into hundreds of millions of pesos (Note : One US dollar is equal to around 46.6 pesos) also proved ineffective. Asked why he did not include these “gifts” in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN, an annual report required of every government employee), Duterte merely answered that he already spent them.

            In one of the televised presidential debates, Duterte made the preposterous promise to “jet-ski” his way to a Chinese-occupied island within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, and there to plant the Philippine flag so that he can become a “hero”. He also promised to return the death penalty which was abolished in 2006, to institute curfew for minors, to ban public drinking, to limit karaoke use to certain hours only, to allow the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes' Cemetery in Metropolitan Manila, to shift to a federal form of government, and to amend the constitution to make it more “business-friendly”.

            Despite his being the presumptive president-elect, Duterte was taken to task by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for his outlandish “rape joke” about a beautiful Australian missionary who was taken hostage, gang-raped and then killed during a 1989 Davao jail riot. While he bragged that he as mayor then had all the hostage-takers and rapists killed, Duterte mentioned that upon seeing the beautiful body of the missionary, he wished that he had been first in line to rape her. Duterte later apologized and called himself a man of many flaws and contradictions. However, he slammed the CHR resolution and called its chairman a naïve “idiot”, thus infuriating many advocates of human, and particularly women's, rights.

            Duterte campaigned without any economic program, rambling about his anti-crime plans when he addressed the business community, and dodging an open forum with a veiled threat to reveal who among the big businessmen present also had many mistresses. His economic team finally put together an abbreviated program a few days after the election, when most of the other presidential candidates already conceded defeat. His economic program proved to be nothing new --- attracting foreign direct investments, improving revenue collection, making taxes more progressive, accelerating infrastructure spending, expanding the “conditional cash transfer program” (dole for poor families funded by borrowings from the WB-IMF), addressing land management, modernizing agriculture, and strengthening the basic education system. The oligarchs applauded this Duterte program, which appears to be a continuation of the present Aquino economic program that highlights “public-private partnership” (which means reserving lucrative infrastructure projects –- primarily tollways, light railway systems and power plants –- for the oligarchy).

            Reflective of the absence of any principled difference among mainstream political parties, and of their common “virtue” of turncoatism, a pro-Duterte coalition of several parties was immediately forged. Most members of Pres. Aquino's ruling party also eagerly joined Duterte's party, for the same purpose of getting juicy posts in the allocation of congressional committees. Leading turncoats were also offered cabinet positions, even as Duterte promised 4 cabinet posts to representatives of the maoist movement to pave the way for a peace agreement that hopefully will finally end 47 years of the maoist insurgency.

            Maoist head Jose Maria Sison, in self-exile in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, promised to return to the Philippines shortly after Duterte assumes office on June 30, in help fast-track negotiations. Meanwhile, the maoist-allied mass parties which joined the Grace Poe Llamanzares ticket during the electoral campaign, have all shifted their support to the Duterte bandwagon. Never mind if Duterte is an admirer of the Marcos dictatorship ; anyway, maoist leaders Satur Ocampo and Liza Masa ran for senator in 2010 on the same ticket with Marcos Jr. under the failed presidential bid of then Senator Manuel Villar. 

            The maoists have given a list of 10 nominees, and Duterte promised to appoint at least 3 of them to his cabinet. They will join a cabinet which includes Salvador Panelo (former lead counsel of the Ampatuan family which perpetrated the heinous Maguindanao massacre of 58 women and journalists in November 2009) ; a number of former military officials ; and recycled cabinet members of the much-reviled Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime.

            Duterte also promised to release all imprisoned members of the maoist movement (numbering 543, according to the maoists themselves), declare a general amnesty, and give more government positions to other maoist leaders if the negotiations are marked with goodwill. Hopefully, the return of Sison to the Philippines should ensure such goodwill, if he were to actively engage in the peace negotiations as chairman and founder of the maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

            While past governments negotiated peace with the CPP-led National Democratic Front (NDF), the NDF officially does not include the CPP and its military arm, the New People's Army (NPA). As its military arm, the NPA only takes orders from the CPP. Sison is therefore the right person to ask whether the CPP still maintains its long-standing position that peace negotiations are for propaganda only, to be used in pursuing the overthrow of the government through the armed struggle of the NPA. Sison should also be asked whether he still believes in his assessment, made more than 5 years ago, that the NPA will attain strategic parity with government forces in 5 years, and thereafter will be able to launch a strategic offensive for the seizure of power.

            The maoist leaders launched their “people's war” 47 years ago on the assumption of an excellent revolutionary situation that will ultimately bring victory only to the armed struggle. It remains to be seen if they will now finally concede that there never was a revolutionary situation in the Philippines through all these years, and that the armed struggle was a futile exercise that led to thousands of deaths (including those executed in internal maoist purges) without helping to advance the aims of national democracy and socialism in our country.

            It remains to be seen if the maoists, based primarily on the personal friendship between Duterte and Sison (a former instructor at the Lyceum of the Philippines in the 1960s where Duterte took up political science) could win at the negotiating table what they do not have on the ground at the national level.

                                                                              Secretariat of the Central Committee

                                                                             PARTIDO KOMUNISTA NG PILIPINAS

                                                                        (PKP-1930, the Philippine Communist Party)

                                                                                                   May 27, 2016