15 pronouncements Duterte got right


Much has been written about the wrong or unwelcome pronouncements of incoming president Rodrigo Duterte: his statement on journalist killings, catcalling, revival of the death penalty, and plans to bury late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. An unconventional political figure, he has generated criticism and fear, on one hand, but also, hope and commendation on the other. Here are 15 of Duterte’s pronouncements that he got right, and have been welcomed by Filipinos counting on the promise of “change.”

1. Land reform and a break from WTO policies, land-use conversion

The country’s peasant movement has yet to get used to it, but their veteran leader, Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, is now the Department of Agrarian Reform’s new secretary. The cabinet post was one of the four offered by Duterte to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which in turn nominated progressives. An unassailable advocate of land to the tiller, Mariano vows that “no farmer will be displaced” under his watch, despite existing weaknesses in the government’s land reform program. Duterte’s appointment of Mariano is seen as a move towards –although still far from – genuine land reform that has been the battle cry of farmers for decades.

Duterte has also expressed opposition to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and dependency on imports, saying that the government should support local food production. “I can even buy your products, and sell it at government price to be competitive with the imports. Ngayon kasi, importation is allowed (under the) WTO…We could say that we do not buy that particular food because we produce it here,” he said during a speech at his thanksgiving party.

He also mentioned that land-use conversion has undermined food security. “We have given so much to the multinationals, pineapple, banana (plantations), and it is a corporate endeavor… Wala na tayong matamnan para sa atong pagkaon (We no longer have land for food production),” he further said. Interestingly, his biggest campaign donor is Antonio Floirendo, a banana plantation magnate in Mindanao.

2. Appointment of progressives in the cabinet

Aside from Mariano, Duterte has appointed other progressives to his cabinet—woman activist Dr. Judy Taguiwalo as social welfare secretary and labor leader Joel Maglunsod as labor undersecretary. Although the progressive bloc is a minority in the cabinet, it is expected that they will push for pro-people programs and changes in neoliberal policies that have marked previous administrations. “The difficult work of achieving fundamental change does not end with securing positions in government. However, these new roles in government are an added means to by which the people can advance the movement for change,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in a statement.

Other Duterte cabinet appointments welcomed by Bayan are peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III as labor secretary and budget reform advocate Leonor Briones as education secretary. S&T group Agham also welcomed incoming Dept. of Science and Technology secretary Fortunato dela Pena and his intention to intensify research and development in the countryside; while student activists welcomed incoming Commission on Higher Education chair Prof. Jose David Lapuz’s statement on considering public higher education system with free tuition.

3. Peace talks and release of political prisoners

A self-proclaimed “leftist” who during the campaign trail recognized “historical injustice” as the root cause of rebellion, resumption of the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the parallel government of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has been on top of Duterte’s agenda. The incoming administration has yet to assume office but the GPH-NDFP peace talks has already made significant headway. Preliminary talks in Oslo have been successful, with both parties agreeing to formally resume peace talks by the third week of July. The GPH panel also agreed to recommend to Duterte the immediate release of NDFP consultants and other political prisoners.

It is expected that the formal resumption of peace talks will pave the way for more significant and lasting reforms. Next on the agenda is the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), which the NDFP calls the “meat” of the negotiations, as it lays down land reform and national industrialization as the twin pillars of national progress and unity. Previous administrations have shunned socio-economic reforms as the basis for a just and lasting peace.

4. Sentiments against big mining

“The problem with big mining companies is they are destroying our land… lahat ng malalaking miners must stop, they are despoiling our land,” Duterte said in his thanksgiving speech. He said that mining has caused the further impoverishment of people in Mindanao, and proposed that the mining industry be run like a “cooperative” of all Filipinos. Environmental groups lauded his statement, and urged him to make good on it by punishing the 10 biggest mines they identified as the most notorious environmental plunderers and violators of human rights.

The Chamber of Mines and Philex Mining stated that they support Duterte in what they claim to be a fight against “illegal and irresponsible mining” that absolves them. This underscores the need for Duterte to make it clear if his avowed commitment to the environment and making sure that Filipinos reap the benefits of mining means that he will actually target the foreign-dominated, big players of the industry.

5. Ending labor contractualization

Duterte made a strong stand against labor contractualization during the campaign trail (although he was not the only presidential candidate to do so). His appointed cabinet members Bello and Maglunsod has made similar statements, with the latter being more concrete in his promise to junk the labor department’s Department Order 18-A, which allows subcontracting and has been used by companies to legally employ contractual workers.

On the other hand, presidential son Vice-Mayor Paolo Duterte has been publicly attacking 75 contractual workers of the Japanese company Nakashin who have been illegally retrenched for demanding regularization, and are currently on strike in Davao City. He has accused Maglunsod for “meddling.” This indicates that the fight to ban labor contractualization, a widespread scheme by capitalists to maximize profits and exploit workers, will not be an easy one.

6. Targeting high-level officials in the “war on drugs”

Duterte’s war against the illegal drugs trade has got human rights groups alarmed over controversial statements like a “shoot to kill” order for drug criminals who will resist arrest. It is feared that such statements encourage vigilantism or lead to human rights violations and extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals, many of which belong to the poor.

However, Duterte has also vowed to expose and punish high-level government officials who are involved in illegal drugs, counting 35 local executives and three police generals. He has refused to name them but has asked publicly for their resignation. If ever, he will be the first president to go after alleged protectors of criminals within the high ranks of government.

7. “No relocation, no demolition”

Duterte has declared a “no relocation, no demolition” policy to prevent increasingly violent confrontations between informal settlers and eviction teams and state forces. He said he will build “satellite cities” with established economic activity before allowing relocation. “Kung saan mo ilagay sila, there must be an economic activity. Kasi ‘pag hindi, hindi ‘yan pupunta doon, babalik nang babalik ‘yan. Hindi mo mahinto ‘yan,” he said, echoing what the urban poor have been saying.

His proposed “satellite cities” are part of the plan to move industries to the countryside and decongest Manila—however, he has admitted that this will take time. Welcoming the statement, urban poor group Kadamay said that Duterte must review and consult the urban poor on existing city development plans that will demolish their communities.

8. SSS pension hike

Senior citizens may have a reason to rejoice, as Duterte has agreed to increase the Social Security System’s (SSS) pension by P2,000 a month, unlike President Aquino who vetoed the SSS Pension Hike Bill early this year. He also wants to merge the SSS and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and narrow down the gap between contribution rates and benefits.

9. Freedom of Information

With the previous administration failing to pass a law on Freedom of Information (FOI), an FOI measure might see light under Duterte. He has promised to implement FOI through an executive order (EO). However, an EO cannot cover the legislative and judicial branches, so the passage of a genuine FOI Act is still needed.

10. Increased funding for health and education

Duterte announced that he will redirect the earnings of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR)—which currently stands at P24.79 billion—to health and education. During the campaign trail, he also said that all hospitals should by law provide a certain number of free patients’ beds and health services for the poor, with the government footing the bill for such indigent facilities. “When a person enters, you need to help them, cure them, operate on them. I will pay,” he said.

However, he has not yet spoken against the increasing privatization of health services (e.g. Fabella Hospital closure) and education (e.g. K-12 program), which critics say make such basic social services more and more inaccessible to the poor.

11. Reviving the steel industry, pushing for industrialization

Duterte has promised to push for the revitalization of the country’s steel industry, long abandoned by past administrations in developing the economy. He declared that the revival of the steel industry will be the high point of his industrialization plan, which he said will build industries and factories, generate local jobs, and push real economic growth.

An industrialization plan is a necessary component for real development, since no country in history has ever developed through free market policies alone. This is seen to be possible for the Philippines, with its abundant stock of mineral resource and other raw materials.

But it is yet unclear whether Duterte’s industrialization plan would actively promote the development of local industries and manufacturing, which means subsidizing local firms through cheap credit and low-interest loans, tax exemptions and tax credits, etc. Progressive economists say that an industrialization plan should be geared towards minimizing the country’s external dependency and ensuring that the interest of the majority prevails over the elite few.

12. Choosing direct investments over hot money

The incoming president has been quoted as saying he “does not care about the stock market because they are not really investments”. During his campaign, he announced that he favors hard investments over hot money inflows. “Hot money,” or portfolio investments, are speculative investments in stocks, bonds, and securities. These investments hardly contribute anything to the economy other than a short-term infusion of foreign exchange.

On the other hand, hard or direct investments create jobs and actual goods and services that boost the economy. Although Duterte prefers direct investments, he has also declared to be in favor of easing economic provisions in the Constitution to allow for more foreign direct investments (FDI). Progressive economists have pointed out, however, that for FDIs to be beneficial to the economy, these should be strictly regulated with strong government policies.

These policies include creating equity and ownership restrictions, requiring much of their content to be purchased locally, domestic reinvestment and technology transfer, among others. In fact, many neighboring countries still regulate foreign investments, including those that host more foreign capital than the Philippines—for example, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

13. A leaning towards independent foreign policy

“It will not be dependent on America. And it will be a line that is not intended to please anybody but the Filipino interest.” Referring to how Duterte plans to protect Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, such words are huge for an incoming leader of a nation known for neocolonial ties with the US. It signals an inclination towards a more independent foreign policy, described by a spokesperson as “Filipino first.” Duterte’s pronouncements on the dispute with China have also shown a leaning in promoting peace in the region by maintaining good relations with the country’s neighbours, while not giving up the country’s territorial claims.

Progressive groups further urge Duterte to review, renegotiate or repeal one-sided military agreements with the US that violate the country’s sovereignty, such as the Mutual Defense Treaty, Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The EDCA, as an executive agreement, can actually be rescinded immediately by the president. All eyes are on Duterte, who once banned the use of US drones in Davao City, and reprimanded the Federal Bureau of Investigation for whisking out of the country an American operative found with explosives inside a hotel in Davao City.

14. Supporting the Lumad

“Unlike Aquino, Duterte is a peacemaker,” says Lumad leader Datu Kaylo Bontulan. The incoming president, he added, has been consistent in helping the Lumad despite being non-residents of Davao City. Duterte’s win thus gives hope to Lumad evacuees that they will finally go home in safety.

Since last year, thousands of Lumad have evacuated from their communities because of military and paramilitary attacks. According to Lumad supporters, Duterte, who chaired the Mindanao Peace Council, signed an agreement with the military that barred them from holding camp in Lumad communities in Davao del Norte. They also found encouraging Duterte’s stand on large-scale mining, the leading cause of harassment, killings and massive displacement of the Lumad from their ancestral lands.

15. Marching order vs. DAP

Incoming justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said that it is the marching order of Duterte to pursue corruption cases, especially those involving the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of outgoing President Aquino. He is also ordered to file charges against everyone implicated, “no matter who gets hurt.” The controversial DAP was declared illegal by the Supreme Court in 2014. The Aquino administration has reportedly disbursed some P220 billion in pork barrel and P157 billion in DAP funds.

People’s groups have vowed to hold accountable Aquino, Budget secretary Florencio Abad, and other top officials for the DAP and pork barrel scam. They are calling for the abolition of all forms of pork barrel—or lump-sum discretionary funds used for political and patronage purposes—to help end systemic corruption in the country.

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