Before President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office last June 2016, he managed to make 15 million Filipinos believe his “change is coming” tagline during the campaign period. He was tagged as “Tatay Digong”, creating a fatherly image he aspires to have during his six-year term. A little nostalgic to how the Marcoses won the hearts of the Filipino people back in the day and we all know how that turned out.
Duterte’s so-called iron fist and “strong” demeanor captured the attention of the masses, further rendering the nation vulnerable to his hidden interests and agendas. He was believed to be what the Philippines needed, when past presidents have tried but no one succeeded to improve the state of the nation. Duterte was not like any typical politician at the time and managed to speak to the lowest common denominator to get supporters; utilizing social media and taking advantage of the power it holds. (Read: 12 times social media boosted Duterte’s lies)
Dubbed as the “punisher,” next to it was him becoming the President of the Republic.
“Lest I be misunderstood, let me say clearly, that those who betrayed the people’s trust shall not go unpunished and they will have their day in Court” were the exact words Duterte said during his first address to the nation. Five years into his term, countless statements and press releases, and a total of six State of the Nation Addresses (SONA) later, where does the nation really stand?
His promises were as good as it gets
Only days after taking his oath, Duterte gave his first SONA where he reiterated his promise of eradicating drugs, criminality, and corruption. Quoting his words, “My administration shall implement a human approach to development and governance, as we improve our people’s welfare in the areas of health, education, adequate food and housing, environmental preservation, and respect for culture.” He reassured the Filipino people how “clean” the government will be under his presidency. In 2016, he made it clear that he is for the comfort and welfare of every Filipino. He also left promising words in terms of improving the situation of our health care system and the relocation of informal settlers across the country.
In 2017, he promised that the next years of his term would be the “Golden Age of Infrastructure” in our country, further increasing the national government’s budget on infrastructure by 5% of the GDP and 7% by the year 2022. He also shared about the “friendship” he built with the Chinese government and bragged about how they committed to building two bridges along the Pasig river “free of charge.” Duterte asserted, “Revenues are the lifeblood of the government, which enable us to provide for the people’s needs.”
He also mentioned the passing of the Tax Reform Law, needed for the funding of the following year’s proposed budget, and said that “These reforms are designed to be pro-poor, especially when the people understand how the revenues will be spent.”
Far from his promise of three to six months in eradicating the use of illegal drugs, two years into his term, he still sees it as a major problem. After addressing the concern of human rights advocates he stressed, “…mine is human lives. The lives of our youth are being wasted and families are destroyed, and all because of the chemicals called shabu, cocaine, cannabis, and heroin.” Duterte also added points about his “re-energized” and “improved” relationship with the Chinese government and is still ensuring every Filipino that this relationship will not waver the government’s commitment in asserting our sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.
In the same year, he also implemented the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) to “give us additional resources for our farmers, reduce the price of rice by up to 7 pesos per kilo, and lower inflation significantly.” In addition, the RTL aims to “answer” the increasing local demand for rice in our country.
The following year, 2019, he was so proud about his 3% disapproval rate released by Pulse Asia but continued focusing on how illegal drugs still persist and how it continues to be a leading problem in the country. He also opened the idea of imposing death penalty on cases related to drugs. For environmental concerns, he mentioned the six month long rehabilitation of Boracay Island and the beginning of resurfacing Manila Bay with the infamous dolomite sand.
He also repeated his promise about our fight for territorial rights against China and said, “Let me assure you, that national honor and territorial integrity shall not — shall be foremost in our mind, and when we may take the next steps in this smoldering controversy over the lines of arbitral ruling, the West Philippine Sea is ours.“
Duterte issued Executive Order (EO) 70, establishing the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) that is said to be a whole-nation approach to address the causes of communist conflict and to obtain a sustainable and inclusive peace in the country. He assigned a cabinet member for each region “to harmonize government efforts in attaining national development [and] security.”
Last year, as the pandemic took a huge toll on everyone’s lives, he did not state any concrete plan into what actions the government would take in response to the deadly virus. Medical health workers as well as all citizens were left with his words patronizing the “valiant soldiers, policemen, and security guards who kept peace and order in our communities; the dedicated personnel who kept our essential establishments operational” and thanked them for their “kindness and selflessness.” He also highlighted the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) dedicated to the poor and low income households affected by the pandemic. And how we should hope and pray that the friendship he built with the Chinese would help fulfill their promise that once they procure the vaccine, “they can allow us to be the first [to have it].”
And despite what is happening, he was more proud to share the accomplished significant infrastructures under his Build, Build, Build program, disregarding the importance of financial assistance and aid to help the nation survive in these trying times.
Just recently, on his last SONA, he mentioned the state of the nation before his presidency and thanked the congress for supporting his initiatives in increasing the capabilities of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) through the modernization program, putting emphasis on increasing their salaries tracing back to 2018. In addition, he shared his aim to pass a concrete retirement plan for the soldiers and uniformed personnel—even more concrete than his plans for the pandemic response.
Also in his 2021 SONA, he pointed out the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act or RA No. 10931, “to unburden our people of the hefty costs of tertiary education, my administration worked with Congress to pass a landmark legislation that had remained unpassed for so many years: the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act in 2017 which provides free education to college students in state universities.”
In these challenging times, he furthered on how “we made real change in governance through the reforms we pursued.”
But after five long years of oppressive governance, what changes were made and were reforms legitimately achieved?
The truth that lies within his lies
“Crimes, drugs, corruption in government…I ask for 3 to 6 months and I will finish them”, and yet 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos was murdered by the police claiming the same nanlaban narrative to justify their actions alongside the 6,011 more deaths reported by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights has already tallied 8,663 deaths from June 2016 up to September 2020; as well as 12,000 to 30,000 deaths according to the International Criminal Court (ICC), all of which are related to his bloody war on drugs.
A culture of impunity also persisted as the likes of Jose Gabriel “Pompee” La Viña, Social Security System commissioner, as well as Melissa Aradanas and Joan Lagunda, both from the Presidential Commision for the Urban Poor (PCUP) who were fired because of issues on corruption were all later reappointed. La Viña as agriculture Undersecretary, Aradanas as deputy commissioner for the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, and Langunda as environment assistant secretary.
The total crime volume, according to the Philippines News Agency (PNA), might have dropped 39.59% in 2020 yet his proudly patronized PNP have been involved in numerous murders amidst the pandemic. And what’s even worse, their guns became their license to kill and justice for the victims was never served.
To support his “human approach” claim of providing comfort to the Filipino people, he said, “human rights cannot be used as a shield or an excuse to destroy the country — your country and my country.” So maybe his “approach” wasn’t human after all.
Moreover, in an article published by IBON foundation, only 11 among the flagship infrastructures are completed as of May 2021, targeting another 12 to be finished by the end of this year, and another 17 by the end of 2022. But these numbers are still far from the original 75 proposed back in 2017 which was later revised to almost double the number, 104, then later 112. Also, few of the infrastructures that opened under his term which he claims to be a part of the Build, Build, Build program began construction even before he took office. (Read: What the Build! Build! Build! Program truly destroys)
He also mentioned agricultural reforms and yet he passed the RTL, claiming that it will “safeguard the livelihood of small farmers” but only resulted in the prices of palay collapsing to as low as P8.00 to P10.00 in the entire country. Much lower than the P19.00 to P21.00 before the enactment of the said law.
In line with the burden created by the Rice Tariffication Law to farmers, he also implemented the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law which was said to lower personal income taxes but increased on the likes of cars, tobacco, soft drinks, and fuel. According to the Department of Finance (DOF), the said reform was “designated to shift the tax burden from the lower 99% of the community to the wealthiest 1%.” But clearly, it wasn’t the 1% that was affected by this law, low-income households who are already struggling as is, struggled even more just to have food on the table. (Read: TRAIN worsens burden of inflation on poor)
Ironically, he also passed the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Law, which provides 5% income tax cuts and is said to benefit all business enterprises in the country that have not enjoyed any type of income tax incentive. The said law aims to help MSMEs, to protect livelihoods, and to help recover from the challenges faced because of the pandemic. But in reality, it only protects big corporations and conglomerates, returning the burden to the lower 99% of society.
Duterte also pushes for constitutional reform or Charter Change (Cha-Cha). It proposes amendments to the economic provisions of the Philippine Constitution, to lift the current restrictions on foreign investment and to allow an increase in foreign ownership. These changes will not only further subdue us under neocolonialism, but it will also solidify how the government prioritizes the interests of imperialist powers, bureaucrat capitalists, and oligarchs and not that of its people; offering our lands and resources to foreign investors instead of strengthening our local sectors and capacities, vital in genuine economic progress. (Read: Solons, journalists scrutinize Duterte’s claims of ‘dismantling the oligarchy’)
The horrors caused by COVID-19 is a different story.
“Together, we shall fight this pandemic with the same fervor as our campaign against illegal drugs, criminality, insurgency, and corruption in high places and entrenched parochial interests.” As the Philippines reached 1.5 million COVID-19 cases this July, where almost 62,000 cases are still active and 27,000 confirmed deaths have occured, we can never forget how more than a year ago, Duterte announced the travel ban three days beforehand that allowed tourists from different countries to still enter and leave the country even with the risks of being infected with the virus. In the past year, we were repeatedly locked in our homes with different classifications of community quarantine but no concrete plan has been laid out.
And as they aim to reach herd immunity within the end of 2021, only 6.29% of the population has been fully vaccinated and we are only averaging 365,000 jabs per day; only nearly half of the required 780,000 jabs per day to reach herd immunity in their aspired time frame.
The Philippines’ educational system has also collapsed as the pandemic progressed. The enrollment rate dropped by more than 25% because of the pandemic. The Department of Education’s (DepEd) flexible learning is tagged as “inefficient” and “ineffective” as students call for Ligtas Na Balik Eskwela. Lack of resources has become a major problem for Filipino families as not all can meet the demands of the current online set up. (Read: Distanced Learning: How Philippine socioeconomic realities increase the gap to education)
In the midst of the pandemic, it has been reported that more than 300 individuals have been killed and more than 2,500 have been illegally arrested. A few months ago in Southern Tagalog, five individuals were killed while seven were illegally arrested during what was dubbed as the “Bloody Sunday.” Progressive individuals such as Ariel Evangelista and Chai Lemita-Evangelista, Manny Asuncion, Michael Dasigao and Makmak Bacasno fell victim to the hands of the state and until now, their families as well as several progressive groups are still seeking for overdue justice. Four farmers from Occidental Mindoro were also charged with “violations” under the notorious Anti-Terror Law (ATL) in which Duterte passed to “prevent, prohibit, and penalize terrorism in the Philippines.”
As NTF-ELCAC was established, activists and progressive groups were also labelled as ‘terrorists’ and have been red-tagged on multiple occasions. And albeit this task force was established primarily to address the root causes of armed conflict, Duterte, in 2020, has ordered to halt peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army- National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
The long list of unaccomplished plans and lies still does not end here.
Numbers that Duterte will be remembered for
Sixteen is not the number Duterte will be remembered for being the 16th President of the Philippines.
Not 15 after fooling 15 million Filipinos back in the 2016 elections.
But the 11.6 trillion debt of the government to be paid by the nation, the 15 billion PhilHeath scam, the 4.2 million Filipinos in a state of hunger as of May 2021, the 3.8 million jobless Filipinos as of May 2021, the increasing 1.5 million COVID-19 cases that vastly affected the welfare of the entire population, the 465,000 individuals who lost their homes because of issues on land grabbing, the 30,000 lives lost due to Duterte’s war on drugs, and 3,300 individuals forced to fake surrender as members of the Communist Party.
Also to highlight is the 4.4% average inflation rate just in the first semester of 2021.
And one, as the Philippines was hailed the most dangerous country after ranking last in the list of Globe Finance’s World Safest Countries in 2021.
As these alarming numbers continue to grow, we will never forget that Duterte’s regime perpetuated a culture of death, fear, and hunger in our society. Indeed, the real state of the nation. And as we are inching closer to the end of his term, let us continue to demand for accountability.
The end of his presidency does not signify that he is pardoned from his atrocities.
As President Rodrigo Duterte’s oppressive reign comes to an end, he stood by his promise that “change is coming.” However, little did we know, his definition of “change” meant making the Filipino masses worse off. He labeled himself as “Tatay Digong” and has created the fatherly image he aspired to have during his term. But much to our surprise, it was an abusive and toxic relationship after all.
For one of the only truths that came from his mouth is when he said:
“Those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of our country, I will kill you. Talagang yayariin kita because I love my country.”
Yet, he’s still there, sitting comfortably. Alive and well. [P]
Photo by Pola Rubio
Layout by Jonel Mendoza