1/4 of 6 years term, has now passed. Much has happened in many areas – for better or worse. Nothing has stayed the same in the Philippines, and I doubt it will go back to how it was before. Whether this is good, bad or just plain ugly will be something history will decide. Let us look.
People, Places and many questions.
Around a thousand people a month have died in the War on Drugs. How many are by police, how many by police acting as vigilantes, how many are gangs using the situation? Nobody really knows. One of the first things the President came out with was “drug lists” of doubtful origin, naming politicians, judges and others. The killings of suspected addicts and pushers soon came under investigation at the Senate in 2016 , with Senator Leila de Lima at first chairing the hearing and then removed and replaced by Senator Gordon. The hearing was then inconclusively stopped.
Marawi is a complete wreck including a major refugee situation. On May 23, 2017, a conflict broke out with the Maute group in Marawi – while practically all major decision-makers (and many unimportant hangers-on) of the Duterte administration were on a trip to Moscow. The entire delegation flew back quickly to handle the situation. As the Marawi conflict continued, new Air Force planes the President had previously referred to as useless were used to bombard enemy positions. The hostilities ended in late October 2017. Martial law was declared in Mindanao until the year-end when hostilities in Marawi broke out, and was extended for a further year recently.
The MRT3 continues to fail (link). Project NOAH was defunded and then taken over by UP. Ignoring its information may have played a part in 200 deaths from typhoons in late 2017 (link). The value of the peso has gone down and the government has a high budget, although there are no new construction projects started yet, while PPP projects from Aquino’s time are being finished. Inspite of a looming possibility of the EU cutting GSP+ privileges in early 2018 and some refusal of aid from the EU and US due to human rights questions, the economy still seems to be quite robust.
In October 2016, Korean businessman Jee-Ick Joo (link) was kidnapped by police and killed by strangling in Camp Crame, then cremated and flushed down the toilet. On Nov. 5, 2016, Mayor Roland Espinosa (link) of Albuera, Leyte, was killed in jail under suspicious circumstances. On early Sunday, July 30, 2017, the Parojinog family of Ozamiz was killed in a controversial anti-drug raid (link) under Police Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido – who had also been in Albuera, Leyte before. In late August, Espenido was given the order of Lapu-Lapu by President Duterte (link).
On August 16, 2017, Kian delos Santos was shot (link) in a police operation partly caught on CCTV and by witnesses, belying claims of fighting back. Two similar incidents (link) took place soon after, with 19-year old Carl Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo “Kulot” De Guzman killed by police. Opposition politicians visited the wake of Kian. Late August Kian’s parents met President Duterte, even posing for the fist sign with him (link). For the second time after the Jee-Ick Joo case, the war on drugs was paused – and continued from Oct. 11 by the PDEA, with officially less casualties (link).
Allies, Rivals and everyone else!
Vice-President Robredo was offered a cabinet post as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council in early July 2016, just days after she and the President had separate inaugurations. On November 18, 2016, ex-dictator Ferdinand Marcos was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in a surprise ceremony. Demonstrations ensued. On Dec. 4, 2016, Vice-President Robredo was told no longer to attend cabinet meetings and resigned her cabinet post the day after. During a trip to China, President Duterte had introduced Bongbong Marcos as the future VP.
Suspected drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, son of murdered Mayor Espinosa, was one of the criminals to testify against Senator Leila De Lima in a Congressional hearing in Nov. 2016, where she was accused of being involved in the drug trade taking place in Bilibid prison. Her former driver, who had had an affair with her, also testified. On February 24, Leila de Lima was arrested and brought to Camp Crame where she is until today. Long before that, ex-President Arroyo had been released from jail in July 2016 – and held many speeches during the ASEAN Summit in Nov. 2017.
Controversial social media supporters Mocha Uson and Lorraine Marie Badoy were appointed to MTCRB in January 2017 and as ASec to DSWD in February 2017 respectively. Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno was dismissed in April 2017 with insinuations of corruption. Both Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay and DENR Secretary Gina Lopez were not confirmed in May 2017. In that month, Mocha Uson became PCOO ASec while Alan Cayetano became Foreign Secretary. On August 16, Judy Taguiwalo was not confirmed as Social Welfare Secretary – the last leftist in a major post.
COMELEC Chairman Andy Bautista was publicly attacked by his estranged wife in August (link), including allegations of corruption. While Bautista eventually resigned under threat of impeachment proceedings – most probably to save his family from private scandal, Chief Justice Sereno has been undergoing impeachment practically for the last quarter of 2017 under very dubious charges. A connection to the still continuing electoral protest by Bongbong Marcos is possible as COMELEC and Supreme Court constitute the Presidential Electoral Tribunal or PET.
In Sept. 2017, a Senate hearing on an intercepted 6.4 billion peso shabu shipment started (link). Senator Trillanes alleged a major role of Paolo Duterte and asked him to show a tattoo on his back, saying it could like him to Chinese triads (link). The investigation has left the Senate and slowed. Dengvaxia became an issue in Dec. 2017 (link), its previous history documented in this blog (link). Attempts to pin culpability on ex-President Aquino have failed so far (link) as the matter proceeds.
The person behind the opposition Pinoy Ako Blog or PAB was revealed by pro-administration bloggers in October 2017. Jover Laurio (her real name) was interviewed by BBC soon after that. This led to an ugly scene between pro-administration blogger Sass Rogando Sasot (invited to the official dinner) and a BBC reporter during the ASEAN summit in Manila in November 2017. Many of the bloggers associated with Duterte have been seen in photos with the Marcoses very recently. My impression is that many people are now tired of the too aggressive pro-admin social media.
Nation, Institutions and what next?
A controversial tax reform called TRAIN has been passed which may indeed increase the disposable income for certain groups, but make things more expensive on the whole. An investigation on a 6.4 billion peso shabu shipment from China cast a shadow on Paolo Duterte. The Hague ruling on the West Philippine sea was ignored and China continued building there (link) while it is highly possible that the third telecom operator in the Philippines will be China Telecom. Rebuilding Marawi shall probably not be subject to bidding – the question of who will benefit looms large.
In March, Congressman Gary Alejano of Magdalo filed an impeachment complaint against President Duterte before the Congress (link). It was junked on May 15 for alleged lack of substance. Senator Trillanes and Congressman Alejano therefore filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court (link) against President Duterte and a number of others. International critics of human rights violations in the Philippines were often insulted by President Duterte and others. “Special mention” was given to the EU Parliament, Agnes Callamard of the UN, and Barack Obama.
Furthermore, there have been measures targeting certain businesses that seem close to blackmail. Philweb (link), Mighty Tobacco (link), Inquirer and Mile Long property (link) all come to mind. They are sold as measures against oligarchy while the President is close to other oligarchic groups. Talks with the Left have practically collapsed, while the tax measures of TRAIN seem anti-poor, just like the planned jeepney modernization. Uber was also subjected to pressure for a certain time. The peso has gone down against the dollar while economic indexes give very mixed signals as of now.
A supermajority supports Duterte in Congress. Congress threatened to shorten funding for the Commission on Human Rights, and really cut funds for opposition lawmakers (link) for 2018. While barangay elections have been constantly postponed, the postponement of 2019 mid-term elections and indefinite political terms now loom in connection with planned Charter Change for Federalism. There is a high probability that the Senate may impeach Chief Justice Sereno even if there is no reason to – because most Senators seem to be on the Duterte bandwagon at this point.
VP Leni Robredo has quietly worked on her privately sponsored Angat Buhay program to help the poor attain livelihoods. Independence Day on June 12, 2017 was handled by Vice President Robredo alone as President Duterte had “gone missing” and never explained where he went. The Marcos burial and the killing of Kian led to major demonstrations in Manila but also elsewhere. The left became more determined in its opposition to Duterte after Judy Taguiwalo was no longer part of the cabinet. Numerous persons and groups on social media now form a broad opposition.
International media have reported a lot about both the Marawi war and extrajudicial killings. Inspite of his pro-China and pro-Russia orientation, Duterte accepted that the military was helped by the USA and Australia in Marawi, especially when it came to reconaissance. During the ASEAN summit in Manila, Trump and Duterte seemed to get along well. The war of words begun between Duterte and Agnes Callamard of the UN was continued by Duterte’s new speaker Harry Roque.
The big picture
is a totally changed country. Much less democratic. Probably a lot more quarrelsome at all levels. Recent incidents (Mandaluyong van shooting, armed robberies) show a possible spiral of violence. Wang wang or privileged overtaking for politicians is back by all accounts. Many more funerals.
And either fear or callousness or indifference. MRT failures, typhoon deaths, refugees from Marawi apparently badly supplied with food, Lumads allegedly being kept from getting enough food, many dead in Marawi – where are those now who complained about MRT, Mamasapano and Yolanda?
Love it, change it or leave it
Recent Facebook postings indicate that passport renewal appointments are full nationwide for about 3 months in advance. Are many people trying to leave, is the government trying to create a bottleneck for that, or has DFA turned more inefficient recently? Who knows where the truth lies.
Will things eventually turn out right inspite of possible rises in consumer prices, falling peso, overspending by government, loans from China with high interest, even possible investor jitters?
Will people love the new order? Will they throw it up? Will many leave? Don’t know. Let us see.
Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 5 January 2018