The International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) Philippines, along with the rest of democratic, anti-imperialist, and anti-fascist forces in the country and the world, are eager to ensure that this will be the last State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte’s sloppy response to the Covid-19 pandemic and criminal neglect of the health and welfare of the Filipino people has been apparent since the onset of the pandemic. From December 2019 to February 2020, he allowed approximately 500,000 Chinese tourists into the country without proper quarantine, and continued downplaying the lethality of the Coronavirus until March 2020, when the regime imposed a sudden lockdown, now the longest in the world.
The Philippine government has failed to control the spread of the virus, increase the capacities of healthcare facilities in the country, and establish basic measures such as widespread testing, quarantine, and contact tracing. Contracts for the insurance and purchase of vaccines are riddled with anomalies and allegations of corruption. From March 1 to July 7, only 8.36% of the population have been vaccinated with a single dose and only 2.7% have received two doses due to slow vaccination and a lack of supplies. The Philippines ranks second to Indonesia with the highest death rate per million population in Southeast Asia. From the start of the pandemic until March, nearly 1.5 million Filipinos have been infected and 26,000 have died.
Militarism and the war on drugs
Duterte handpicked retired generals from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), especially those previously assigned in Davao, to join his government. The cabinet includes at least 12 former generals, in addition to those appointed in lower positions.
He also appointed retired generals to his task force to govern the day-to-day pandemic response of the regime. This resulted in further human rights violations as hundreds were simultaneously arrested, humiliated, and tortured. Those arrested were locked in kennels, stripped, and so on. This April, a man died after being severely punished by the police in Cavite.
The war on drugs is estimated to have claimed the lives of 27,000 to 30,000 people, which was deemed adequate by the International Criminal Court to institute legal proceedings against Duterte for crimes against humanity and to investigate the deaths and cases of torture. Human rights abuses have also intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Duterte has resisted ICC investigations while leveraging his presidency to escape prosecution. The regime has also been preoccupied with preparing its machinery for the upcoming 2022 elections in its desperate efforts to cling to power.
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has been using public funds to sabotage not only activists, but also ordinary people, institutions, and Duterte’s political opponents. In July 2020, Duterte signed the Anti-Terror Law, which infringes universal rights to due process, equal treatment under the law, free assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.
Under the guise of counterinsurgency, Duterte has directly ordered the state’s armed forces to attack and assassinate activists, peace consultants, civilians, and entire communities, against international humanitarian law which protects individuals who are not directly involved in armed conflicts. The latest report by the human rights group Karapatan records 1,018,508 people as victims of different human rights abuses in Duterte’s all-out war from July 2016 to December 2020. There were 376 victims of extrajudicial killings, 488 victims of attempted murder, 18 victims of forced disappearance, 3,675 arrested, and 3,349 fake surrenderrees among them. 457,696 were refugees forced to flee their homes as a result of military operations. Military bombings affected a total of 372,629 individuals. A series of mass killings took place under Duterte through joint military and police operations such as the Bloody Sunday in Southern Tagalog (March 2021); the Tumandok massacre in Tapaz, Capiz (December 2020); separate killings of 14 civilians on the island of Negros (March 2019); and the massacre of 9 farmers in Sagay, Negros Occidental (October 2018).
An economic crisis like no other
9.6 million people lost or had reduced work during the peak of the pandemic in October 2020, primarily in the informal sector, which increased to 10.5 million in January 2021. According to official statistics, 3.8 million Filipino workers remain unemployed, with another 10.4 million working part-time by June this year.
Excessive borrowing by the administration to fund ambitious programs such as Build, Build, Build has resulted in foreign debt totalling to more than $219 billion. In just five years, public debt jumped from roughly $117.6 billion to more than $219 billion. Despite this, around only $13.27 billion was allocated for the purchase of vaccines, aid, and other services. Duterte has also been pushing for the further liberalization of the economy through changing the economic provisions of the constitution and pursuing policies such as the Public Services Act (PSA), Foreign Investment Act (FIA), Retail Trade Liberalization Act (RTLA), and the third and fourth phases of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP). These will allow 100% foreign ownership and privatize public lands, educational institutions, transportation, mass media, retail, and investments. The Rice Liberalization Act of 2018 has destroyed local rice production, as a result of the influx of imported rice. Local pork production is also suffering as the government increased meat imports under the pretext of local price control.
Betrayal of Sovereignty and Patrimony
Duterte continues to peddle the country’s sovereignty to the United States. He pretended to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in February 2020 to wring additional military help from the US. The Philippines has continued to purchase military equipment and supplies from the US, such as Black Hawk helicopters, Super Tucano warplanes, a C-130H Hercules Aircraft, bombs, machine guns, rifles, and other items. The regime has also kept the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in place, which authorizes the US to use and develop infrastructure in enclaves within AFP camps. With the “war on terror” in Marawi in 2017 as motivation, he allowed the US to launch Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines and deploy its agents in the country permanently. He also approved the commencement of the annual US military exercises in the Philippines, the largest of which took place in 2019 and involved 3,500 American soldiers. In 2020, Duterte dropped the case against Joseph Scott Pemberton, an American soldier convicted of murdering Jennifer Laude in 2014, allowing him to return to the United States.
The president has also overturned the Philippines’ victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China in 2016 which acknowledged the West Philippine Sea as Philippine territory under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Duterte allowed China to build artificial islands in the seas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and extended continental shelf, and ignored the presence of Chinese military ships stationed in various sections of the West Philippine Sea (WPS). China has already constructed seven military installations to house its personnel and weaponry, and their reclamation efforts were estimated to have damaged at least 16,000 hectares of reefs in 2017.
The challenge to democratic, anti-fascist, and anti-imperialist forces
Duterte’s crimes should not be forgiven or overlooked. His trial and punishment in international courts must be insisted upon and in local courts following his term. It must be ensured that his clique does not remain in power, who would undoubtedly protect him against prosecution.
The reign of the despotic US-Duterte regime is evidence of the rotten semi-colonial and semi-feudal system of the country. The toiling masses must struggle for their democratic and civil liberties and their demands for wages, financial aid, affordable basic commodities, quality and accessible healthcare, education, and other basic social services. The struggle to depose Duterte is part of advancing the national-democratic revolution against imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism, which are the causes of the oppression and exploitation of Filipinos.
The ILPS Philippines calls on the international community to unite against Duterte’s tyranny, and to support the struggle of the Filipino people!
Down with imperialism!
End Duterte’s tyranny!
Long live international solidarity!