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Proletarian issue 75 (December 2016)
What does Duterte offer the Filipino people?
Will the new president of the Philippines fulfil his anti-imperialist promises?
Rodrigo Duterte, who became president of the Philippines on 30 June this year, has attracted no shortage of controversy. Mr Duterte swept into office a staggering 6.6m votes ahead of Mar Roxas, his closest rival, an ex-investment banker and grandson of former Philippine president Manuel Roxas. (It’s Digong by landslide, Leni by hairline by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News, 27 May 2016)

The popularity of the strongman, who has promised a “bloody war” against corruption and crime, is clear, with 91 percent of Filipinos trusting him, according to a recent poll. (Duterte becomes PH’s most trusted official by Aries Joseph Hegina, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 20 July 2016)

Echoing the Brexit and Trump victories this year, which have shocked liberals and conservatives alike, Duterte offered a break from the US-aligned status quo that backed the war against Vietnam, gave rise to the brutal dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, suppressed the communist-led people’s war and acted as a principal regional prop for the US’s military aggression against China. (See US imperialism’s military aggression is the major factor behind South China Sea disputes, Proletarian, August 2016)

Poor peasants and workers leapt at the prospect of independence from US militarism and the impoverishing economic policy of the US-EU banksters, as implemented by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank cartels. His election has exacerbated the divide in the Filipino bourgeoisie, between the nationally-oriented minority, who would benefit from being able to more freely exploit domestic resources as well as to take advantage of greater trade opportunities with China and Russia if imperialist control of the economy were to be loosened, and the comprador majority, who are in bed with US imperialism. (See Tasks after 100 days under Duterte, Ang Bayan [journal of the CPP], 7 October 2016)

The hypocrisy of western governments and their media presstitutes has kicked into overdrive, shamelessly chastising Duterte for his war on drugs, with the US refusing to sell the Philippine National Police some 26,000 M4 assault rifles – supposedly owing to concerns regarding human rights violations. As the US clearly has no problem selling arms to, funding, and supporting the most blood-curdling groups and dictatorships globally (including, in his time, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines), we can only conclude that it is, in reality, a warning shot against Duterte’s anti-US overtures.

As the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has noted: “The pro-US regimes of Marcos, Cory Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Benigno Aquino were all notorious violators of human rights, but were never chided by the US government and instead were encouraged with military financing.” (CPP hits US hypocrisy in cancelling arms sale to PNP, CPP press release, 2 November 2016)

Indeed, the US has often used its own ‘war on drugs’ as a pretext for overthrowing socialist and national liberation governments – particularly in Latin America. Unperturbed, Duterte has simply suggested that the Philippine police might in future procure their arms from China or Russia.

No doubt the imperialists are in a lather at the thought of other countries in the region following suit in looking towards China and Russia for trade, and for military assistance. Moreover, since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima earlier this month, and with Donald Trump’s election in the US threatening the viability of the notorious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal (with Trump preferring to concentrate on US protectionism over ‘free trade’), many of the countries that had been about to sign up to TTP are now considering joining the Beijing-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) instead.

President Duterte also took the opportunity to criticise western imperialism at the Apec summit: “Of late, I see a lot of these western nations bullying small nations. And not only that, they are into so much hypocrisy ... They seem to start a war but are afraid to go to war. That is what’s wrong with America and the others.” (Philippine president blasts western ‘hypocrisy’ in meeting with Putin, Sputnik News, 21 November 2016)

Duterte: progressive or reactionary?

While Duterte does have a history of opposing the US domination of the Philippines, having refused to allow American covert drones to operate out of Davao in 2013 while mayor of the city, his consistency and ability to follow through with his bold pronouncements is unclear. (See Duterte: I rejected US proposal to make Davao City base for drone operations by Karlos Manlupig, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 August 2013)

Despite holding fast to their recently-established ceasefire in a bid to facilitate renewed peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP, the broad front organisation of the progressive Filipino people) and the government, the New People’s Army (NPA, the armed wing of the CPP), has reported persistent armed advances and manoeuvres by government military units and militias – apparently against the ‘advice’ of President Duterte. (See NPA calls on Duterte to tame the AFP by spokesperson Ka Oris, 8 October 2016)

The new president also appears to have somewhat softened his hostile stance towards the US, and, although he recently announced he wants US troops to leave the five bases they occupy on the islands within two years, it remains to be seen whether he will honour that commitment. Rather than outright cancelling military exercises with the US, he is now calling for ‘reduced’ joint military drills, and has expressed his friendly disposition towards Donald Trump, on the grounds that they “both like to swear”. (See ‘We both like to swear’: Duterte makes peace with US, Trump by Ben Westcott and Kathy Quiano, CNN International, 10 November 2016)

Also concerning for the NPA and the Filipino people are the president’s recent remarks to the effect that his government may need to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and revive the Philippine Constabulary (PC) in order to further its war on drugs. Such moves would place the police under the command of the military and give the government the legal right to detain or make disappear its rivals on a whim, as was the case during the years of the military dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. (See Castigate Duterte for dangling writ suspension and PC revival, CPP, 16 November 2016)

Although Duterte’s stated opposition to US imperialism and his apparent desire to better the conditions for the impoverished sections of the Filipino people are positive, his ability and willingness to follow through on these positions remains to be seen. Ultimately, he is a populist politician, liable to be swayed by imperialist influence as well as by the national bourgeoisie and by pressure from below.

All the same, the fact that he has swept to power on the back of such promises shows the deep desire of the Filipino masses for a government committed both to improving the lot of the people and to forging a patriotic alliance that will set to work breaking the chains that have bound the country so tightly to US imperialism for the last 70 years.

The CPP and the NDFP are right to be wary, while using the opportunities presented by Duterte’s stance to advance the causes of peace and socialism where and how they can. We wish them every success in their plans to “raise the people’s anti-imperialist consciousness by showing how the US condemned the Philippines to a perpetual state of semi-colonial and semi-feudal backwardness, crisis and dependence”, and of showing “how the Philippines was colonised in order to plunder the country’s cheap resources and cheap labour and retain it as a military outpost to serve US aims of imposing its hegemony in the Asia Pacific.” (Tasks after 100 days, op cit)

The struggle for a free and independent Philippines continues.
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