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2022 is an illusion.
It is clear that in the dictator’s playbook, Duterte intends to rule beyond his term, be it himself installed or his specter through an appointed heir. The US-Duterte regime has revealed that it is not only a wolf in sheep’s clothing but a decaying carcass of the beast. Apart from fentanyl, its kept alive by its madman ambitions for power and a fetish for men in uniform. It has become clear time and again, that the time is ripe for him to go.
The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered the strongman, weak. The supposed man of action and political will is nothing but feet-dragging, ball-dropping, misinformation king and ever more pronounced is his kowtow to imperialist whims. Delayed, corruption-laden and inadequate relief packages characterized Duterte’s response to the pandemic. The relief package amounting to Php 654 Billion pesos and more billions are being poured into the war chest. Instead of being geared to curb and lessen the impact of the virus, this has become the cash cow of politicians, designed to line the pockets of Duterte’s allies.
Government response to the pandemic is too little, too late. This resulted to one of the highest recorded cases in South-east Asia and the longest lockdown on record. It is said that the Philippines will be the last to recover in Asia-Pacific region. Moody’s Analytics peg recovery by the end of 2022 as compared to our neighbors which is seen to recover by the end of this year. This includes Indonesia which recorded the highest number of cases. Our country recorded the highest GDP contraction in the region, shrinking at 9.5%. The neglect of the policymakers has made this recession the worst economic crisis since the Second World War.
What does it mean for the ordinary Filipino? The number of hungry Filipinos increased to the highest on record (1 in 3 Filipino households), and millions are now at the brink of plunging into poverty. 8.5 Million Filipinos are now jobless and jobs continue to be scarce. Others are being told to report on a two-week basis, some are not lucky enough to have been asked to report again. Yet the prices of basic commodities continue to rise, payment for utilities are not deferred and are continually exacted from every Filipino household. Compare and contrast to ten Filipino billionaires who over the course of 2020 saw a rise in their net worth.
The conditions brought about by the pandemic has even made worse the plight of the poor families especially of peasants in the countryside. In the island of Negros alone, hundreds of thousands have plunged into hunger and debt, plus the anti-poor lockdown measures that were put in place. Thousands of farmers were deprived of their food and financial relief packages in an anti-pandemic campaign laden with counter-insurgency elements, on top of what is already a heavily politicized distribution.
And just as when the madman gets the hang of it, he is now hell-bent at using the country’s coffers as his personal war chest. Congress enacted two pandemic relief legislations, dubbed as Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2. The emergency powers granted to Duterte has become a slippery slope to dictatorship. Mass testing is not given emphasis in the legislation, no protection for returning workers are put in place despite the health risk. While most countries have successfully flattened the curve, Duterte’s vocabulary is only limited to a militarist approach – lockdowns. Futile and ineffective.
Misprioritization continues to haunt this regime. The government’s flagship spending program of Build, Build, Build is given emphasis with the illusion to stimulate an economy in recession. It signals the resumption of kickbacks and commissions especially for Duterte’s political allies. A path to raking more billions in foreign debt is cleared. Indeed, the health crisis gave us one of this regime’s enduring legacy, a rising foreign debt. It is projected to reach 53% or more than half of our economic output.
This means that in the years to come, billions of our taxpayers’ money will go to paying our debt instead of other social services like health and education. This will lengthen our subservience to the neo-liberal dictates of foreign masters. National industrialization and genuine agrarian reform will forever be a utopia in the current framework, and Philippines will always be the source of cheap labor and resources and at the same time the dumping ground for surplus goods. In fact, to make good their promise to foreign masters, they have already set in motion moves to amend the 1987 Constitution. The guarantee peddled by his puppets in Congress is equally worrisome than our fears. They want us to believe that the sole aim is directed to amending the economic provisions which will allow full foreign ownership, removing the only safeguard against unhinged and unlimited economic plunder. But there is indeed no telling what the belly of the beast can devour once opened. Surely, this opening would allow Duterte’s men to insert term extension provisions as their final offering to their master at the brink of death, an elixir to the madman.
In order for his idiocy to continue and prosper, he has to wield an iron fist, wipe out opposition and silence dissent. In the midst of the pandemic, Congress railroaded Duterte’s Terror Law. The lines no longer exist between activists and armed combatants. It has finally put to paper the long-standing state policy of silencing dissent either by incarceration through trumped-up charges and worse, death through the usual ‘nanlaban’ or ‘armed’ storyline. The Act has an overarched, overboard definition of terrorism. Under this framework, legal democratic organizations such as farmer’s associations, labor unions and the like are deemed terrorist formations, tagging leading personalities as seditious.
The people’s genuine demands for land, decent wage, free education, human rights and justice are all made seditious, and an act of terrorism. The regime’s treatment to these calls make evident the state’s policy of land grabbing, labor exploitation, privatization of social services, human rights violations and injustice. They brand those who call for these demands as revolutionaries, enemies of the state, when in fact there is nothing revolutionary to these calls. These are the things ought to be guaranteed, the ‘revolutionary’ brand is suspect of a state representing only the interest of the few.
Even absent a Terror Law, killings and arrests have become an unofficial government policy even in the previous regimes. To recall, the island of Negros suffered the brunt of ‘Oplan Sauron’ which claimed the lives of 20 farmers and scores of legal activists arrested on trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and just to ensure that they cannot walk free, they added explosives to the foray. Interestingly, as irony is the government’s strongest suit, provinces including the island of Negros which are considered poor are being peppered not with increased government assistance but with increased presence of government troops. What ought to be at the core of government action, is now considered the hotbed of government enemies. Truly, the growling stomach is the roar of cannons to the ears of the State.
In order to reach full circle, war hungry and war criminal, Secretary Delfin Lorenzana unilaterally abrogated the LFS-DND Accord which regulated military and police operations inside the campuses of the University of the Philippines. This means that they intend to enter the campus to conduct surveillance, arrests and apprehensions of what they deemed as the center of communist recruitment. This is a complete violation of UP’s academic freedom, and the danger is beyond the national university alone. The conduct in UP by elements of the state shall become template for operations in other academic institutions aimed at silencing progressive members of the academe from professors to students. The intent to deprive the Filipino people’s democratic rights is ever more pronounced sans delicadeza and even just the good sense to call it something else. Instead of allaying our fears in the passage of the bill, they have justified further our opposition to it, they have shown that it is not Anti-Terror Law, but it is Duterte’s Terror Law.
Our history is the story of a continuing revolution, one that did not stop in Kawit and certainly not in the streets of EDSA. The month of February in Philippine history is a reminder that removing a president, a dictator at that is not an illusion, but a possibility etched in our collective DNA as a people. We did it once, and there’s neither reason nor obstacle that we cannot do it again. The heightening fascism trumpeted by his circle of evil may be lullaby to a dictator, but for the growing number of people who wish to frustrate the tyrannical ambitions of Duterte, it is the battle cry.
The broad masses of the peasantry, workers, youth and students, media and cultural workers, the academe, healthcare workers and medical frontliners, the religious sector, the dissatisfied military, policemen and bureaucrats, and other sectors need to be aroused, organized, and mobilized in their hundreds of thousands in order to form the broadest possible united front and flood the streets with protest. The anti-fascist movement can be raised by undertaking the anti-imperialist movement while the robust anti-feudal movement deepens it.
Genuine change should not be tied to the timeline of the ruling elite. The task falls upon the people to seize the initiative and oust the madman that is Duterte. The time is ripe and the conditions are ever more favorable to frustrate the ambitions of the dictator wannabe and defeat the delusion of his circle of evil.
2022 is an illusion, however the resistance is reality.