By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — An independent research group said that the interest of the larger majority is caught between President Rodrigo Duterte’s balancing act to maintain the popularity of his administration that was catapulted to power because of the promise of change.
Jennifer Haygood-Guste of Ibon Foundation, a non-profit research, education and information-development institution said Duterte is trying his hardest to accommodate the demands of all sectors; the ‘leftists’ on the one hand and the ‘rightists’ on the other hand.
Guste spoke before private and government workers during a forum dubbed as Neoliberalism, the Duterte administration and the workers at the Baguio City multi-purpose hall last April 18.
“At the onset, he presented himself as an alternative candidate who supports the struggles of the Filipino masses for genuine social change, and even claimed to be a socialist openly admitting that he supports the revolution being waged by the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army),” Guste said.
“Duterte even declared that he is the first “leftist” president,” Guste added.
Guste said that Duterte presented a pro-poor and nationalist stance and appointed progressives in his cabinet including leaders of ‘leftist’ organizations. But some of his actions are more of the rightist stance, she said.
Guste cited as example Duterte’s cancellation of the joint naval patrol with the United State at the West Philippine Sea and sending home American troops. But later his administration still supported the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and continued Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). She said the President earlier distanced his administration from the US but entertained alliances with China. “Even his position against the US seems to have changed when Trump won the presidency,” she said.
Guste further said that while Duterte government is very open to continue the peace talks with the CPP-NPA he has declared an all out war against them.
Amid Duterte’s pro-poor stance, Guste said that his administration still continuous to implement neoliberal economics that is pro-foreign capital and pro-business that are actually anti-poor. She pointed to the continuation of the anti-poor taxation policy that gives tax holidays and incentives to big businesses but increases taxes on the poor.
Guste said that the expanded value added tax (EVAT) in reality taxes the poor more than the big businesses. She explained that while the government claims that the EVAT is imposed on large petroleum companies, the fact that almost all basic products uses petroleum at some point, the charges are passed on to the poor consumers.
“When you buy sugar, rice or even a candy, you are already paying EVAT because these products use petroleum for processing and transport and business owners pass on the EVAT charges to you through price increase,” Guste said.
Guste also mentioned the war on illegal drugs that has targeted the poor. She said that as human rights organizations pointed out, most of the victims of extra-judicial killings related to the war on illegal drugs are from the poor. She said that while thousands of poor pushers and users are being killed, not so many of the ‘big fishes’ are actually being prosecuted.
Guste also mentioned that while the President promised to end contractualization, the newly approved Department Order 174 of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) actually reinforces contractual labor.
“But at the end of the day, the question will be, whose interest will win?” Guste said.
Guste said it is impossible to please everybody given the opposing interests of the few elite and the majority of Filipino masses, of the capitalists and workers, of the landlords and the poor peasants.
“It is therefore incumbent upon the majority of the poor masses who put him in power to assert their rights and demand that the President fulfill his promise of genuine change,” she said.
Promise of change
Guste said that Duterte is a popular president as shown in his overwhelming votes that put him in power and the satisfaction surveys that remained to be in his favor. “He not just popular, he is popular to all social classes,” she said.
Guste highlighted that Duterte’s rise to popularity and power was propelled by his promise of ‘genuine change’. “He was elected because of his promise to curb crimes especially illegal drugs and corruption and to bring about genuine change to the country highlighting his accomplishments as mayor in Davao,” she said.
Guste also pointed out that Duterte’s rise into power was born out of the people’s aspiration for genuine national development amid increasing poverty, continuing corruption in government and growing disappointment with the previous administration.
“But the organized masses and progressive organizations coming from their experience do not have any illusion that change will happen within Duterte’s term, they maintain that it is the people’s assertion of their rights to genuine development and progress that will bring about genuine change,” she added. # nordis.net