These past 2 months have been a real education experience for me about the Philippines political scene. At around that time, President Rodrigo Duterte began enacting his agenda and I’ve learned a lot about the issues that are important to the Filipino people. Though I’m not a supporter of Duterte, I can understand how Duterte appeals to a nation that is sick and tired of high crime, drug problems, widespread corruption, and a political and economic system that is dominated by a wealthy group of about 200 families. Many Filipinos hope that Duterte can provide a radical break from this cycle of crime, corruption and oligarchy.
Based on what I’ve researched so far, some of Duterte’s policies will strongly benefit the poor and the middle class, while some of his policies will exacerbate a culture of violence and impunity. In my cartoons, I depict a Good Duterte and a Bad Duterte. The Good Duterte is pushing for agrarian reforms to help the farming communities, a tax reform bill to help the poor and middle class, a change in the Philippine Mining Law to break the power of mining companies that have been the cause of much of the human rights abuses against the indigenous people, and the pursuit of peace talks with communist and Moro Muslim insurgents to try to bring peace in Mindanao. The Bad Duterte smears and demeans his political opponents and critics with personal insults so that he doesn’t have to answer specific criticisms about his policies, he encourages the police and ordinary citizens to kill criminal suspects without due process of law, and he allowed the remains of Ferdinand Marcos to be buried in a heroes cemetery while ignoring Marcos’s many crimes against the Filipino people.
Here are some things that define the Good Duterte and Bad Duterte.
THE COCO LEVY FUND During the recent presidential campaign, candidate Duterte promised coconut farmers that he would use the Coco Levy Fund to help benefit farmers in his first 100 days in office. The Coco Levy Fund refers to a tax that former president Ferdinand Marcos had on coconut farmers, with the promise that the tax would be used to develop the coconut industry. Instead, Marcos’s cronies, chief among them Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr, used these funds to buy businesses such as the United Coconut Planters Bank and the San Miguel Corporation and profited from those businesses. Duterte order his Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol to use the Coco Levy Fund for the benefit of the farmers who were scammed by Marcos. One thing that they talked about was using some of the fund for education of the children of the farmers. Another plan is to enact a 6 year coconut planting program that will cover 600,000 hectares. Duterte hopes to reestablish the Philippines as the number one coconut producer in the world.
INCOME TAX REFORM President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration is planning to update the tax brackets so that poor and middle-class Filipinos increases their take-home money, even when their gross pay stays the same. Under the current system, Filipinos are taxed even when they fall below the poverty line. Worse, they are taxed at rates much higher than what other Asian countries levy. Claire Jaio wrote for CNN Philippines:
Biscocho pointed out that the prices of consumer goods have increased over the past 20 years, and the value of that income has gone down significantly.
Taxpayers who earn an annual income of ₱10,000-₱30,000, for example, already qualify for 10% income tax. But that annual income equates to only ₱800-₱2,500 a month — well below the poverty threshold set by the government.
As of the first half of 2015, it was estimated that a family needed a monthly income of ₱9,140 to meet its basic needs.
THE PHILIPPINE MINING LAW President Duterte and his Environmental Secretary Gina Lopez have been working on curbing the power of the mining companies that have been the source of most of the human rights abuses of indigenous people and of the pollution of the Mindanao environment. The administration has called for stricter compliance with environmental laws, and more accountability to the people who live in the area. Duterte has called for the shutdown of Claver Minerals Development Corporation in Surigao Del Norte Province for violations of environmental laws. All mining companies have gone through an environmental audit, and four have been shut down. A big focus for the Duterte administration has been revising the 1995 Philippines Mining Act, which they think benefits foreign companies at the expense of local people.
PEACE TALKS WITH THE NDF Duterte has been making many positive steps in pursuing peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the communist movement of the Philippines. Duerte has released important political prisoners so that they could attend the peace talks in Oslo, Norway. He has also promised to appoint some of the communist leaders in political posts in his administration. The first round of talks went well and the second round will take place in October.
SMEARING AND DEMEANING CRITICS One of the things that I dislike about Rodrigo Duterte is his tendency to demean and smear his critics with insults so that he doesn’t have to answer specific criticisms of his policies. I think this is a very bad trait. It reminds me of one of the things I most dislike about Donald Trump. Duterte has called Pope Francis the son of a whore. He said that journalists who have been killed were probably corrupt and deserved to be killed (in actuality, most of the journalists who have been killed were investigating corruption). He attacked Supreme Court Justice Lourdes Sereno after Sereno expressed her concern about the President’s decision to reveal the names of 159 public servants, including seven judges, who allegedly have links to the illegal drug trade. He attacked Senator Leila De Lima after she led a Senate committee to investigate the spate of extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war on crime. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor history and Italian studies at New York University, wrote an article warning of the dangers of hateful rhetoric in a political leader:
Charismatic leaders have enormous influence over their followers, who look to them to set the tone for how they should think and behave. This becomes very dangerous when such leaders denigrate certain people, and then do nothing when their followers act on their words. Not only do they educate people to hate others, but they harness society’s existing prejudices to rally supporters.
EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLNGS OF CRIMINAL SUSPECTS The biggest issue I have with Duterte is his encouragement of killing criminal suspects in his war to end crime and drugs in 6 months. I think this is a very bad idea for several reasons. First, there is no accountability for the police or for vigilante groups who have been killing the criminal suspects. How do we know some of these individuals weren’t kill due to a personal vendetta and not just a crime? If a person is killed for only being suspected of a crime, this means that many innocent individuals are being killed along with the guilty. And even if a person is guilty of a crime, is killing that person the proper punishment for his or her crime? This is why the rule of law is important. Several people have suggested that the judicial system is corrupt. But even if the courts are corrupt, that doesn’t justify the killing of people who might be innocent of a crime.
A HERO’S BURIAL FOR DICTATOR FERDINAND MARCOS The second worst decision in Duterte’s first few weeks in office was to allow former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried in the Cemetery of Heroes here in Manila. Marcos was not a hero. Miguel Syjuco gave a good explanation in the New York Times on why Marcos should not be thought of as a hero:
Marcos is notorious as one of history’s great kleptocrats. After declaring martial law in 1972, during his final term, he suspended democracy until his ouster 14 years later. His regime is remembered for its summary executions, torture, rape, enforced disappearances, censorship, electoral fraud and epic corruption. The Marcos family is believed to have plundered as much as $10 billion, only a portion of which has been recovered.
This hero’s burial is the latest move to whitewash the Marcos regime’s crimes. In the years since the dictator’s death in 1989, his family has returned from exile unpunished….
…Many Filipinos now claim that Marcos made the country safer, forgetting that dictatorships suppress democratic rights along with crime. Many trumpet his ambitious building projects, forgetting that development and graft went hand in hand. Others claim that Marcos stewarded the country toward prosperity, ignoring how the initial economic gains of his dictatorship led to crippling foreign debt, poverty and crony capitalism.