The presidency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte is certainly one that has proven to be memorable. Yet, whether it be his decorum and speech, his stark disdain for drugs, or his use of unconventional methods in obtaining or maintaining peace and order, Filipinos are divided on whether to view this regime in a positive or negative light. Now in part three of this six-part Probe series, we continue to look back at the incumbent president’s reign, before we soon welcome the nation’s new chief executive.
2018: Actions and Intentions Unaligned
In 2018, Rodrigo Duterte continued to preserve his power at all costs. For instance, among many of the decisions he, along with the Philippine Congress, extended Martial Law in Mindanao twice—until the end of 2018, and then once again for the entirety of 2019.
Duterte’s third year in office showed stark contrast between what he displays on surface level and what his choices imply, and an inability to execute appropriate concepts into concrete, effective initiatives.
The Effects of the TRAIN Law
On the very first day of the year, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law was put into effect. This was previously deemed by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III as the “best Christmas and New Year’s gift” of the Duterte administration to the Filipino people.
The law promotes “sustainable and inclusive economic growth” through enhancing the progressivity of the Philippines’ tax system, “provide… an equitable relief to a great number of taxpayers and their families”, and ensure that the government properly looks after its constituents. Yet, many believed that the outcomes were at least somewhat contrary to its objectives.
The IBON Foundation’s research noted that since the TRAIN Law was put into place, “Inflation… shot up to a five-year high,” and that the law “aggravates the inflationary impact of more expensive global oil and the peso depreciation on a wide range of basic goods.” An anonymous market analyst for a research firm also expressed his sentiments, saying that the law merely shows that “…you have higher pay, but electricity, transport, grocery bills will also be higher.”
It is ironic that a pro-poor law plunged many Filipinos even deeper into poverty. What were supposed progressive economic plans became an increased excise tax for products and services. The National Economic and Development Authority reported that inflation for fish and seafood went up by 0.65 percentage points, fuel and lubricants by 0.60, and bread and cereals by 0.56.
Withdrawal from the ICC
In February of 2018, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced a preliminary examination to look into Duterte’s War on Drugs and the alleged extrajudicial killings that came with it. She emphasized that this would only warrant an investigation should the initial examination provide a basis to call for such.
Thus, a month later, Duterte announced the country’s withdrawal from the organization, in an attempt to defend his administration. “Given the baseless … attacks on my person as well as against my administration, … I therefore declare and forthwith give notice as president of the Republic of the Philippines, that the Philippines is withdrawing its ratification of the Rome Statute effective immediately,” he stated.
All this begs the question: was the ICC’s examination really uncalled for, or was this withdrawal announcement merely a way for Duterte to try escaping accountability?
Voiding Trillanes’s Amnesty
Former Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV was and remains a very fierce critic of the president. Unafraid to file a plunder complaint against Duterte, Trillanes claimed based on the 2015 Commission on Audit report that Duterte had 11,000 ghost employees with a budget of Php 708 million in Davao City.
After multiple public call-outs, investigations, and the junking of a senate probe, Trillanes—who was previously granted amnesty by Former President Benigno Aquino III after past mutiny against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—was ordered to be arrested by President Duterte. He revoked his amnesty because he “did not comply with the minimum requirements to qualify under the Amnesty Program,” before commanding the Philippine National Police to “employ all lawful means to apprehend” the past senator.
There is a conspicuous pattern at play here: Duterte attempted to make Leila De Lima and Trillanes—both outspoken critics of his actions and administration—criminals to the public eye. Yet again, he shamelessly makes known to all citizens that any dissent will be met with force.
Disregard for Human Rights
One aspect of the Duterte administration that remains consistent is the number of extrajudicial killings and a piling number of Drug War victims. The year 2018 continued the increasing tally of vigilante-style murder victims, with the Commission on Human Rights estimating up to a total of 27,000 by the end of the year.
It is both appalling and confusing that such a fear-mongering strongman avoids and pushes back any opposition to his power, rather than virtuously facing accountability for his proven and obvious wrongs.