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 four 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.
2019: On Priorities, Peace Talks, and Press Freedom
In 2019, President Duterte signed the Safe Spaces Act, primarily authored by Senator Risa Hontiveros, into law. As the Philippines has long had an issue with gender-based sexual harrassment violence, with one in four women found to have experienced spousal violence in a 2017 survey, this law condemning such foul actions “committed in public spaces, educational or training institutions, workplace, as well as online space” would serve a very important purpose. To some, it can be said that implementing this law may have shown the president’s willingness to cultivate a more inclusive country for all.
However, with the Philippines having officially withdrawn the International Criminal Court and zero opposition candidates winning a senate seat in the Philippine Midterm Elections, the fight for justice and for upholding democracy for each citizen remained of utmost importance, if not having increased in cruciality.
The year 2019 was certainly eventful for the nation, not only due to the momentous elections but also due to the myriad of decisions and controversies made by the administration.
Failures Masked Behind Disadvantageous Success
Over the years, the Duterte administration has undoubtedly placed much of their pride in the 2017-launched Build, Build, Build (BBB) infrastructure program. However, it looks as though the alleged achievements of the BBB were amplified in order to cover up the fact that other more important sectors were left neglected.
In 2019, only 3.2344% of the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP) was allotted for education—the lowest among ASEAN countries—when the ideal allocation should be between 4% to 6%. Conversely, the BBB program was given 4.2% of the GDP in that same year. These are clear manifestations of the Philippine government’s misorganization of priorities and neglect towards the education sector.
The BBB program, along with and through its infrastructure projects, was also meant to provide jobs for those who needed it. However, in 2019, research organization IBON Foundation slammed the government for its failure to reach this goal. Executive Director Rosario Guzman noted that the job-creation rate under Duterte is the lowest among the past six presidential reigns.
Job creation, specifically in construction work, seemed to have been unproductive and ineffective under the BBB program due to its short-term usefulness. “Kung Build, Build, Build ang pagbabatayan … hindi natin tinitingnan na mahusay na job-creating activity ‘yun …” said Guzman.
This says a lot about what Duterte and his administration values. Relief is deprived from those who need help and attention the most, all while those in office bask in the glory of their mismanagement that gives birth to warped accomplishments.
Eradication Over Harmony
On March 21, Duterte permanently ended peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Firmly stating that no persuasion would further convince him to retract his decision, he said to the public that, “You can maybe talk to the next President of this Republic, one day.”
Two years prior, the CPP-NPA was declared a terrorist group by the state and has persisted labelling and treating them as such, despite the organizations having expressed openness to peace negotiations.
Although insurgency in its many forms has been shown to be one of the issues prevalent in the Philippines, abolishing attempts at bridging divides will never be the answer. For as long as those in power view rebels as mere targets to defeat instead of citizens of the country whose needs must be considered, disputes and conflict will continue to prevail.
Silencing a Deliverer of Truth
Rappler CEO and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Maria Ressa trudged through muddy grounds in her own country, despite having received due recognition internationally.
Simply because President Duterte deemed Rappler’s takes much too critical of his administration, the outlet as a whole has been accused of perpetuating false narratives and fake news. Hence, in February of 2019, Ressa was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation due to cyber libel charges. Although the journalist posted bail the next day, she was arrested once again the next month for allegedly breaching the Anti-Dummy Law.
Are we simply to place our trust in a government that constantly forces shut any criticism or threat to its power? Must we continue to let rulers who continue to distort public perception for their own benefit have their way?