It has been four years since Rodrigo Duterte took his oath as president of the Philippines, railing against the “erosion of faith and trust in government”, while riding on a populist wave by promising “real change” and “transparency” to the country of more than 100 million people.
But as he enters his last two years in office on Tuesday, Duterte’s leadership has proven hollow, analysts have said, adding that his handling of the continuing coronavirus pandemic has exposed his lack of serious policy, leaving many Filipinos to fend for themselves even as the economy faces its most serious challenge in decades.
From his war on drugs that killed thousands, to the deadly siege by ISIL-inspired fighters in the city of Marawi, and the current health emergency that already infected 36,000 people and killed more than 1,250 others, Duterte has relied on “militarist” approach to every major crisis he faced, even if it is not working, observers added.
Sonny Africa, executive director of the independent think-tank, IBON Foundation, said fixing the political and economic damage that Duterte has wrought in the last four years “is already a daunting task”.
“It’s scary what another two years will do,” Africa told Al Jazeera, as he warned that the Philippines “is in the worst crisis of joblessness and collapsing household incomes in its history”.
Africa, a London School of Economics-trained development expert, said that instead of addressing basic fiscal and economic reforms – such as social protection, free land distribution and the reversal of a “regressive” tax system – Duterte’s economic managers are continuing with business as usual.
“The government’s policies are not working because the self-serving political agenda and interests of economic elites are given priority over rational public health and socioeconomic relief,” he said.
If anything, the president “is opportunistically exploiting the pandemic” in advancing a political and economic agenda that shows “undue bias” for big business, cronies and foreign investors, Africa added.
Duterte has defended his policies by saying that he is “looking after the welfare” of the Filipinos, and telling them to “stop blaming the government, because the coronavirus is already here.”
He also said that he will “bet his reputation” that there are no anomalies in the government’s handling of the health crisis.
Looking towards the fourth full year of the Duterte administration, the nation remains at odds with the pandemic in terms of medical and economic solutions. We are in the same quandary but in a worse manner than we were in when Duterte’s term began. #TheRealDuterteLegacy pic.twitter.com/ekUNH0Pm5r
— IBON Foundation (@IBONFoundation) June 28, 2020
Richard Heydarian, a Manila-based political science professor and analyst, noted that the pandemic “has exposed the hollowness of right-wing populism”, citing Duterte as an example, while comparing him to US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
The US and Brazil lead the world in both confirmed cases and fatalities.
“If you look at the worst cases around the world … all of these countries have been under the spell of one form of populism or another,” he told Al Jazeera.
In the case of the Philippines, the spread of the disease, also known as COVID-19, had been a “double-edged sword” for Duterte, said Heydarian, who is author of the book, The Rise of Duterte – A Populist Revolt Against Elite Democracy.
Before the pandemic and the resulting lockdown, about 81 percent of people surveyed said that they were satisfied with the Duterte administration [File: Mark R Cristino/EPA]
In late January, some health experts and the opposition, including Vice President Leni Robredo, were urging Duterte to immediately impose a travel ban of visitors from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the infection was first reported.
Even after the first coronavirus death outside China was reported in the Philippines on February 2, Duterte resisted ordering flight restrictions, saying it could damage Manila’s diplomatic ties with Beijing. He also joked that he would “slap the coronavirus” in the face.
A travel ban was only imposed in mid-March, alongside a virtual nationwide lockdown that affected the livelihood of millions of Filipinos. A national health emergency was also declared.
While those delays undermined Duterte’s portrayal of himself “as a decisive and effective leader”, the pandemic has provided the president with “the leeway and legal emergency powers” to launch an “authoritarian blitzkrieg”, according to Heydarian.
He noted that the closure of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest media network, as well as the cyber-libel conviction of Rappler journalist and executive editor, Maria Ressa, happened just months after Duterte secured emergency powers to deal with the spread of the coronavirus.
“Clearly, we see the populists, particularly in fledgeling democracies like the Philippines, exploiting and leveraging the ongoing emergency situation to muzzle and intimidate the opposition and voices in independent media,” Heydarian said.
Before the coronavirus lockdown, however, at least 81 percent of survey respondents said that they were satisfied with the administration of President Duterte, according to the polling firm, Social Weather Station.
According to the police, more than 61,000 people were arrested in the Philippines during the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus [File: Mark R Cristino/EPA]
But Heydarian warned an impending dip in the economy due to the pandemic could “seriously hurt” Duterte’s standing among the public.
Africa of IBON Foundation, one of the oldest non-profit research organisations in the Philippines, said “the militarist response” of the Duterte administration “bolsters its authoritarianism”.
It was also during the lockdown that the allies of the president in Congress managed to push through the anti-terror bill, which allows warrantless arrests and longer detentions without charge. Critics have warned that it could be exploited by the government to go after its critics.
“The Duterte watch has seriously damaged accustomed institutions of liberal democracy,” Africa said, adding that “checks and balances are almost gone”.
‘A big fail’
Nowhere is the unravelling of Duterte’s policy more apparent than in the southern city of Marawi, which came under siege by armed fighters that pledged allegiance to the ISIL (ISIS) group in 2017, said Drieza Abato Lininding, a Marawi community leader.
He said more than three years after the attack, tens of thousands of people remain displaced and are unable to return to their homes despite the president’s repeated promises. Marawi is also now struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus in evacuation camps.
Lininding pronounced Duterte’s policies as a “big fail”, despite the passage of the Bangsamoro autonomous government, saying that “the poor are getting poorer, and some of those well-to-do families are suffering as well.”
Three years after the siege, tens of thousands of Marawi residents remain in refugee camps, which are now struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus [File: Linus Escandor II/EPA]
“Corruption is rampant, and worst not only in Moro areas, but in the whole island of Mindanao,” he told Al Jazeera.
He said among the “bad legacies” left by Duterte is his “too much pampering and relying on the military and police that lead to abuses”.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the activist group Karapatan (Right), said that Duterte’s four years in power has ben “an epidemic of State terrorism, blatant injustice and gross rights violations.”
On Monday, Harry Roque, the palace spokesman, defended Duterte saying that in the moment of a health emergency, the president has one one message – “Stop politics”, adding that the government is “doing its best” to handle to situation.
‘Hard to repair’
Even after Duterte has completed with his term as president – in the Philippines, the president is allowed to serve only a single term – Africa of IBON Foundation, is concerned about the problems that may be left behind, including a record amount of debt.
“The government was set to borrow a record 1.4 trillion pesos ($26.1bn) in 2020 even before the pandemic. If anything, COVID-19 even gives it a convenient cover for this,” he said.
Africa noted that majority of the borrowing is for infrastructure projects that are “unlikely to be financially and economically viable, amid the changed conditions of pandemic-driven recessions”.
“Its so-called ‘recovery programme’ is a mere recycling of the same economic policies before the pandemic and are more inappropriate than ever.”
“The dependence on debt to drive the economy was questionable before and is only more so now.”
Duterte reimposes coronavirus lockdown as he criticises doctors |NationalTribune.com
The Philippines will reimpose a stricter coronavirus lockdown in and around the capital for two weeks from Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte announced early on Monday, as the country struggles to contain infections that have jumped to more than 100,000 cases. Duterte has approved placing Metro Manila and nearby provinces such as Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and…
The Philippines will reimpose a stricter coronavirus lockdown in and around the capital for two weeks from Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte announced early on Monday, as the country struggles to contain infections that have jumped to more than 100,000 cases.
Duterte has approved placing Metro Manila and nearby provinces such as Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan under so-called “Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine” (MECQ) until August 18, his spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.
Some businesses and public transport are expected to be closed in the capital, which is currently under the less-restrictive General Community Quarantine classification.
Work and quarantine passes will also be required, as authorities seek to restrict movements.
Some of the president’s allies have advised against a new lockdown saying it could cripple the already ailing economy.
Duterte’s move came after 80 local groups representing 80,000 doctors and a million nurses called for tighter controls, saying the country was losing the fight against the coronavirus.
“I have heard you. Don’t lose hope. We are aware that you are tired,” Duterte said in a late-night televised address that lasted early on Monday.
The Philippines recorded 5,032 additional infections on Sunday, the country’s largest single-day increase, taking its confirmed coronavirus cases to 103,185. The death toll jumped by 20 to 2,059.
It was the second-highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Southeast Asia, behind Indonesia.
Duterte also approved the hiring of 10,000 medical professionals to beef up the current workforce and additional benefits for healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients, Roque said.
But in his message early on Monday, the Philippine president also railed against the doctors who raised the alarms about about the situation of the country’s health system, daring them to “declare a revolution”.
“You really don’t know me. You want to revolution? Then say it. Go ahead, try it. We’ll ruin everything. We’ll kill all those who are infected with COVID,” he said in a tirade.
“Is that what you want? We can always end our existence in this manner.”
It was unclear how Duterte came up with the subject of a revolution, as the statement from the doctors did not mention about rising up against the government.
In mid-March, Duterte imposed one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns in the capital and other provinces to curb the coronavirus spread.
He began easing restrictions in June in an effort to revive the domestic economy, which is now facing its biggest contraction in more than three decades.
Targeted by Duterte, fate of Philippines’ ABS-CBN in the balance
The Philippines’ largest television network is facing possible closure on Monday, after President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies in Congress refused to renew the station’s 25-year licence in a move critics and media watchdogs have denounced as part of the government’s continuing assault on the free press. On the eve of the May 4 deadline, Duterte’s Solicitor…
The Philippines’ largest television network is facing possible closure on Monday, after President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies in Congress refused to renew the station’s 25-year licence in a move critics and media watchdogs have denounced as part of the government’s continuing assault on the free press.
On the eve of the May 4 deadline, Duterte’s Solicitor General Jose Calida said there was no legal basis to give ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation even a provisional licence as it awaits approval from Congress, threatening to prosecute any government officials who defied the order.
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“No less than the Constitution requires a prior franchise from Congress. Hence, when there is no renewal, the franchise expires by operation of law. The franchise ceases to exist and the entity can no longer continue its operations as a public utility,” Calida said in a statement on Sunday, which was also World Press Freedom Day.
Since becoming president in June 2016, Duterte has repeatedly expressed his disdain towards the television network, which is owned by one of the richest families in the Philippines.
Duterte claimed that ABS-CBN had refused to run his political advertisements during the campaign season – allegations the network has denied.
ABS-CBN’s coverage of the war on drugs, which has killed thousands of people, also angered the Philippine president.
On many occasions, the president has threatened to block the renewal of the network’s franchise, while suggesting that the owners should sell the company to break the impasse. At the same time, he insisted that his hand-picked leaders in Congress were free to decide on the issue.
Several bills have been pending before Congress since 2019 for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s licence, but Congress sat on the legislation citing other priorities. The House of Representatives adjourned in March without taking up any of the bills for renewal.
As a remedy for the delay, the Department of Justice advised the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the government agency tasked with awarding broadcast licences, to issue ABS-CBN an interim licence to allow it to continue operating, with consent from Congress.
House Speaker Alan Cayetano had also sent a letter to the NTC urging the issuance of a provisional licence effective on May 4. Cayetano, an ally of Duterte, had previously accused the network of “bias” against him during previous elections.
Even the NTC had also said that it will allow ABS-CBN to continue operating while waiting for the new franchise, which Congress is expected to take up once it returns from recess.
After the lockdown in the Philippines in mid-March due to the coronavirus health emergency, the NTC also said that all permits to operate and maintain broadcast, which are expiring within the quarantine period, would be automatically renewed.
The permit will be valid for 60 days from the end of the lockdown, according to the NTC. Duterte has extended the lockdown until May 15 in Metro Manila and some parts of the island of Luzon. It remains unclear if the order will be lifted or extended.
Solicitor general’s dissent
However, in his statement on Sunday, Calida, the solicitor general, insisted that NTC has no power to issue any such licence to ABS-CBN, citing provisions in the Philippine Constitution, which he said gave Congress “exclusive powers”.
“Although this legislative power may be delegated to administrative agencies through a law, at present, there is no such law giving the NTC or any other agency the power to grant franchises to broadcasting entities.”
A 2003 Philippine Supreme Court decision also ruled that NTC cannot issue a provisional permit without the legislature’s backing.
Members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) demonstrate in support of press freedom, in front of the Supreme Court in Manila [File: Francis R Malasig/EPA]
Without the franchise, ABS-CBN now faces the possibility of having to stop broadcasting, and could even face a court could order to stop operations. However, it could continue as a content provider.
Earlier this year, Calida had also ignited anger when he filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking to invalidate ABS-CBN’s licence altogether.
In a statement on Sunday, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) denounced Calida’s latest legal manoeuvre.
“Is the government so blinded by its chief executive’s hatred of an entity that it dares to flaunt our nation’s collective sense of fair play, due process, and common good when the entire country grapples with a problem infinitely more pressing and dangerous,” NUJP said referring to the coronavirus lockdown.
Executives of the media company, ABS-CBN, appeared before a Senate hearing in February to make their case for the renewal of the company’s franchise [Aaron Favila/AP Photo]
‘Tyrants want to control the press’
ABS-CBN is not the first media company that has earned Duterte’s ire.
His administration continues to pursue cases against the news website, Rappler and its editor, Maria Ressa, after its extensive reporting on his war on drugs and his administration’s role in spreading fake news.
The country’s largest newspaper, Philippine Daily Inquirer, was also forced to sell to an ally of the president, billionaire Ramon Ang, after Duterte threatened its owners with legal consequences. The newspaper was also critical of the drug war. In the run-up to the 2016 elections, it also reported about Duterte’s alleged hidden wealth.
“Tyrants always want to control the press, and Duterte is no exception,” said Fe Zamora, a veteran journalist who has covered several Philippine presidents.
“He has succeeded to a certain extent, in the sense that the media, in general, has become timid. Government propaganda sometimes are reported as news without that probing and critical eye.”
While the Duterte administration’s “lack of transparency” poses a stumbling block in any journalists’ work, she said that it should also serve as a challenge.
“But there is hope in some young journalists who continue to soldier on despite the threats and intimidation.”
At ABS-CBN, its more than 11,000 employees await any last-minute decision from the Duterte administration, even as they also remain under lockdown.
While not commenting on the legal merits of the franchise renewal, Inday Espina-Varona, an ABS-CBN editor and writer, told Al Jazeera that “any gag on any media entity or individual journalist, or group of journalists, is a blow against democracy.”
“Amid the challenges, journalists will fight on, will continue to explore every platform to bring the news to our people.”
Philippines’ Duterte moves to terminate defence pact with US
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte plans to order the termination of the country’s visiting forces agreement with the United States, his spokesman said Friday. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte was also scheduled to speak to US President Donald Trump at “any time,” but the agenda was not clear. More: Duterte: If my plane explodes, you…
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte plans to order the termination of the country’s visiting forces agreement with the United States, his spokesman said Friday.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte was also scheduled to speak to US President Donald Trump at “any time,” but the agenda was not clear.
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“I will instruct the executive secretary to tell the foreign secretary to send the notice of termination to the US government,” Panelo quoted Duterte as saying.
It was not clear when the notice would be sent.
Last month, the president threatened to end the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after the US government cancelled a tourist visa issued to Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, the former national police chief and close political ally of Duterte.
“I’m warning you … if you won’t do the correction on this, I will terminate the … Visiting Forces Agreement. I’ll end that son of a b****,” the brash-speaking Duterte said in a January 23 speech.
Dela Rosa implemented Duterte’s crackdown against illegal drugs, which has left thousands of suspected drug users dead.
The agreement provided a framework for the temporary entry of US troops to the Philippines for joint training exercises with Filipino forces.
The pact can be terminated through written notice from either party, which would take effect in 180 days.
Millions in US security assistance
At the end of last year, Duterte had also ordered a ban on US senators from entering the Philippines.
That was in response to the US doing the same against Filipino officials who played a role in the detention of opposition Senator Leila De Lima, a staunch critic of the president’s campaign against illegal drugs.
The president has barred his cabinet officials from travelling to the US and turned down an invitation to join a special meeting with Trump and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations in March.
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A separate defence pact subsequently signed by the allies in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allowed the extended stay of US forces and authorised them to build and maintain barracks and warehouses and store defence equipment and weapons inside five designated Philippine military camps.
But terminating the VFA would affect more than 300 joint trainings and other activities this year alone with US forces “which the Philippine military and law enforcement agencies need to enhance their capabilities in countering threats to national security,” according to Dutertes’ Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
The US provided more than $550m in security assistance to the Philippines from 2016 to 2019, Locsin said, adding that there may be a “chilling effect on our economic relations” if the Philippines draws down its security alliance with Washington.
US forces have provided intelligence, training and aid that allowed the Philippines to deal with human trafficking, cyberattacks, illegal narcotics and terrorism, Locsin said, citing how US military assistance helped Filipino forces quell a disastrous siege by armed fighters aligned with the ISIL (ISIS) armed group in the southern city of Marawi in 2017.
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