ALMOST two months into the Duterte presidency, the political fall out of the elections that catapulted the mayor from Davao into the presidency is showing no signs of subsiding. The opposite is in fact true. As the new administration reveals its own policy directions, these are met by strong criticisms at every turn from what appear to be organized political forces.
The supposed demise of the Liberal Party after a resounding defeat of their standard bearer in the last election is a premature conclusion. The DAP and the Pork Barrel funneled kitty of the previous administration remain a formidable political resource and still wield considerable influence in shaping public opinion. One need only to look at the manner of how mainstream media has been framing news.
Barely had the new administration warmed their seats in Malacañang, when they were immediately put into the defensive for the drug war that initially counted many poor users and pushers as its first victims. The coverage of nightly news and broadsheets was relentless and unforgiving and succeeded in placing front and center questions about the human rights commitment of the new administration before a global audience.
These developments reveal that the enemies of the current administration go beyond the dislodged Yellow Forces and may even count a foreign superpower who have a stake in the emerging geopolitical configuration in the region. It was curious how the issue of human rights seemed timed to ripen for the Asean Summit just held last week in Laos where President Duterte was set to meet with US President Obama. Weeks before that, news stories from foreign agencies began a demolition job of President Duterte by depicting him and his drug war in the most atrocious means possible.
This was the context for the volatile president’s strong pronouncements before his departure for the summit and during the formal functions of the activity attended by the leaders of the Asean with the US President. Duterte took the challenge personally and he did not hesitate to call out the hypocrisy of the US government, who, to his mind, had done worse human rights atrocities on a global scale.
There seem to be no dearth in the kind of enemies that this administration is making - from drug lords, to corrupt politicians, to war-mongers and terrorists. The emerging coalition of enemies of the Duterte administration reveal the extent to which the old ways of doing things have come under threat of transformation. The progressing peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the various armed Moro groups are welcome developments that challenge the local industry of war in the country. Even the so-called friendly relations between a global superpower and its former colony are placed in a precarious position by these new developments.
However, the bombing at the Davao night market last September 2, 2016 was a signal that the terrain of contestation has moved beyond the brutal propaganda war limited to the pages of newspapers, international media outlets, and Facebook. The body count, this time, will not just be confined to the drug suspects and the Abu Sayyaf terror group, but also include the indiscriminate victimization of civilians in a new wave of terror that has now claimed its first fourteen persons that fateful evening in Davao City.
There are reports over the weekend that the mastermind to the bombing has been arrested. Narco-politicians from Maguindanao were floated as the culprit responsible for the deadly explosion and they were caught at Awang Airport in Cotabato conveniently with shabu paraphernalia and an IED in their possession. This might be true to a certain extent but do not reveal the intricate web of forces and resources that make possible such a terror incident.
Initial investigations apparently reveal that the bomb used that evening had the signature of Marwan, the Malaysian bomb-maker killed in Mamasapano last January 2015. Before he was neutralized, he supposedly trained many locals in the area, one of which created and delivered that bomb at the Davao night market. It should also be noted that terrorists do not come in a single form of radicalized Islamists but actually appear in different shapes and sizes.
Michael Meiring, a shady American national believed to have been a CIA operative, was caught after a bomb exploded in his hotel room in Davao City in May 2002. He was spirited away by American agents immediately. A year later, scores died and were injured at the Davao airport bombing in May 2003. Apparently, there are geopolitical considerations to keep Mindanao in a state of war then, and perhaps even now.
The terror bombing at the Davao night market raises a number of questions. Are local drug lords capable of staging such a terror plan? Do they have enough motive and resources to carry out such a bombing? Are the Abu Sayyaf capable of launching such an attack while nine thousand troops are hot in their heals in Sulu and Basilan? Or are all these part of the grand design to place Duterte in a corner, parrying blows on the human rights front, on the one hand, and terror, on the other, right before he meets with the so-called leader of the free world, Barack Obama at the Asean Summit? Well, we all know how that went.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 13, 2016.