Monday, December 17, 2018

Alamon: How to stop riots

THERE is a warped sociological reading of what “tambay” is about that provides logic to the recent actions of the Philippine National Police upon orders of the President. The men who are loitering around their own neighborhoods in the evenings and in the wee hours of the morning are potential criminals according to this reasoning and police should arrest all of them as a measure to deter crime.

In a matter of days, the police report that several thousand have been arrested across the country. While many of these men accosted were eventually allowed to go home the following day, there is a report of one in Quezon City who was allegedly beaten and tortured, and then killed while in police custody, and a couple of call center agents accosted on their way home in the wee hours of the morning. But the shock and awe effect of the drastic measure has been properly delivered to the target demographic and it has since reverberated across the urban metropolises of the country.

There is an obvious geographic target where this most extreme practice of state power is now being expended and it is not new to the victims. The same urban poor communities under attack in the drug-related killings are now again the focus of this most recent draconian measure. When organized members of this sector attempt to secure government housing, elite police commando units are sent to thwart their justified moves. Meanwhile, there are no accounts of police roving in gated subdivisions and other gentrified areas of the city to arrest those who are night strolling, having a night out, or just plain gallivanting. Why is this government continuously terrorizing the urban poor?

The pretext of this latest move supposedly is the rising and rampant criminality in the country according to the president, a problem that should have been resolved in his costly drug war that he promised to get rid off in his first six months in office. The murder of a public prosecutor in broad daylight by one such drug-addled “tambay” recently has been a timely excuse to once again clamp down on the urban poor while conveniently ignoring the other prominent leads. The said promising young and idealistic prosecutor was handling cases involving high profile personalities. While it is an admission of the failure of their extreme measures against drugs, this renewed attack on the urban poor ultimately responds to a developing situation.

It has been six months since the TRAIN law or Duterte’s Tax Reform Law for Acceleration and Inclusion has been in effect. It can be said that the full effect of the law among the different income classes in Philippine society have been experienced and felt by this time. Even by government’s own estimates, it was predicted by the Department of Finance that Filipinos with the lowest incomes are sure to be affected. What are already meager incomes will further be reduced by the rising prices of basic commodities and fuel, once these new government taxes are levied.

Ibon Foundation estimates that 17.2 poor Filipino families are affected by the inflationary effect of the tax measure, many of whom reside in these urban poor communities under attack. The institution notes that the inflation rate as of May 2018 has been recorded to be the highest in the past six years. The prices of commodities have increased from 15 to 20 pesos which may not seem much for the middle class income earner. But for the poor who eat from hand to mouth, these increases have great impact on their family’s dialy economic survival.

The burden of these new government taxes are made even more painful by the runaway behavior of world crude prices and the weakening value of the Philippine peso. Wonder why there are reported manufacturing companies who are closing down or firing their contractual workers wholesale causing the labor unrest from Bulacan to Laguna? These are all possible consequences of the developing economic crisis that the Duterte administration is currently facing.

And what has been Duterte’s political response to all these economic challenges to his administration? Drawing from the political playbook of his idol, Marcos, his recourse has been predictable and shrewd. Fearing the inevitable backlash from the railroaded tax reform law from the sector that is most affected, fearful also of the demands for justice from the thousands killed in urban poor communities in the name of his failed drug war, he is transforming these settlements as virtual garrisons through his police and military. The recent move to hoard jobless men loitering in the streets should be seen from this perspective.

What Duterte does not realize is that he is merely stoking the growing fires of discontent and anger among those that he and his government have regarded as less than human and disposable.


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