Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Duterte: Steadfast in adversity

A BATTLE in Marawi. Collapse of the peace negotiations with the communist rebels. And the continuing brutal crackdown on illegal drugs.

President Rodrigo Duterte found himself in dire straits this year as he had to deal with more than a couple of major crises.

Add to these the corruption allegations thrown at his family.

Despite these, Duterte has remained steadfast.

In his December 12 speech delivered at Malacañan Palace, he reassured his countrymen: "We will continue our unrelenting efforts to purge corruption, criminality, illegal drugs and terrorism. As we protect our children from these menaces, we will also prepare them for the crucial task of building on our past gains."

Drug war: Success or failure

When he assumed office in June 2016, Duterte set for himself a deadline of three to six months to end the drug menace.

When he failed to meet his target date, he asked for another six months, saying the problem in immense and intractable.

After another six months, the drug menace was far from over.

On December 6, Duterte asked for a one-year extension.

"On drugs, I hope to finish the problem, maybe just (give me) another year," Duterte said in an event held at Malacañan Palace.

His anti-narcotics crackdown has raised concerns among human rights advocates locally and internationally, as the number of suspected drug offenders slain by either vigilantes or responding police officers continues to rise.

Protests against alleged extrajudicial killings, sparked by the death of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, erupted nationwide as reports of other children being killed under the guise of the drug war surfaced. Kian was kneeling and pleading for his life when police shot him. Police alleged, after the fact, that he was involved in drugs based on social media accounts.

To allay the public's fears over the killings, Duterte twice stripped the Philippine National Police (PNP) of its lead role in the drug war and directed its leadership to cleanse its ranks and focus on curbing criminality.

Twice, also, Duterte restored the PNP’s jurisdiction over the campaign.

In January 2017, the police was removed from the drug war after anti-drug operatives were implicated in the killing of Jee Ick-joo, a Korean businessman who was abducted from his home in Angeles, Pampanga and later found dead inside a car parked within Camp Crame, the PNP’s headquarters.

On October 10, 2017, the President issued a directive designating the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as the lead implementing agency for the drug war. The police was told to keep off the anti-drug activities.

In less than two months, on December 5, the police was again asked to return to the drug war and provide "active support" to PDEA.

Duterte's mouthpiece, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr., believed that the Chief Executive's efforts to end drug proliferation bore fruit this year.

Roque, in an interview on December 21, claimed that Duterte's drug war was "hugely successful."

"You know, the figure that is not disputed is that crime rates went down by 35 percent (because of drug war). To me, that's a major accomplishment," the presidential spokesman said.  Police have reported nearly 4,000 drug suspects killed while human rights groups alleged that there were more and a large percentage was extrajudicial.

"It's been hugely successful. I think the communities are safer and our young people are better protected against drugs. What can I say, other than the President really wants the most efficient means of conducting a war against drugs,” Roque said.

Terrorism still a threat?

Amid the anti-narcotics war, Duterte also has to deal with the insurgency problem and the threat posed by armed groups that have purportedly pledged fealty to global terrorist group Islamic State (IS), including the Maute group that laid siege to Marawi City.

The Marawi crisis erupted on May 23, with the Maute terrorists burning and taking over the city’s structures and taking hostages along the way following a failed government operation to arrest terror leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Several hours after fighting started, Duterte declared martial law and suspended the privilege of writ of habeas corpus in the entire Mindanao for a period of 60 days, or until July 22.

Congress extended martial law until the end of 2017 and further to December 31, 2018, despite the end of combat operations in Marawi.

The military declared an end to the war in Marawi on October 23, less than a week after the deaths of purported IS emir in Southeast Asia Isnilon Hapilon and local terror leader Omar Maute. 

Martial law was extended in a bid to wipe out all armed groups that pose security threats to Mindanao, including the communist New People’s Army (NPA), and ensure the smooth rehabilitation of the city.

In requesting Congress to extend martial law, Duterte warned against looming threats posed by Islamic State-inspired Da'awatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masriq, other like-minded local or foreign terror groups, armed lawless groups, and communists now turned terrorists as the government doubles its efforts to rehabilitate Marawi.

Roque said the Commander-in-Chief's "best performance" was when his administration was able to defeat the pro-IS extremists.
"I think everyone agrees that the best performance of the President so far is in the manner by which he dealt with the international terrorism in Marawi. And it's going to be better because we will show the world  how fast we will rebuild Marawi," he said.

Is the peace process with the communists dead?

Apart from terror threats, Duterte also faced an apparent rift with members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) after he scrapped the peace dialogue with them.

Duterte, who has admitted to "conceding too much" to meet the communists' demands, cancelled several meetings set this year between the government peace panel and the CPP's political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

In February, Duterte declared the suspension of talks with the communists, stressing the "peace with the communists might not come in this generation."

But a month after his announcement, the peace dialogue was revived following back-channel efforts between the two parties.

The talks were again cancelled in May. The government called off the supposed fifth round of talks set on May 27 to June 1, following the "serious challenges" hurled between them.

On July 24, the President said there would be "no more talks" with the communist rebels and stressed that they would be the security troops' "next target" after the Marawi war.

Duterte signed Proclamations 360 and 374 on November 23 and December 5, respectively, which formally terminates the peace talks and brands the CPP and its armed wing, NPA, as a terrorist organization.

No friends or foes in purge

While he was occupied with the problems on illegal drugs and terrorism, Duterte was also busy "stopping corruption" under his watch.

Duterte said no one, not even his allies and family members, would be spared.

This year, the President fired several public servants, including high-ranking officials like former Local Government secretary Ismael Sueno, former National Irrigation Administration administrator Peter Laviña and President Commission on Urban Poor chief Terry Ridon on allegations of corruption.

Melissa Aradanas, a PCUP commissioner and a cousin of his common-law wife Cielito Avanceña, was among those fired.

In a speech delivered on December 12, the President said, "I am stopping corruption in this government. Just maybe for one term, I will give the Filipino a respite of what is usually the source [of corruption]."

Corruption allegations

As Duterte ran after “corrupt” members of his government, allegations of corruption were thrown back at him and his family.

His staunch critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, had revived his allegation first revealed in May 2016 that Duterte pocketed money from illegal transactions and funneled it into several bank accounts.

Trillanes had claimed that Duterte made bank transactions amounting to P2.4 billion from 2006 to 2016.

He also alleged that the then Davao City mayor failed to declare in his 2014 Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth around P211 million purportedly deposited in the Bank of the Philippine Islands-Julia Vargas branch in Ortigas.

Duterte, however, denied Trillanes' allegation and maintained that he would "withdraw presidency," if allegations hurled against him would be proven true. 

Duterte’s eldest son Paolo, incumbent Davao City vice mayor, and son-in-law Manases Carpio, husband of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, were implicated in the P6.4-billion smuggled shabu shipment from China.

The younger Duterte and Carpio have hauled Trillanes to court over this controversy. Paolo has also tendered his resignation as Davao City vice mayor, but the President has yet to accept his resignation. (SunStar Philippines)

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