President Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte shows the list containing government and police officials allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade to the members of the Wallace Business Forum during a dinner in Malacañan Palace on December 12, 2016. (Rey Baniquet/Presidential Photo)

THEN CANDIDATE Rodrigo Duterte described himself as a “socialist” and a “leftist” during the May 2016 campaign. He hasn’t made the same claim since, and, despite his appointment of two presumed leftists to the Cabinet, there isn’t a shadow of socialist thought or principle in either his statements or his emerging policies.

What the entire country has been getting since Duterte assumed the presidency, in addition to the usual profanities, is a mulish obsession with drugs, drugs, drugs. It’s as if the trade in illegal drugs and drug abuse were the country’s only problem, and the one single thing that defines existence in these 7,000 islands of 100 million people.

Noticeably absent are meaningful initiatives to realize the pledge to end poverty and corruption. A visit by the Secretary of Health to socialist Cuba to look into how that country managed to develop a universal health care system that’s the envy of many countries has come and gone without any visible impact on reforming the Philippines’ own profit-oriented, mostly privately-run health care system, in which whether an individual lives or dies depends on his or her capacity to pay.

Neither has anything been done so far to put some substance into a declaration that the country has to develop a State-controlled steel industry so the country can industrialize like its neighbors Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China. Despite his unstoppable urge to rant and rave over the littlest issue, not a single syllable has issued from Duterte’s lips on the need for a land reform program unhampered by the gaping loopholes of past programs that have allowed what has been described as the worst land tenancy system on the planet to persist.

State ownership and control of the most crucial sectors of the economy, private ownership of which has prevented their being focused on addressing poverty and providing adequate social services such as health care and education, is at the heart of any attempt at socialist development.

Hopes were high in the early days of the Duterte regime that the resumption of peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), should the talks continue to the discussion of social and economic changes, given Duterte’s declared socialist predisposition, could yield agreements on the adoption of semi-socialist reforms such as a low cost universal health care system and free education up to the tertiary level.

Duterte’s declaration that he would pursue an independent foreign policy — which the NDFP supports and has been identified with socialist states, but is merely sound policy in today’s world — was also thought to usher in a new era in Philippine foreign relations,

Those hopes have since been dissipated by the focus on the “war” on drugs and its current and impending costs. Even Duterte’s “independent foreign policy” has foundered on the shoals of that “war,” US approval of which, he has implied, will shape the country’s relations with its former colonizer, which is surely a confused appreciation of the state of the world today and what economic and political forces shape the conduct of foreign relations. (Like Duterte, his phone pal US President-elect Donald Trump also disdains human rights and has declared that he approves of torturing suspected enemies of the United States.)

But the most disturbing cost of the Duterte “war” on drugs has been the number of individuals killed in police operations and by alleged vigilantes: over 5,000 so far and counting. Included in this number are both the innocent as well as small-time drug pushers and users who have surrendered and expressed their desire to reform.

He has belatedly promised to look into extrajudicial killings (EJKs). But rather than hold the police to account, Duterte has repeatedly declared that he will protect the police from prosecution. His latest statement went as far as to assure policemen who may be accused of crimes related to the anti-drug campaign that he “will not allow” them to go to jail. The implication is that a policeman charged in court for, let us say, the extrajudicial killing of a drug suspect, can depend on Duterte to prevent his conviction. The president of the Philippines is practically saying that he will interfere with court proceedings by presumably using his influence to make sure that even those guilty of EJKs are not imprisoned.

Duterte has also declared that lawyers who defend individuals accused of drug-related crimes should be held accountable for accepting such cases. The Constitutional right of the accused to representation and the lawyer’s obligation to see to the realization of that right would be, in the eyes of the regime, criminal offenses, in the same way that Duterte himself has not only accused human rights defenders of shielding criminals — he has even threatened them.

The regime’s lawyers, and probably Duterte himself, have apparently forgotten — or have never realized — that human rights are so-called because they are inherent in every human being and inalienable, and have been so recognized in civilized societies since the Enlightenment, which has been a part of the universal human legacy for nearly three centuries.

Socialism itself is a child of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on the human right to social justice through the democratic control of the means of production (land, factories, etc.) in a society founded on reason. Reason also dictates observance of human rights, which include the right to life and the presumption of innocence.

It should be evident that what we’re witnessing is a regime of unreason, and what the country is going through light-years away from enlightenment or socialism, despite the efforts of those right-wing groups opposed to both Duterte and the Left to make it appear that what the former is doing is socialist and even communist.

Like the devil citing Scripture, even the most conservative has been known to use the vocabulary of reformers and revolutionaries.

In the early 1900s a politician named Benito Mussolini was a leading member of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). But he opposed the PSI’s position of neutrality in World War I and was subsequently expelled from the Party. He denounced the PSI, and founded the National Fascist Party, under the auspices of which he soon assumed dictatorial powers.

In the name of national progress and the Italian people, Mussolini committed Italy on the side of imperial Japan and Adolf Hitler’s Germany during World War II. The Italian resistance eventually overthrew and executed him, but not before he had ruined Italy.

In more recent times, a Filipino politician twice elected to the Presidency claimed the reform of society as his intent in establishing a dictatorship. By the time he was through “saving the Republic,” among other costs the country had lost almost an entire generation of its best and brightest sons and daughters to his prisons, torture chambers and killing machines, from which Philippine society has yet to recover.

The lesson from both instances is the same: the politician disguised as a reformer who sees only the symptoms rather than the roots of society’s ills can readily morph into the exact opposite of what he claims to be. The alarm bells should be loudly ringing in this hour of national peril.

First published in BusinessWorld. Image from PCOO.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *