Today is one of the most awaited time in the Philippine political season when the President reports the achievements of his administration to 100 million Filipinos. It will be the last time for President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to present his administration’s accomplishments coming from his last five years stint and his plans for the remaining months of his term.
The War on Drugs
Out of his many promises, his flagship campaign, the war on drugs will surely be highlighted as among his legacies and will be received as a positive in the eyes of his horde of supporters. But for the critics, dissenters, and victims of the drug war, it is a failed attempt to curb drug proliferation and succeeded only in killing small-time drug peddlers.
According to official government figures, members of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency killed 5,903 individuals during anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016, to September 30, 2020.
But human rights groups estimated that there have already been at least 30,000 war on drugs related deaths, including killings outside police operations that were made to look like a part of the anti-drug campaign.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet described the war on drugs campaign as “widespread and systematic” where numerous reports said that men in uniform were connected to the killings and have violated engagement protocols.
Diminution Of Human Rights And Democracy Under The Regime
Under his term, the very concept of human rights and the right to life were brutally demonized by his communication strategists and cohorts, and troll farms that peddle fake news and information. The democratic space has been restricted and forms of critiques and dissent were not tolerated. Senator Leila de lima, a staunch Duterte critique was jailed. ABS-CBN was closed. Maria Rezza of Rappler was harassed with lawsuits. The number of lawyers killed under the current regime is highest among the time of other presidents.
Further, the Philippines has been consistently named as one of the worst places in Asia for attacks against environmental defenders. Under the Duterte administration, it has become even deadlier as the Philippines ranks high, second in 2017, first in 2018, and second again in 2019, as the deadliest country for environmental defenders according to Global Witness Reports.
The passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill is the biggest and almost the last nail in the coffin of our democracy. The fear of possible red-tagging sends 37 petitions filed against the law to the Supreme Court.
Hope From Duterte’s Promised Changes Dies
“When the current President assumed the post, many among the CSO’s thought he will be an ally for our environmental advocacy. Inside me though, I have great doubt. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Now, after five years I am sure he is not what he valiantly proclaimed as he is. His most recent action against the environment was the reversal of an important section in Executive Order 79 passed during President Aquino’s time, imposing a ban on the issuance of new mining permits. By lifting the said ban, the environment again becomes vulnerable to the abuse of big businesses which are into resource extraction,” Yolly Esguerra, National Coordinator of the PMPI – Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. said.
A member of PMPI, a Davao-based environmental and development NGO, “As far as IDIS is concerned, we are disappointed with regard to his policies for the environment. During his first years as President, he was very firm about his position regarding extractive projects, i.e., mining. However, before the end of his term, the SMI’s Tampakan Mining Project was surreptitiously given an extension. With the election fast approaching, we hope that he makes policy changes that would leave a mark on environmental protection,” Atty. Mark Peñalver, Executive Director of Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability said.
Failing the Covid-19 Pandemic Response
With the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippines plunges deeper, becoming among the countries in Southeast Asian with the worst economic growth. The Philippines ended the year 2020 with its worst economic performance since the country began releasing growth data just after World War II in 1947. The country’s gross domestic product shrank by 9.5% last year. The lockdown strategy and its military approach to curbing the pandemic did not help control the covid spread, but instead the economic activities of the country.
The lockdown strategy and its military approach to responding to the pandemic did not help control the spread of COVID-19. It halted instead activities of people from all walks of life and bungled the support system for the poorest of the poor who are in the informal economy and failed to give attention to support the small and medium enterprises which could have saved our economy and livelihood of people.
“Deepening poverty, increasing food insecurity, killings of IP leaders, closures of Lumad schools and continued environmental destruction from mining operations are some of the many pressing issues of indigenous peoples’ communities during the past 5 years since President Duterte came into power. COVID-19 has exacerbated their vulnerability, marginalization, and inequality in relation to access to health care services and access to food, nutrition, and livelihoods. Responding to the basic needs of indigenous peoples, respecting their rights, and working collaboratively with them should be given priority by this administration,” Fr. Jong Sabuga Executive Director of Indigenous People’s Apostolate based in Cagayan de Oro said.
The government’s response is chaotic and lacks a clear-cut comprehensive plan to get us out of the pandemic, manifesting in their ever-changing policies that confuses and give mixed signals to all sectors of society. National and local government units are continuously in a “state of dialogue” on what to do next and what right policies to implement, a reflection of mediocrity from one of the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown with the total number of cases at 1,548,755 and 27,224 deaths, and 1,467,269 total recoveries as of July 26, 2021
Despite the plea of many sectors in the health sector, lawmakers, and civil society organizations, to sack the DOH Chief, the President is deaf and mute. As the medical health workers heroically take on the cudgel to stop the pandemic, within the bound of their logistical and technical expertise, there is minimal support to the health sector, as they cry out for unreleased additional pay, more health workers, more contact tracers. These are being responded to even slower than how a snail or turtle moves forward.
Luckluster Action To Defend The Country’s Sovereignty From China
It has been five years since the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims over China’s on the West Philippine Sea. No substantive actions, or with firm resolved to protect it has been initiated. Only dilly-dallying pronouncements, that swings to and fro, either in the favor of the Philippines or for the good of China. The President even publicly belittles the claim saying it is just a paper that can be thrown to a wastebasket.
This might be the last time that we are going to hear and see President Rodrigo Duterte on the podium of the Philippine Congress. Will there be a redeeming announcement given the seeming downtrends in the most important aspects of the nation’s life – economics and livelihood of people, health system and rising COVID-19 cases. Will he announce a much more comprehensive plan for the pandemic? Will he articulate a less cowardly position on the West Philippine Sea? Will he have a change of heart in dealing with his critiques?
This is his last redeeming center stage. We hope that he will steer towards pro-environmental policies, upholding human rights and protecting our territorial claims, giving rightful social services and sustainable livelihood to the most vulnerable sectors, competently responding to COVID-19, and promoting a path towards peace. We fervently pray that these will be put into his agenda, for one final hoorah during his last year’s term. Can miracles still happen?