Months have passed since Duterte first made the proposition that there is a concerted effort being made against him by the mainstream Left, the Liberal Party, international governments and even terrorist organizations intended to destabilize his government to serve as a prelude for his eventual overthrow.
His administration’s response has been comprehensive. On top of operating a host of online warriors ready to curb online opinion in major social media sites, government agencies have also supported pro-Duterte coalitions like the Citizen’s National Guard which have received the patronage of the Department of Justice and the Public Attorney’s Office in terms of resources and machinery. According to DOJ Secretary Aguirre, one of the lead conveners of the CNG, destabilization is by definition dissent, indicating that any opinion or position that is contrary to that of the administration is essentially made to throw the presidency off balance.
He broke down the pillars of the Liberal Party in every province to ensure a hegemony of political power for PDP-Laban, the party to which he is the national chairman and demonized the old guards of the Liberal Party to prevent any possibility of a political comeback. In fact, his effort to absorb the LP’s members into one supermajority in government has been so effective that he’s even been able to get the Romualdez’ and the Petilla’s, mortal enemies in the Eastern Visayas political scene to jump ship from their past allegiances and into the PDP-Laban pool, something that the Arroyo and Aquino administrations have miserably failed in.
In terms of controlling the media, steps have been taken to prevent live coverage of his public speeches so that he can go on with his incoherent tirade and personal rants without any fear of being quoted and have his statements sensationalized the following day. For those major media outfits that do cover his blunders, he’s made sure to publicly shame and attack- playing down their credibility or downright accusing them of conspiracy to drive a dent into Malacanang’s popular image.
But among his greatest thrusts, owing largely to the fact that their capacity for on-ground mobilization is of considerable strength, is Duterte’s falling out with the underground leftist movement in the Philippines. The ongoing war against the longest running Maoist rebellion in the world has resulted into a piling number of defeats for the Armed Forces- news of successful tactical offensives being waged by the New Peoples Army is surfacing everyday in almost every region of the country. The mounting defeats of a demoralized army has perhaps prompted his military advisers to lobby for the termination of peace talks with the National Democratic Front, who has been investigating abuses committed by the military under the framework of international humanitarian law, as a member of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the NDF and the GRP. The administration’s exodus from the talks means that the military can finally consider itself free from the bondage of agreements made such as the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law which has been used as a basis for alleging crimes by the military. Although technically the GRP is still compelled to abide by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) which protects key persons involved in the talks, even after the formal termination itself, the military is not bound by any moral code to uphold agreements it already considers null and void despite its post-termination validity. For the commanders of the AFP, it is sufficient that the possibility of an alliance between rebels and the incumbent regime has been brought to a close.
Duterte’s branding of Maoist rebels as terrorists is an added bonus to the AFP. This declaration opens all sorts of opportunities for the military in their pursuit of communists, employing methods of killing and torture which otherwise would have been frowned upon had they been hunting down rebels with a legitimate cause. As it so happens, there is no uproar on the manner with which terrorists are dealt with even from the most vigilant of international human right groups and benevolent states. And although the military has never really payed that much consideration to the rules of war in the past, they may now act with significantly less trepidation and caution.
Enemies on all fronts
By destroying the yellow opposition, discrediting the media, mobilizing government agencies to fund administration support groups and declaring an all-out war against the Left Duterte thinks he can overcome the impending tremors to his regime. But the fact of the matter is, he has declared war with so many people and groups that he essentially faces enemies on all fronts.
Unfortunately for Duterte, amid successfully dismantling the national machinery of the Liberal Party the remainder of the Aquino-led faction in government is also composed of some of the richest and most powerful people in politics: The Cojuanco-Aquinos of Tarlac, Roxas of Negros, Drilon of Panay and a unique alliance with Antonio Trillanes who apparently is part of a small-yet influential- clique inside the Armed Forces which may be the reason why he isn’t being subjected the full wrath of the administration unlike in the case of Leila Delima who was arrested earlier this year on drug wraps. Their unholy alliance with pseudo-progressive groups like Akbayan makes an available running point for politicians who may consider leaving PDP-Laban in case the tide of popular opinion turns sour for Duterte.
Discrediting national media outlets may have helped water down a number of his senseless remarks as nothing more than ”irresponsible journalism”, but information is information and while his communications team can filter what the media can catch him say when he goes off topic in his speeches, he can’t stop them from documenting the failure of his policies or the lack of it.
As for the Left, well based on the history of our country, no one has ever won against them since the time of their re-founding in the 1960s.
In other words, if Duterte manages not to get ousted in the next five years he can expect charges being filed left and right, maybe even in the International Criminal Court for his brutal drug war which has already claimed tens of thousands of lives. Surveys have indicated that his popularity is steadily decreasing and by the time his term ends, if government doesn’t resolve broad issues like traffic woes, extrajudicial killings and mining concessions, PDP-Laban will just be another Liberal Party come elections in 2021.
So Duterte has to prepare and in fairness to him, he’s doing a good job at it too.
Cementing the support of the ruling class and the military
He’s maximized his ASEAN Chairmanship by winning the favor of economic giants like China, Japan and the United States to augment the national budget and fund his mega infrastructures to make major construction companies’ mouths water with excitement. His emphasis on the service sector by asking congress to remove constitutional barriers on foreign investment means an influx in foreign capital for all sorts of ventures that brings the upper strata of the business class to heel. He’s secured donations from the United States (101 million dollars to be exact) last week to fund military exercises, and counter-insurgency operations to impress the ruling faction of the AFP. House Speaker Alvarez and his other puppets in Congress have even drafted a bill bloating the starting salary of police officers and soldiers from a measly 14,834.00 pesos all the way up to 29,668.00 pesos and potentially that of special police officers and generals on top off promising thousands of free housing units as benefits to combatants.
Checks and Balances?
Securing alliances also means removing constitutional checks and balances. The Supreme Court has the power to strike down policies and laws incoherent with the constitution via judicial review. The Ombudsman can investigate cases of graft, plunder and corruption among government officials, ranking employees and other public servants. The Commission on Human Rights can look into abuses committed by state agencies like the military or the police against unsuspecting civilians and communities in conflict zones. These three agencies are some of the most important constitutional safeguards built in to supposedly protect the Filipino people from the excesses of government power. But how are they faring against the Duterte regime? Are they able to temper the whims of a would-be fascist dictatorship?
While Duterte has a Supreme Court that arguably has the same political inclinations as he does, interpreting the law rigidly and without respect to who that law is for, there are some of its members who have been fond of issuing dissenting opinions against the majority. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who is one of the youngest magistrates in the Supreme Court has had a reputation for voting against Duterte’s support for the bail of Enrile, the factual basis for the declaration of martial law and even the legitimacy of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos’ burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, all of which have had a pivotal role in shaping the image of Duterte to the public. On top of voting against the aforementioned moves, the 57-year old chief justice still has more than a decade left before she is required to retire at the age of 70 which is problematic for a President so attuned to the idea of having no one question his decisions.
Today, the chief justice is on the process of being impeached by the House of Representatives. Looking into what we already know about the proceedings, its clear that the complainant Lorenzo Gadon has no personal knowledge with respect to the bases he cited for filing the case. However, with statements from the House Justice Committee threatening to order the arrest of the chief justice and the hand Malacanang plays in the charges themselves, its clear that the fishing expedition presently ongoing in the House committee is nothing but a plot to take down a powerful voice from inside the judiciary, a voice who has had also spoken out against President Duterte’s war on drugs.
In the middle of this year, Congress approved 1000.00 Php for the 2018 Budget of the Commission on Human Rights and Duterte himself called on Chair Chito Gascon to resign. Similar steps have also been taken on the Office of the Ombudsman after Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales ordered the investigation of Duterte’s alleged ill-gotten wealth in the past.
It is very clear now that Duterte is intent to bring these constitutional bodies to heel for their opposition to his programs.
Doomed to Fail
Realizing he cannot raise approval ratings without stopping his war on drugs, and because he relies so much on the PNP for support because of the Trillanes-led divide in the AFP, he is forced to resort to a last ditch effort in saving himself and quite possibly his family. Whether it takes its form in a revolutionary government or the declaration of nationwide martial law is still unclear, but whatever the case, we can expect something of that nature is bound to come up and it will be the driving force which will be his own undoing. Unlike Ferdinand Marcos, who sustained nationwide martial law decades due to unrivaled support from the military, Duterte cannot claim he has the same level of control as the late dictator. Even the AFP backed Magdalo party has reservations with how Duterte runs the country. And Cory Aquino kept her revolutionary government long enough to preserve her a six year term because she just won the support of millions of Filipinos. Duterte must realize he doesn’t have either of those key elements, and unless he doesn’t find a way to attain such he isn’t staying in power for long.
In their quest to monopolize power, fascists end up only having themselves. Had Duterte realized the key in staying in power is when you receive the approval of the people, no amount of international pressure or no number of coup d’etats would succeed against him. Had he stayed true to his socialist path, he would have found himself surrounded by the people ready to defend him had the real destabilization plot taken place.