The PH political situation, according to Temario Rivera

The Philippine Reporter, June 14, 2019
Posted by CenPEG June 19, 2019

Jockeying has already begun between the big political families for the 2022 presidential elections. Ping Lacson, Sara Duterte, Grace Poe, and one of the Villars are among those mentioned as interested in running.

By QM Borja

Professor Temario Rivera, a former chairman of the Department of Political Science in the University of the Philippines (U.P.) in Diliman, Quezon City, discussed the Duterte regime in a forum in New York on May 22.
Currently the Chair of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), a public policy NGO in the Philippines, Rivera has a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He retired as a professor in the International Christian University in Tokyo, and served as Editor-in-chief of the Philippine Political Science Journal for 20 years.

Following are Rivera’s salient points and insights:

The most controversial Philippine president since Marcos, Duterte launched an anti-drug campaign that has killed thousands of persons without due process.

The Philippine National Police or PNP is willing to admit no more than 3,000 killed, but independent monitoring groups, such as the research consortium on the drug killings organized by the Ateneo de Manila University and U.P., estimate the killings to be at least 7,000 since Duterte assumed office in 2016.

What makes these killings particularly horrendous is the impunity with which they are carried out, as President Duterte proclaims that he will defend police officers involved in drug-related actions, even in the absence of clear evidence linking the suspects to illegal drugs.

Duterte has targeted members of the media and civil organizations critical of his administration. There have also been killings of lawyers, journalists, and indigenous leaders of militant organizations, as well as of peasants and agricultural workers, notably in Negros province.

The president has likewise attacked leaders of the Catholic Church who denounce the extrajudicial killings.

And yet in the recent May 17 mid-term elections, the organized political opposition failed to win any of the twelve slots in the Senate.

The victory of Duterte’s Senatorial candidates may be partly attributed to the high net satisfaction rating of the national administration, as surveyed by Social Weather Stations.

But this survey is highly subjective. It is not known if the respondents know about the topics covered. For example, the National Administration got a very good rating about reconstructing Marawi City. However, recent news reports showed that reconstruction has barely started there.

Rivera discussed other factors in the Duterte slate’s victory in the senatorial elections, including vote manipulation, vote buying, and the patronage system. Something to be considered also in the opposition Liberal Party’s lack of success was their lack of interest in an alliance with the Left.

The May 2019 automated elections was marked by an unprecedented breakdown of the automation process with the malfunctioning of thousands of vote-counting machines, corrupted security disk cards, and non-transmission of millions of votes. This has completely put to question the transparency and credibility of the election process.

Duterte has developed economic and political ties with China and also with Russia. The Chinese government’s influence in terms of political support for Duterte and massive loans, and increasing Chinese illegal immigration to the Philippines, are also matters of grave concern.

As for possible electoral financing from Chinese sources, Davao-based Filipino business groups with links to Chinese capital are suspected sources of electoral campaign funds.

Duterte is unique amid the wave of right-wing populism worldwide in that he has openly bragged about the numerous killings carried out in the name of the drug war. At the same time there have been reports of a family member’s involvement in the drug trade.

Duterte seems to have had a modus vivendi with the revolutionary New People’s Army or NPA while he was a long-time mayor of Davao City. He appointed progressives to a couple of cabinet positions early in his presidency.

However, before long, he ousted the progressive cabinet members, despite their conscientious service to the people. What role did pressure from the Philippine military, which he has assiduously cultivated, as well as pressure from the U.S., play in this rightward turn?

Jockeying has already began between the big political families for the 2022 presidential elections. Ping Lacson, Sara Duterte, Grace Poe, and one of the Villars are among those mentioned as interested in running.

Duterte seeks a new Federal system of government, but with very little support from the public as shown by public opinion surveys. He may not necessarily be interested in prolonging his term, but a shift to Federalism will further entrench powerful dynasties in their local turfs, including the Duterte family.

Rivera pointed out that although Duterte’s daughter, Sara, was re-elected mayor of Davao City, Duterte’s candidates for governor and representatives in the Davao provinces, including those from political dynasties like the Floirendos and Del Rosarios, were defeated.

An associate of Duterte who ran for governor of Bohol province, Leoncio Evasco, Jr., was also defeated. Even in the Senate elections, two successful candidates, Grace Poe and Nancy Binay, were not supported or endorsed by Duterte.

An election post-mortem, in explaining the Duterte senatorial slate’s victory, claims that more than 50% of those who lived below the poverty line have risen above it in the last three years, and that many of the latter also say their neighborhoods have become safer and hoodlums who regularly preyed on them have all but disappeared.

But the reduction of those who live below the poverty line seems too big. The comparison of poverty data from the Philippine Statistical Authority in 2015 and 2018 does not support the 50% reduction.

Filipinos in the diaspora, naturally concerned about the future of the land of their birth and of their ancestors, are called upon to support leaders who act in the interest and for the good of the country, not narrow self-interest.

(CenPEG Note: This article was based on Prof. Rivera’s talk, "Duterte Presidency in the Philippines: Problems and Challenges of an Authoritarian-Populist Regime," on May 22, 2019, in New York City. The forum was organized by the Malaya Movement, Philippine Studies Center, and NYC-based Dr. Kenneth E. Bauzon.)

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