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Philippines: Right time to work with the Left?

Leaders endorsed by Philippine Left had joined the new Duterte government

By Renato Perdon – THERE is mixed feelings among the greater part of Filipinos with the presumptive presidency of former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Political commentators have various opinions as to what a Duterte administration would be, particularly on issues affecting the Philippine Left. It has been observed that Duterte has indeed for the longest time been a good friend of the Left.

Europe exile Jose Maria Sison himself was quoted to have said ‘The local revolutionary forces in Davao City consider Mayor Duterte as someone they can negotiate with and make reasonable agreements with.’

This and other events that surface during the election campaign resulted to many who regarded Duterte as a pragmatic politician that maintained good relations with the Left, whose organised strength is most formidable in Davao City and the entire Mindanao island in general.

At this stage, there are still a lot of questions not clear on Duterte’s stands on various is sues which are not of coherent vision and are often contradictory. Early in the campaign period, he was praised by progressive peasant organization the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or KMP for his statement promising land reform and government support for farmers.

But KMP immediately criticised him when he expressed agreement with 100 percent foreign ownership of lands in the country. He was even praised for his view on contractualisation by the labor sector but soon criticism followed him for stating that he would stop unionism in the Philippines. It was even published in newspapers that Duterte would kill KMU unionists if they refuse to heed his call.

This conflicting stand on issues government and the country made one writer regarded him as congenial to both the Philippine Left. One political observer even cited that Duterte is the strongman accused of encouraging death squads in Davao City but at the same time also a staunch defender of human rights of activists.

From the National Democratic Front (NDF) 10 nominees, Duterte offered the positions of department secretaries to Rafael V. Mariano for Department of Agrarian Reform, Silvestre Bello III for Department of Labor and Employment, and Judy Taguiwalo for Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Another astute political observers believed that Duterte is not a one-man revolutionary, either of the Left or of the Right. His character is akin to those familiar with dominant politics in the Philippines.

He is a traditional elite politician who is exceptionally pragmatic in his dealings with various forces in Philippine society. He is firm only on a single issue: peace and order. All his contradictory stands on different issues make sense only when one look at the issues from his own perspective.

The presumptive elected president Duterte has generated considerable interest in international media mainly due to his colourful, outlandish, occasionally vulgar language, and his very tough line on criminality.

Generally, it is the belief that the rich, poor, and middle class Filipinos share a fear of crime, particularly drug-related, and have rewarded their votes to those who are seen to be tough on criminals.

One most prominent policy position of Duterte is to change the Philippines into a federal states targeting the possibility of reducing the economically restrictive positions of the constitution. Positive reactions from the public are seen on his stand on increased number of years of education, recognising of poverty as prevalent, farmers shift into more high-value crops, and endorsement of peace deals with Muslim separatist.

In international affairs, Duterte is generally misunderstood, particularly on his stand on the West Philippine/South China Sea issue but pledges to try to implement any decision of the UN Tribunal currently hearing the case.

The Asia Foundation through Steven Rood, its representative in the Philippines advised everyone to look beyond Duterte’s flamboyant rhetoric to discern where policies might head and the people appointed implementing these policies.

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