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Duterte Wants to Grab Land Reform from the NPA

in Countercurrent

by PINKY ANG

On the 31st anniversary of the failed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) last August, President Rodrigo Duterte spewed lies against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA). Preening before the media while giving out Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA), he boasted he would finish the CPP-NPA-led revolution.

But this put-on picture—Duterte distributing CLOA < click >, Duterte tough-talking on Hacienda Luisita < click >, Duterte feigning concern for the future generation caught in the armed conflict < click >, Duterte promising land reform alongside crushing the 50-year people’s war < click, click >—is phony and old (he isn’t the first president to pose for it). It also defies logic and history.

Save for a fleeting period when he was talking peace with the communists, Duterte has done nothing but the opposite of land reform and national industrialization.

On the verge of signing with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) what would have been a landmark agreement to redistribute land for free all over the country, he scuttled the talks in 2017. Since then, he has made no bones in taking the well-worn path of his most despotic predecessors in Malacañang.

No Philippine president in history has truly implemented land reform nor attempted to jumpstart national industrialization spurred by a genuine land reform program. On the contrary, their so-called land reform programs sought only to placate the masses even as land remained in the hands of a few. From the bitter experiences of peasants, every land reform program by the Government of the Philippines had more loopholes than grounds to actually distribute land. And even when some eventually got distributed, it somehow got back soon enough to landlords.

Duterte merely continued the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program begun under former Corazon Aquino. Despite decades and a succession of presidents and CARP extensions, it is still far from attaining 100-percent distribution of its already narrowed target. Under Duterte, distribution is at the slowest, poorest pace.

DAR records show that the Duterte administration, in its first three years in office, was able to distribute to farmer-beneficiaries only 91,776 hectares of agricultural landholdings. That’s an average of 30,592 hectares a year. His land acquisition and distribution (LAD) pace was only 8% of that of the Fidel Ramos administration in its first three years. Ramos was top performer among the previous presidents.

Here are the comparative LAD accomplishments of Duterte’s predecessors in the first half of their terms:

  • Corazon Cojuangco Aquino: distributed 452,074 hectares from 1988 to 1990, or 150,691 hectares a year;
  • Ramos: distributed 1,113,019 hectares from 1992 t0 1994, an average of 371,006 hectares annually;
  • Joseph Estrada: distributed 379,905 from 1998 to 2000, or 126,635 yearly;
  • Gloria Arroyo: distributed 313,778 hectares from 2001 to 2003, averaging 104,593 hectares per year;
  • B.S. Aquino III: distributed 320,916 hectares from 2010 to 2012, or 106,972 hectares each year.

Data: Dept. of Agrarian Reform land distribution accomplishment in 2016 to June 2019 is 2,920 hectares on average per month under Duterte,

less than the July 2010 to 2015 monthly average of 8,254 has. reported by DAR under Noynoy Aquino;
9,407 has. under Arroyo in January 2001 to June 2010,
and 11,113 has. monthly average under Estrada.

There is a raging armed revolution in the Philippines because peasants and the basic masses, including sections of the middle class and local small capitalists, thirst for land reform. They yearn for the greater prosperity of industrialization that genuine land reform will naturally stimulate, and for the assured just distribution and sustainability of this prosperity because of the socialist perspective of the national democratic revolution being waged by the CPP-NPA-NDFP.

Over the years, the masses especially the poor peasants have been supporting and joining the NPA because they have seen in its programs and its achievements the solutions to feudal and imperialist oppression. This is the movement that truly promises and will deliver thoroughgoing change for the better.

Duterte is striking a very wrong stance with his CLOA distribution and counterrevolutionary war cries. His threat to crush the people’s democratic revolution is a threat to derail developments in actual land reform being implemented by the peasant-based NPA. It’s a threat as well to delay the country’s national industrialization. This is not acceptable to the Filipino masses who continue to suffer a life of misery under the landlord-comprador and imperialist puppet presidents including Duterte.

Another president who posed with CLOAs amid counterrevolutionary war cries was Joseph Estrada. In Bondoc Peninsula, after a series of successful NPA tactical offensives there 20 years ago, he vowed to crush the revolution movement. He became the second president to be ousted through the people’s peaceful direct action.

“WHOLE OF NATION” AS MARTIAL LAW UNDERCOVER?

By this time, as commander-in-chief, Duterte has already issued one too many orders— declaring and thrice extending martial law in the whole of Mindanao; declaring a state of emergency to quell “lawless violence” and issuing Memo 32 to deploy more troops in Samar, Negros island and Bicol; utilizing the so-called “whole-of-nation” approach that harnesses the entire government (national and local) plus civil society organizations in a bid to end the 50-year armed conflict. Clearly though, his actions contradict his boasts against the CPP, which his government shrilly tries to demonize and misrepresent as a puny force being deserted by droves of supposed surrenderers.

But, like the failed land reform program, Duterte’s “whole-of-nation” approach is just another war plan his predecessors have long applied and failed on. It is like the wolf appropriating the voice of the innocent so it can freely enter homes to devour and kill.

Duterte is turning the entire government bureaucracy including civilian sectors into a counter-revolutionary surveillance and black propaganda factory. Its services are being deployed to feed into the coercive military and police troops cracking down on legal democratic mass organizations, and their allies here and abroad. While this government is raining bombs and lies, it is restraining flow of information about the revolutionary movement. It is banning media interviews and coverage of revolutionary groups.

Duterte is trying to revive the monsters of Marcos’s martial law, but not quite succeeding at muzzling the freedom of association and freedom of the press. He goes all-out with K-12 miseducation that’s washing off traces of patriotism and prompts for critical thinking among the youth. All the while he is pushing for military partnership with schools to abet surveillance and intimidation of critical students and teachers.

PR-labeling all these as “whole-of-nation approach,” Duterte dreams about finishing off the CPP-led revolution but only through a one-sided, reality-defying, blood-drenched misrepresentation of life on the ground.

For this brutal fantasy, his office wants to double its intelligence budget to P4.5 billion in 2020, or bloat it to half as big as the total budget of the Office of the President. His minions in Congress seek to add more teeth to the anti-terror law they euphemistically call as Human Security Act. His regime and the US government have agreed to locate a regional training center for combating insurgency and “terrorism” in Cavite. The military consistently receives from the US technical and intelligence support, training and equipment for countering the revolutionary groups.

Yet, amid the Duterte regime’s one-sided diatribes against the CPP-NPA, some truths still inadvertently emerge. Some from his own big mouth. Duterte himself can’t deny the public support for the communist revolutionaries.

After all, he wooed the Filipino voters into electing him president by cultivating appearances of being friendly to the CPP- NPA. His campaign ploy has confirmed that candidates gain popularity by calling themselves “leftist” or “socialist”; by promising peace talks with the communists; and by taking up issues articulated by or identified with the Left. For example, the call to assert Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea vis-à-vis China’s aggressive intrusion into and grabbing of maritime areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones.

Past presidents and presidential candidates publicly pretended to ignore the existence of revolutionary mass bases in the countryside, even when they were impelled to engage in peace talks. They fumed whenever “security concerns” delayed their visits to some locales, when candidates can’t simply enter guerrilla zones. They evaded disclosing the fears expressed by multinational corporations over another government operating clandestinely in the Philippines, which, unlike the reactionary government, calls them to task for their plunder and rights violations.

Perhaps Duterte, who claims to know a lot about the revolutionaries, panicked after he realized that the neocolonial institution he leads wouldn’t tolerate his slight deviation from the usual conduct of puppet presidents. Or, perhaps as a true neocolonial leader of landlord and comprador class (albeit with lesser money in his hands?) he panicked at his first-hand confirmation of the depth and breadth of the Left’s mass support.

Whatever, even when he was firmly following the tradition of imperialist puppetry of those who got to become temporary residents of Malacañang, he still inadvertently slips up, revealing in his ramblings the good things the CPP-NPA have been doing. For example, land reform.

But it would be political suicide for Duterte, or for any local government executive and for the AFP, to say outright that he is against land reform. To “win hearts and minds” and bar more people from supporting the revolutionaries, Duterte and his cohorts have to put deceiving masks to their war plans.

NPA: THE TRUE ARMY OF THE PEOPLE PUSHING FOR GENUINE LAND REFORM

The NPA is largely a peasant army. Its support and troops mainly come from the poor peasants who comprise about 70 percent of the Philippine society. As the army of the revolutionary people led by the CPP, the NPA is waging a revolution against the imperialist stranglehold on Philippine society. It aims to end this stranglehold by dismantling the puppet government that orchestrates and secures it to benefit the landlords and compradors. In the process, the NPA, under CPP leadership, is resolving with ever growing number of people the roots of poverty, landlessness, feudal exploitation, agricultural backwardness and the stunting of industrial development.

Ever since the CPP-NPA-NDFP began waging an armed revolutionary war, it has been pushing for genuine land reform. It is deriving greater strength the more it works to organize and help peasant communities undertake land reform.

The NPA is not just a military force. It is arousing, organizing, and mobilizing the masses. It is starting and helping the peasants into organizing and running the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Magsasaka or PKM (National Peasants Association), and other revolutionary mass organizations based in rural communities.

These organizations conduct campaigns for land reform suited to their capacities. The more masses organized into revolutionary groups the more they could undertake land reform and enjoy its fruits. The more they cherish and bolster the NPA underpinning their successes.

A PKM leader correctly said recently, as the national democratic revolution advances, the PKM shall be able to give more lands to poor peasants. Lands confiscated from landlords and agri-business corporations are given to beneficiaries free of amortization. The CPP-NPA also punishes the most despotic landlords.

Contrast this to the misery of intensifying feudal and semi-feudal exploitation, and one sees the futility of discouraging the masses from supporting the NPA. In time, their level of organization and experience approaches the building of bigger and bolder organs of political power in communities. This may start small with humble benefits, but as a PKM leader said, it is enough for PKM chapters to withstand the hardships and tragedies of counterrevolutionary wars.

In revolution they have hope. And having tasted its benefits even from the early stage of strategic defensive of the protracted people’s war, they would not easily be swayed by phony pictures and declarations.

Thanks to the NPA, the country’s peasants have had a taste of what it’s like to be in a truly democratic government—at least, the local underground government they are building up every day, campaigns after campaigns for land reform. What it’s like to govern themselves, to elect tried-and-tested leaders among themselves, to work the farm sustainably, to share and enjoy its fruits among themselves and not let it become the sole entitlement of landlords, to help plan and execute appropriate farming techniques and technology.

The organized peasants are also doing their share in thwarting the imposition of imperialist-led “reforms” and programs.

The NPA has functioned to truly harness the power of the people in working collectively for each other’s economic and political gains.

“The comrades in the NPA are helping us come up with policies and guidelines in the land distribution, especially on who should be prioritized—those landless and those who lack lands to till,” said Ka Iling, a peasant leader who participated in a local agrarian revolution conference in 2017 held at a guerilla front in the north. It was a joint project of local members of the CPP, the NPA, and the various revolutionary mass organizations in the area.

All over the country, PKM and other collectives of revolutionary groups, without fanfare, have tackled problems of landlessness, conducted land occupation, palit-tanim (changing crops) to have something to eat even as they are forced to plant cash crops. They have struggled to reduce land rent and usurious rates. They have formed cooperatives to work the land more efficiently, buy their needs, and sell their produce lessening the dominance of traders-landlords-usurers.

Almost a million PKM members have benefited from the CPP and the NPA’s maximum agrarian reform program: more than 44,000 hectares of land have been confiscated and redistributed all over the country. Millions of others have benefitted from the campaigns for lower land rent, lower borrowing interest rates, just share in proceeds of harvest, increased farm gate prices, and eliminating traders’ trickery when farmers’ produce are weighed and priced.

Their support services include training and workshops on organic farming, construction of mini dams for free irrigation, installation of hydroelectric and solar or wind-powered turbines for post-harvest drying or processing, among others.

All these and its further development are what are at stake in the counter-revolutionary war waged by the Duterte administration.

THE COMMUNIST REVOLUTION ON A WINNING PATH

Farmers call Duterte a hypocrite for pretending to care about the future generation while doing his best to kill their best prospects today.

He was quoted as telling the CPP-NPA, “We cannot go on this way. We have been fighting for 53 years. Maawa kayo sa susunod (Have mercy on the) coming generation.”

If he was indeed a man of mercy, he could have helped signal the end of armed fighting early into his term. When he terminated the peace negotiations in 2017, the two sides were on the cusp of signing an agreement prompting the Philippine government to implement a genuine land reform.

A clearly-defined mutually coordinated ceasefire would have followed.

As such, even before the massacres occurred in the hacienda land of Negros, or before the killings of peasants all over the country have reached a staggering number of victims (more than 200 as of August 2019 since he became president), the Duterte government could have halted the fighting. For the first time in history, it could have led to the neocolonial government helping resolve the peasant demands which are at the root of the prolonged armed conflict.

Instead, Duterte only confirmed the correctness of the people’s war as means to dismantle the neocolonial government by armed force. His regime has acted true to form in deploying more troops against the peasant-based NPA fighters. Duterte himself acted true to form like the other neocolonial leaders before him. He vowed to sell to highest bidders the fertile lands being defended by the peasants with their very lives.

His agricultural secretary accused the farmers doing bungkalan for survival that they have no rights to the land they should have owned already. He has also been approving with alacrity the appeals of landlords to defeat the farmers’ demands for land distribution. This includes the lands in Hacienda Luisita already ordered for distribution by the Supreme Court.

Duterte admits that “it’s not only about gaining a foothold in those areas,” referring to hotbeds of revolution like Negros, for example. In Sagay City where peasants awaiting CLOAs were massacred by paramilitary troops in October 2018, farmers have been forced to leave and go hungry as troops continue arriving to secure the landlords’ “lawful” ownership. How could the Duterte administration think they could win over these farmers?

Duterte himself admits it is not enough to just bring soldiers to guard the land. “Kunin mo na ang initiative sa komunista (Take the initiative from the communists). What they’re parlaying is land. Eh di unahan na natin. Bigay na natin [ang lupa] (Then let’s move ahead of them. Let’s distribute the land already).”

From the puppet leader who has repeatedly uttered lies and shamelessly admitted to uttering lies, the only true thing he revealed here is that the initiative on land reform is with the communists.

Ever since, the puppet government bowing to imperialist masters has only been reacting to the peasants’ demands for land with bogus land reform programs. The imperialists profit so much from dumping their surplus agricultural products here, while pushing their manufactured products, too. As long as the domestic industries are pushed back and stunted, they have a captive market. The landlord and comprador classes, meanwhile, win big in corruption, buy-and-sell profits, fat contracts and commissions. But the masses grow poorer and hungrier by the day.

Four years ago before Duterte, the poorest 50 percent or 11.4 million Filipino families subsisted on just P15,000 or less per month (P500 or less per day for a family of six). After tax and price hikes amid the lowest wage grants and the worst job generation in the post-Marcos period, the people are definitely worse off today under Duterte. Meanwhile, thanks to his economic policies, the net worth of the country’s richest and the profits of the largest corporations have ballooned.

“Crisis generates resistance,” as CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison titled one of his recent books. The peasantry had launched uprisings and died in bigger numbers before, without the communists to guide them. Now that they have tasted agrarian victories and glimpsed the best future in advancing the national democratic revolution, with socialist perspective, they have hope and will not likely give up on that.

Duterte’s “whole-of-nation” mantra for what he strains to approximate as martial law stands no chance. His human rights record already stinks with blood and many have recoiled from it, even the ordinary people in other countries.
His publicly paid troops who perform services for the landlords, oppress the peasants and the indigenous peoples, will continue to earn the people’s ire and mistrust. Duterte’s minions can conveniently dismiss their war crimes as “shit happens” and “collateral damage”. Before the media, Duterte can shed tears when his troops suffer defeat in legitimate combats with the New People’s Army.

They will keep on getting what they deserve from the people’s army, if they don’t stop standing in the way of genuine land reform, democracy and real prosperity for the majority of the people. #

#PeasantMonth
#ServeThePeople
#JoinTheNPA

—–
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How Duterte Serves Two Imperialist Masters and Offends the People Until His Ignoble End

in Statements
Jose Maria Sison, NDFP Chief Political Consultant
July 15, 2019

The tyrant Duterte recognizes that the US is still the most dominant imperialist power in the Philippines and does not to dare to offend it in any serious way. The US is privileged and well-entrenched by a comprehensive range of unequal treaties, agreements and arrangements that give it full-spectrum dominance (economic, social, political, military and cultural).

It is not true that the Duterte regime has become independent of the US. It is even more untrue that it is opposed to the US. It is a puppet regime dependent for its tyranny and mass murder of poor people on a military and police force indoctrinated, trained and armed by the US.

Duterte has proven his puppetry to the US by scuttling the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations and pledging to it the destruction of the revolutionary movement. He has assured the US of charter change to allow US and other foreign corporations 100 percent ownership of land, natural resources in all types of businesses.

Thus, the Duterte regime continues to receive military aid under Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines in the name of “anti-terrorism” and beyond US congressional oversight. It still maintains close economic and financial relations with the US, the IMF, World Bank and the WTO and subjects the Philippines to a neoliberal policy regime.

The US estimates that Duterte is still more of an asset than a liability and that there is yet no urgent need to change him as when Marcos outlived his usefulness to the US in 1986. The US keeps in reserve the issue of human rights violations as potential cause for junking him when the Filipino people rise up to a certain high point and when he thereby becomes more of a liability than an asset.

The US appears to tolerate Duterte in trying to enrich his own family and cronies by taking commissions and other payoffs from onerous loans and overpriced infrastructure projects from China and by keeping shady relations with the Chinese criminal triads engaged in illegal drug smuggling and in gambling.

But the US has no choice but to consider seriously how threatening to its interest is China’s drive to turn the Philippines into a debt colony and field of investment and to have at the same time the artificial islands China has built in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as its military bases in the West Philippine Sea.

The US observes that China is making a big headway into the Philippines with the collaboration of Duterte who has exposed himself as a traitor and paid agent of China by deliberately refusing to enforce the judgment of the Arbitral Tribunal in favor of the Philippines under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea against the false ownership claims of China over 90 percent of the South China Sea.

The exposure of Duterte as a traitor and paid agent of China is one more potential cause for the US to instruct the pro-US military and police officers to withdraw support from him at the time and circumstances it chooses.

The broad masses of the Filipino people are already outraged by Duterte’s failure to take the appropriate diplomatic steps to consolidate the legal victory of the Philippines against China since the judgment of the Arbitral Tribunal on July 12, 2016. They are deeply insulted by Duterte’s constant attempt to scare them with war by China.

Duterte has failed to follow the advice of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio for the Philippines to make agreements with Vietnam and Malaysia to define the boundaries of their extended continental shelves and to ask the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to confirm the boundaries of the Philippine continental shelf west of Luzon.

Duterte has also failed to go to the UN and the appropriate courts to complain against the transgressions of China in the Philippine EEZ in the West Philippine Sea and to demand justice and compensation for the building of artificial islands and the destruction of the marine environment.

Instead, Duterte does not conceal his self-serving and traitorous scheme to surrender to China the rich marine resources as well as the trillions of dollars worth of oil, gas and other mineral resources in the Philippine EEZ in the West Philippine Sea. These resources are vital for the sustenance and development of the Philippines.

It is in the interest of the US and all other countries of the world to have the freedom of navigation in the high seas of the South China Sea and to secure from any harassment, interference, threat or attack from Chinese military forces that are illegally occupying the artificial islands built in the Philippine EEZ.

It is a source of wonder why the Duterte regime and the US government have not combined strongly enough to complain against China’s violation of the sovereign rights of the Philippines and have not formally invoked against China the US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty even only as a warning or deterrent to any act of aggression.

As much as the US has not shown any inclination to wage war with China over the West Philippine Sea, China has so far shied away from threatening to wage war with the US and the Philippines because this would completely negate China’s line of peaceful rise. China is also known to fear internal economic and political instability, especially at this time that the US has instigated a “trade war” with it, abandoning the many decades of US-Sino collaboration in pushing neoliberal globalization.

There are times to focus on issues against US imperialism. And there are also times to focus on issues against Chinese imperialism. Thus, there is currently a focus on the issue of the West Philippine Sea vis-a-vis China. This is an urgent issue that cries out for a patriotic stand and action. Otherwise the corrupt Duterte regime would have a free hand in selling out Philippine sovereign rights to China. It is necessary to assert the Filipino people’s sovereign rights under the UNCLOS and international law and it is even permissible to avail of US-Sino contradictions in order to uphold such sovereign rights.

It is safe to predict that the Duterte regime will meet an ignominious end as a result of its gross and systematic human rights violations, its acts of treason in puppetry to two imperialist powers, unprecedented corruption, economic plunder and so many grievous crimes that are now inciting the people to rise up in defense of their national sovereignty and democratic rights and in pursuit of social justice and all round development.

As in the fall of the fascist dictator Marcos in 1986, the disgraceful end of Duterte is bound to come when gigantic mass actions of the people shake the ruling system from base to rafters and his own military subordinates withdraw support from him either upon instruction of the US and/or upon their own sense of patriotism and desire to shake off the indignity of being the instrument of Duterte’s tyranny and treason. ###

Duterte is Exposed as a Traitor and Paid Agent of China

in Statements
Jose Maria Sison, NDFP Chief Political Consultant
June 17, 2019

https://is.gd/Op9wtk

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio is legally, politically and morally correct in demanding that the Philippines and the Duterte regime take a strong stand against China’s aggressive act and demand compensation and punishment for the captain and crew of the vessel that rammed the Filipino fishing vessel, F/B Gemvir 1.

The failure of Duterte himself to make the required strong stand against the aggressive act and to demand compensation and punishment from the criminal rammers exposes him as a traitor and paid agent of China and takes the lid off a whole barrel of treasonous crimes that Duterte has committed in betrayal of the national sovereignty and national patrimony of the Filipino people.

As I have long pointed out, Duterte and his close relatives and high subalterns have privately benefited from commissions on high-interest Chinese loans and overpriced infrastructure projects at the official level and at the same time from the massive smuggling and distribution of illegal drugs by the Chinese criminal triads at the unofficial level.

Duterte is engaged in double puppetry. For the purpose of keeping the loyalty of the US-lining military and police officers, he retains all the treaties, agreements and arrangements that make US imperialism the most dominant power in the Philippines. At the same time, he serves as a double traitor focused on the quick and secret income from commissions by Chinese corporations and payoffs by the Chinese criminal triads.

While Duterte and his ruling clique profit enormously from their Chinese connections, they sell out to China the sovereign rights of the Filipino people over the West Philippine Sea and and its marine and mineral resources and make the Philippines a debt colony of China through high-interest loans and overpriced infrastructure projects.

Thus, they do not make any demand for China to vacate the artificial islands it has built and militarized in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, to pay rent for occupancy of those islands and to pay compensation for the damage and destruction of the marine environment. The Duterte regime is traitorous and corrupt. It is shamelessly subservient to Chinese imperialism.###

—–
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Enter the Dragon: CHINA-DUTERTE REGIME? NOT QUITE YET

in Mainstream
by Vida Gracias

There is a growing perception that President Rodrigo Duterte is already distancing his administration from the United States and increasingly cozying up to China. Is it now apt to assume that a China-Duterte rather than a US-Duterte regime is shaping up?

Consider the following:

  1. Duterte has indefinitely set aside the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s August 2016 ruling that upholds the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea and negates China’s so-called nine-dash-line sovereignty assertion over almost the entire South China Sea.
  2. The Duterte government has not protested China’s rapid construction, militarization, and occupation of artificial islands within the Philippine EEZ, largely seen as a “creeping Chinese invasion.”
  3. Duterte is also practically conceding to China a large part of the country’s oil, gas and other natural resources in the West Philippine Sea through an offer of joint exploration with a 60(Philippines)-40(China) sharing arrangement.
  4. While China has supposedly agreed to grant the Philippines billions of dollars in loans and aid, this entails us paying an interest rate 3,000% higher than what Japan has offered.
  5. A large influx of Chinese nationals has been entering the country, many of whom have been caught engaged in the illicit drug trade, online gambling and other dubious activities.
  6. Duterte has repeatedly been publicly quoted as declaring: “I will not go to war with China.” He has even joked about the Philippines “turning into a province of China”. He continues to regard China’s leader Xi Jinping as a “man of honor” even as the latter has reneged on his promise not to build military structures on the contested reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

Undoubtedly China is a rising imperialist power challenging the U.S military and geopolitical dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, with designs over the Philippines not just to exploit its natural resources, trade and investments but also its strategic geographic location in the region.

China is delighted that Duterte has opted to develop warm relations with it, in contrast to his predecessor, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, who took China to court over the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea. However, more than two years into the Duterte presidency, and despite China’s increasing economic influence here, it is quite far from dislodging the US as the No.1 imperialist power in the country’s internal and external affairs.

The fact remains that, for all his bluster about pursuing an “independent foreign policy” and “breaking relations with the US,” Duterte, along with his pro-US cabal of economic and security advisers, remains the reliable chief puppet of US imperialism. His tirades and insults against the US sound no more than the cry of a spoiled brat, resenting the latter’s criticisms of his bloody “war on drugs” and tying up measly military assistance with human-rights conditionalities, against which he is most sensitive.

Duterte’s overtures to China and Russia – both welcomed with open-arms by the latter hitherto “enemy” powers — are calculated and calibrated risks at the expense of Philippine sovereignty. He is currying favors from the two powers to gain more support in both his bid to build up his regime’s military capability and to expand trade relations. It may appear that he is playing off one imperialist power against another, but shrewd Duterte knows where his bridges could be burned.

He cursed former US President Barack Obama, calling him “son of a whore,” because the latter had criticized his brutal war on drugs. He reacts vehemently whenever his dismal human rights record is riled, then threatens to veer away from the US (“I will scrap the VFA and EDCA!” “Out with the American Special Forces in Mindanao!” “Stop the Balikatan exercises!”). He would rake up old hurts, both personal (“I was abused as a child by an American Jesuit;” “I was not allowed entry by US immigration”) and political (“Return the Balangiga bells!” “Remember the Bud Daju massacres!”).

U.S. MILITARY ASSISTANCE

Yet, when US President Donald Trump came into power and praised Duterte, the latter’s verbal attacks started to wane. Trump promised Duterte increasing military assistance under the recycled “Operation Enduring Freedom” of George W. Bush, renamed as “Operation Pacific-Eagle Philippines.”

This came at about the time US military planes and drones provided aerial-bombing “assistance” in the five-month Marawi war beginning in March 2017, far eclipsing the China aid of 2,000 AK47 rifles, and for which Duterte was fulsomely grateful. This gave the US further reason to intervene in Duterte’s “anti-terrorist” campaign and revved-up counterinsurgency program. The succeeding days saw Duterte canceling the GRP-NDFP peace talks and the AFP carrying out an “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA.

Quite a number of times during Duterte’s two-year rule, the US turned over loads of war materiel (carbines, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, etc.) to fight terrorism and insurgency. Its US Special Forces have remaained in Mindanao since 2009, disregarding Duterte’s pronouncements in 2016 that they should leave. Obviously, while Duterte’s foul mouth and downgrading of the US may have ruffled some feathers, US officials didn’t take his outbursts seriously.
Because beneath his rants run long-held institutional ties and abject Philippine subservience to the US, Duterte cannot feign ignorance of US control over the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Since its inception, the AFP has been trained, armed, and aided by the US. US military presence dates back to 1898 and continued after the US “grant” of Philippine independence in 1946. The 1951 US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty remains in effect.

“From January 1, 2017 to the present, US grants funded the delivery of military equipment worth over Php 5 billion (U$95 million) to the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” the US Embassy was quoted in an Inquirer.net news report on August 16. The military equipment included unmanned aerial vehicles, armored vehicles and planes, surveillance platform for the military’s C-130 cargo transport planes.

In the same news report, the US embassy claimed, “The Philippines is by far the largest recipient of US military assistance in the region (Asia-Pacific), supporting the AFP’s modernization goals through a variety of programs and initiatives.”

Before Duterte cuddled with China, his patriotism was suspect. While lambasting the US he took no action to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), as he had vowed to do. By their own account, about 8,000 US troops and Filipino soldiers participate in the annual Balikatan exercises as part of these agreements. Though the Supreme Court has upheld these agreements as constitutional, it is within his executive powers to initiate their termination. He can also coax his allies in the Senate to facilitate the process.

Duterte may appear like he is his own person but the US surely gets its way and sets the direction of his administration’s policies. Oftentimes he would rely on his national defense chief, his national security adviser and his coterie of generals for decisions such as the bombing of Marawi, the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, and the termination of the peace talks with the NDFP. He has also publicly acknowledged that the security cluster in his cabinet, including his economic team, are “AmBoys” and that he does not interfere in their work.

The American presence is all over town, so to speak, and most potent in the military. The US holds the largest military complex in all of Southeast Asia. No other imperialist country, not even China, can match it for now. Even in the economic arena, China’s strength in the Philippines has yet to be felt compared to other foreign trade and investment partners. What Duterte achieved in his trips to China and meetings with Xi Jin Ping are still mere pledges and agreements. Though worth billions of dollars, these have yet to come to fruition.

NEOLIBERAL POLICIES

While the US has become only next to Japan in terms of trade and investments in the Philippines, US interests are substantial enough to effect the further liberalization of the economy.

From 2007 to 2017, US investments in the Philippines amounted to US$4.26 billion compared to China’s US$84.74 million. Direct trade with the US also reached US$168.58 billion from 2006 to 2016. In May 2018, Forbes.com reported no major investments by China in the Philippines despite warm relations. The bulk of investments in 2017 came from traditional trading partners such as US, Japan and the Netherlands as well as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Trump’s meeting with Duterte in Manila last year also kicked off negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement between the two countries. This comes along well with the charter change proposals pending in Congress to lift economic restrictions for foreigners such as granting them 100 percent ownership of land and public utilities.

With the US holding a tight grip on the country, specifically on the military, Duterte can only remain subservient to US imperialism. The regime will remain US-Duterte whether or not it suits him. He can trash talk the US all he wants, but any false move risking relations with the imperialist power could cost his presidency, even his life – as he himself has been saying lately. He could go on playing his China card against the US, but this won’t change his being a chief US puppet. Yet it can make him a China lackey, too.

If he pursues his double-dealing scheme, he would also double the whirlwind he would soon reap. Certainly, the Filipino people will not sit by idly as Duterte trades the country to his old and new foreign masters.

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