A legacy of infamy too extreme to forgive or forget. This is the conclusion of different civil society groups and grassroots people’s organizations in the Philippines as the six-year term of President Rodrigo R. Duterte enters its final months and the countdown for the May 2022 elections begins.
The spokesperson of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance) Renato Reyes said that Filipinos are desperately looking forward to the end of Duterte’s term, saying that “enough is enough.”
“These last five years under Duterte has been a living nightmare for the poor and working people. Duterte reneged on all of his promises to bring peace and progress to country. His macho style of leadership and strong fascist tendencies have led to massive numbers of human rights violations and the severe deterioration of the economic well-being of Filipinos. We are in a worse state than ever,” said Reyes.
Reyes said that the Duterte administration concentrated its use of public funds to intensify militarization and so-called “peace and order” schemes while speeding up the implementation of economic policies that led to social service cuts and trade liberalization at the expense of local producers and manufacturers.
“It’s mainly the police and military institutions as well as corrupt politicians with business interests who have benefited from this government. There is a raging pandemic, massive economic decline, widespread hunger and joblessness, rampant human rights violations, large-scale corruption, and all-around loss of sovereignty. The entire country has been run to the ground by a fascist ruling clique,” he said to Maritime Fairtrade.
Drug killings worsened during pandemic lockdown
Members of the international human rights community concur with Reyes’ conclusions. On September 20, the Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines (INVESTIGATE PH) released the results of its fact-finding mission, focusing on developments in the last two years, while also referring to the previous three.
According to the report, human rights violations in the Philippines worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic as the Philippine National Police (PNP) ramped up its anti-drug operations targeting civilians. As of August 2020, deaths resulting from police raids in communities and homes of suspected drug addicts increased by an average of 50 to 76 percent every month. This is comparison with the months that preceded the lockdown that began in March 2000 and continues to this day.
The fact-finding mission that was initiated by solidarity groups in Australia said that the government also used the pandemic as a pretext to intensify other forms of political persecution such as attacks against freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression.
INVESTIGATE PH also pointed out how the government timed the amendments to the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and passed them in July 2020 while Filipinos were still under lockdown and unable to come out en-masse to join protests. It said that based on its findings, instead of ensuring that there are adequate health services and economic relief for Filipinos, the government implemented a military program.
Department of Health mishandled public funds
Dr Edelina dela Paz, HEAD chairperson, said that it is “repulsive” that while the health workers continue to be overworked and the public hospitals are under siege by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos infected with Covid-19 or suffering from other illness, the Department of Health (DOH) and attached agencies such as PhilHealth are being exposed of mishandling public funds.
De la Paz is the chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), one of the biggest progressive groups of medical frontline professionals in the Philippines.
Dela Paz said that as head of the DOH, Secretary Francisco Duque III should explain how the P67.32 billion (US$1.3 billion) in public funds given to the DOH to use to address the Covid-19 pandemic was mismanaged as pointed out by the Commission on Audit (COA).
The audit department had earlier released its findings that a massive P11.89 billion (US$235 million) of the health agency’s funds were unutilized. It was also discovered that P95.67 million (US$1.89 million) worth of medicines were in the DOH’s keeping, most of which were expired or nearly so.
Dr Omid Javier Shiamard, a new doctor and a spokesperson of HEAD angrily said that Duque should face medical frontliners and explain how this happened.
“So many nurses, doctors, and other health workers have fallen ill and died in the conduct of their duties fighting Covid-19 in the hospitals because of overwork and the lack of private protective health equipment (PPE). Then we hear those billions of dollars that could’ve been and should’ve been used to improve the health response and help us was left unused?!”
As of this writing, Duque remains head of the health department despite widespread calls for his resignation. Duterte has repeatedly refused to fire the official, frequently coming to his defense.
Increased joblessness, rising inflation
In the beginning of his term in 2016, Duterte vowed to address unemployment issues and help improve the quality of life of workers. The opposite, however, has happened.
Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement) said that even before the pandemic, the employment situation was already dismal, but this worsened when Covid-19 hit.
“We have been under continuous lockdown for the over a year and a half. All this time, food essentials have become even more expensive, and utility rates are the same. Workers and their families have been forced to tighten their belts to cope, but when millions lost their jobs, even the belt tightening did not help,” said KMU secretary-general Jerome Adonis.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has reported that earlier in June 2021, some 3.76 million Filipinos lost employment as a direct result of the pandemic. Unemployment rates increased 14.2 percent during the same month from 12.3 percent the previous May 2021. These statistics are the highest in 15 years.
As for the costs of commodities, the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) said that the country’s inflation rate practically doubled from the beginning of the pandemic. It was pegged at 2.5 percent in March 2020, but quickly rose to 4.9 percent the following August the same year. This inflation rate remains the same as of August 2021.
“Households are reeling from the high prices of commodities. Rice is even more expensive now, adding P3.00 (US$0.06) to its price per kilo. Beef and pork prices have doubled, now at P270 to P300/kilo (US$5.62-US$6.24),” said the CWR in a report.
Based on monitored prices, the prices of vegetables, fruits, and other basic commodities also continue to rise. Adding more to the injury, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) gave manufacturers and stores the go signal to implement a three to five percent increase in price. This in turn caused a chain reaction of increases in the prices of noodles, milk, canned meat and sardines by as much as P2.25 (US$0.04).
A woman leader representing an urban poor community in one of the biggest cities in the Philippines decried the price hikes.
“The government remains indifferent to what we poor people are going through. We’re already living hand-to-mouth, and the rising costs are killing us. It’s not just Covid-19 that we have to worry about, it’s dying from hunger,” said Tess Arboleda.
Misogyny of the president
Finally, critics of the Duterte government said that another infamous “legacy” that Duterte leaves behind is his misogyny which, they said, normalized gender-based abuses both in government and in society at large. The president has frequently made “jokes” about rape, shooting women in the vagina, and about his romantic liaisons with different women.
He has even made a pass at a woman mayor during an event and in front of the crowd said to her, “If it were me, why would I ever break up with you? I will really grab and hold on to your panties if you try to leave, even until the garter snaps.”
Observers said that the president’s antics comprise a series of violations against women and send the wrong signal to men – that it is okay to disrespect women and call it a joke. Case in point, the women’s group Gabriela People’s Network said that during the first year of the Duterte administration alone, reported rape cases numbered 9,943. This is more than half of the annual rape cases in the last 10 years.
By 2019, the reported cases of violence against women (VAW) were pegged at 19,743 a year, a shocking 74 cases every day. Gabriela pointed out that these are just the reported cases as many more remain unreported as victims of VAW are often afraid or ashamed to come forward.
Gabriela secretary-general, Janice Lee Monte, also called attention to the fact that the number of cases of domestic abuse has also risen under Duterte.
“It seems that more men think there’s nothing wrong to physically abuse their wives and partners given that the country’s own highest executive has such a low view of women,” she said.
She cited recent data from their own research that spousal or partner violence committed against women in lower decile incomes is at 31.6 percent. In comparison, VAW cases are at 18.3 percent among women from highest income households. Monte added that Duterte is a cut and dried misogynist.
A history of attacks against women
The findings of INVESTIGATE PH corroborated this charge. In the last five years, Duterte has issued tirades and launched legal attacks against various influential women in the country, undermining their abilities and very persons.
Among the targets of the president’s persecution were Vice-President Leni Robredo, Senator Leila De Lima (who remains imprisoned with unproven charges of drug peddling and other accusations), journalists such as Maria Ressa and Pia Ranada, deposed former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, human rights advocate and nun Sister Patricia Fox, as well as various women leaders of grassroots groups such as Amihan or the National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines.
The Presidential Commission on Women (PCW) has been helpless against Duterte’s misogynistic acts despite the existence of the Magna Carta of Women and the Philippine government’s being a signatory to the groundbreaking United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women or CEDAW.
Duterte has also admitted to being guilty of sexual assault himself when, in his youth, he molested one of the maids in his household.
The worst president
Duterte won the 2016 presidential polls by 16 million votes with majority of these coming from the poorest sectors. Nineteen months into the pandemic and with no end to it in sight, it would be interesting to know how many of these 16 million have ended up regretting their support.
“Filipinos are demanding accountability. We cannot just shrug off the enormity of the current health, economic and political crises. Duterte is the worst president this country has ever had the misfortune to have so far. We will make sure that this is how history will remember him,” said Bayan’s Reyes.