The start of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte's first year in Malacañang was characterized by a hopeful nation yearning for change. The Filipino people, indigenous peoples included, came up with the national people's agenda for nationalist and progressive change in terms of economic and social policy, national sovereignty and foreign policy, peace and human rights, governance and fighting corruption.
This legislative agenda included a separate section on urgent demands of national minorities, such as genuine recognition of ancestral land rights and right to self-determination. Today on the president's second State of the Nation Address (SONA), CPA joins the rest of the Filipino people in assessing the first year of the Duterte presidency, as the nation's optimism of a pro-people and pro-poor presidency quickly diminished with the unfolding of events throughout the past year.
UNCHANGED POLICIES, CONTINUING CRISIS
Duterte's first SONA takes place against a backdrop of crisis: the war in Marawi and Martial Law in Mindanao, stalled peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), rising death toll in his 'war on drugs' and a worsening economic crisis.
While Duterte tried to brand himself as “leftist” and “socialist” and promised to pursue an independent foreign policy, his administration's economic and political direction showed otherwise. Neoliberal policies continued to ravage the poor through relentless privatization of social services and public utilities, deregulation, liberalization of imports and increase in foreign loans. NEDA's 48 flagship projects will be funded through foreign debt amounting to at least PhP1.6 trillion. The introduction of tax reforms in the form of higher VAT on goods and services as dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will further deplete the take home pay of ordinary workers who are already suffering from low wages, contractualization and high cost of living.
Duterte is unmoved by the rising death toll of his war on drugs and Oplan Tokhang. In just one year, reports of killings or "salvagings" reached as high as 8,000. News of ordinary people being extra-judicially killed, without the benefit of due process has become the new norm. While big-time drug lords and smugglers can bail themselves out, poor suspects and their families, even children, who were killed whether accidentally or intentionally are regarded as mere collateral damage. Most alarming is the callousness of the government and even the president himself, to defend erring police officials to the point of reinstating them back to active duty such as in the case of Supt. Marcos and 18 other policemen who were implicated on the murder of jailed drug suspect Mayor Espinosa.
UNPEACE AND UNREST
The situation also remains unchanged in the human rights front.
We oppose the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, much more its extension which was recently approved by Congress. Instead of addressing the root causes of the people's resistance and armed struggle, the State further stretches its iron fist to further attack people's rights and aggravate the conditions that breed more conflict. The declaration of Martial Law further worsened the situation of the people of Mindanao who are already experiencing human rights violations due to continuing State militarisation. Under Martial Law, the AFP carried out military campaigns against communities not even related to the crisis in Marawi. Attacks on schools, displacement of civilians, extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and other violations escalated. We are alarmed as well that the Duterte cabinet is heavily militarized with the presence of 59 former AFP and PNP officials.
Militarisation still persists in territories of national minorities. In just one year, 24 indigenous peoples and Moros were slain by the regime, on top of the continuing terror sown by paramilitary groups especially in Mindanao. 400,000 indigenous peoples have been displaced by military operations, including those caught in the war in Marawi. Ancestral lands of national minorities remain plundered and exploited by big businesses of mining, energy, tourism and plantations.
In the Cordillera, the onslaught of foreign mining corporations has become more imminent after the non-confirmation of former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez. The suspension of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation and Benguet Mining Corporation is likely to be overturned by Sec. Roy Cimatu considering the recent proclamations of the president in front of big businessmen whom he collectively refer to as oligarchs. Known as the watershed cradle of the north, the Cordillera remains under threat of massive environmental devastation with the application for new mining explorations covering 428,046 hectares. There are also 81 approved hydroelectric power plants with 16 pending approval.
Military combat operations heightened nationwide since Duterte's February declaration of all-out war against the revolutionary forces, and the Cordillera was among the targets of the AFP upon Duterte's directive to “flatten the hills”. The conduct of war of State security forces consistently violated human rights and international humanitarian law in all of the Philippine government’s national internal security policies and programs. Militarization, implemented by the AFP Northern Luzon Command, intensified in the Cordillera resulting to a week of forced evacuation in Namal, Ifugao, indiscriminate air strikes using phosphorus bombs in Malibcong, Abra that accompanied ground operations by the 24th IBPA under the 7th Infantry Division and heavy military operations by the 50th IBPA in Kalinga under the 503rd Brigade where cases of violations include the divestment and destruction of properties, and the physical assault of civilians and barangay officials. In the region alone, 14 cases of illegal arrest and detention based on trumped-up charges were documented, and there is intensified harassment, surveillance and vilification of people's organisations and community leaders. Ten political prisoners are currently detained in Mountain Province, Ifugao, Kalinga and Baguio City.
The above is not only data but indicators of the failed promises of the Duterte regime to take steps for substantial reform. It is also indicative of the reality that, for indigenous peoples, defense and assertion of the right to self-determination is the certain way by which land, life and honor can genuinely be upheld and protected. Such is self-determination thru genuine regional autonomy realized and not by the continuing attempts of traditional politicians to create an autonomous Cordillera Region, now thru HB 5343. Related to this, any attempt by the president to pursue federalism must not undermine the Cordillera as homeland and territory of Cordillera indigenous peoples.
THE CHANGE WE NEED
We will recognise that positive steps were made on land reform, free tuition, free medicines including the increase in SSS pension. BUT these are overshadowed by the more urgent, pressing and fundamental issues that need to be addressed such as the continuation of the peace talks and the implementation of substantial reform in political and economic policies of government. We therefore challenge the president to unfold proactive initiatives in these concerns, and not unleash more anti-people and militarist policies. Nationalist and progressive change is what the people earnestly need. An end to the war and Martial Law in Mindanao is what we need. The resumption of the peace talks between government and the NDFP is what we need. We challenge President Duterte urgently—there is no better time than now to act on these for the welfare of the people. #