How Duterte won the elections, how long will public optimism last, on being the first “Left” Philippine president: An interview with Prof. Joma Sison

I would bring my cross-talk style magic back in my well-timed return to this paper by throwing serious and cross-talk style questions to Kabataang Makabayan and Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison (JMS).

JMS is also a professor of Political Thought, Duterte’s teacher in the subject. Analysts have been interviewed here and there on every turn in the news nowadays, but here is an interview with a political analyst who did not just go by the title for media interview credence—he is author to a most comprehensive analysis of the nature of Philippine society and the solution to root out society’s ills.

The primary topics that would be discussed are the following:

  • The interesting aftermath of the 2016 Philippine national and local elections;
  • the interesting national situation under the possible government of democratically-elected and first “leftist” President Rodrigo Duterte:
  • the perspectives of the legal mass movement and progressive party-lists; and
  • some primary possibilities for under the Duterte government.


1. Is this concluding election the most interesting electoral exercise in Philippine political history despite the presence of the same, old election problems?

JMS: What is most interesting in the 2016 elections is that the presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte was not afraid to say that he was Left and socialist and he was elected by a landslide vote.

2.Why was it possible for Rody Duterte to capture a landslide lead, if not yet an official victory in what we should have called the noisiest and ugliest national elections in Philippine history?

JMS: Duterte won by a landslide because he rode on the people’s clamor for change and he was clear and strong in opposing the Aquino government, corruption and criminality. He was sure that the Aquino regime was already thoroughly discredited.

3. He has not really done anything yet that you can describe as the greatest political game-changer, except to run without a strong party machinery, verbally condemn the oligarchs and win the elections.Why did Duterte capture the so-called “protest votes” against the “Daang Matuwid” government of the outgoing President Noynoy Aquino and presidential candidate Mar Roxas and against the dominance of the local ruling elite and big business interests if Senator Grace Poe had the opportunity to do so?

JMS: As I have already said, Duterte was clear and strong against the Aquino government and in particular against Aquino and Mar Roxas. In comparison, Grace Poe was gentle and careful about the Aquino government. There was even a time when she said that she would continue the matuwid na daan and have Aquino as her anti-corruption adviser.

3. How was Duterte able to overcame the possibility of widespread cheating and the media playing up of issues against him such as human rights abuses and his alleged links with the CPP-NPA-NDFP, etc.?

JMS: The cheating scheme of Aquino and Roxas was well anticipated and exposed effectively and, most important of all, countered by preparations for nationwide uprising in case of electronic fraud. Thus, the US and the oligarchs had to choose between allowing the ruling party to cheat and risking a huge popular uprising on one hand and stopping the cheating scheme and later on subjecting the winner to the usual neocolonial and neoliberal financial and political control on the other hand.

Duterte was able to counter historical claims against him for alleged human rights violations by stressing the people’s current demand for the elimination of corrupt officials and criminal syndicates engaged in prohibited drugs and kidnapping for ransom. He also presented the image of a peaceful and progressive Davao City. The Red scare tactics and false corruption charges also failed because these were carried out late in the electoral game by notorious political prostitutes like Trillanes.

from Kilab Multimedia
from Kilab Multimedia

4. Why the so-called “Duterteismo” style of centrist-leaning populism did become so popular and catchy with the majority of the people including Filipino migrants and even sections of the middle social strata and big business interests?

JMS: Indeed, Duterte mixed his statements to please the big D & E crowd as well as the ABC group. His main line for every one was quite popular: condemnation of the Aquino government, its corruption and failure to stop criminality. He downplayed anti-imperialist and anti-feudal issues. He made some slip-ups like cursing the Pope together with traffic jams, the threat to kill unionists in business islands and the so-called rape joke. But he was quick to apologize and explain himself further.

5. Did the Aquino government underestimate Duterte’s surging popularity trend at a certain time?

JMS: Aquino and Mar Roxas and their yellow gang overestimated themselves and the power of their propaganda and pork barrel. With their self-delusion and arrogance of power, they became blind to the surging popularity of Duterte until they conceded defeat on May 10.

6. Would the possibility of cheating surface and prosper in favor of Mar Roxas in the canvassing in Congress?

JMS: The Liberal Party congressmen and senators can no longer reverse the Comelec count. They cannot be foolish enough to ignite a popular revolt against them. In fact, most of them are ready to join or coalesce with the Duterte party. Mar Roxas himself has conceded defeat.

7. Poe belatedly criticized the Aquino government’s shortcomings that fanned the mass disillusionment with the “Daang Matuwid” slogan, thus acknowledging it in the last minute as the main reason behind Duterte’s surging popularity. What do you think are the major shortcomings of Poe’s electoral campaign? Did she play up her 9-point common program with MAKABAYAN in the course of her campaign?

JMS: As soon as she prevailed over the disqualification cases, Grace Poe had ample time to do what Duterte successfully did, categorically and strongly opposing the Aquino government. But she persisted with her gentle approach towards the Aquino government until it was too late to change line and style of campaign. If she took the strategic line of opposing the Aquino government, she would have also played up her 9-point common program with MAKABAYAN to surpass Duterte. But she did not. In contrast, Duterte was never afraid of Red scare tactics by attack dogs like Trillanes.

8. President Aquino once stated that he is ready to lead the supposed fight for “democracy” against a so-called Duterte “dictatorship” when it would be put in power. But now, he backtracks by saying that he is ready to give his unsolicited advice to Duterte when he would be officially proclaimed as president. Is he serious when it comes to preaching on democracy and giving advice to democratically-elected leaders? Should Duterte hire Aquino as one of his political advisers?

JMS: Aquino, Butch Abad and other yellow rascals are liable for plunder in the disposition of public funds. It is a matter of duty for Duterte to have them prosecuted, detained and tried for plunder. Duterte himself has also said that Aquino and Trillanes are liable for treason for making a deal with China to take over the Scarborough shoals. Traitors and plunderers deserve to be arrested and imprisoned. Aquino can no longer pretend to fight for democracy. Both the Marcos and Aquino dynasties deserve to be ended.

9. There are signs of readiness for the big business, the Catholic Church; the US, Australian, and Singaporean Embassies, and the Chinese government to cooperate with the incoming Duterte government. How do you address their openness to cooperation with Duterte?

JMS: They have respective interests to look after. It is in their interest to express openness to cooperation with Duterte. It is his call to evaluate and deal with the approaches of various interested parties.

10. What does the outcome of the neck-to-neck vice-presidential race between LP’s Leni Robredo and KBL’s Bongbong Marcos mean to a Duterte presidency? There are so many things at stake in this race that could create interesting and controversial possibilities, including threats of impeachment where the vice president would take over and also threats to a military coup.

JMS: It is in the tradition of reactionary Philippine politics that congressmen and senators of whatever party tend to join or coalesce with the new president and his ruling party. It is normal practice for a president to give a job to the vice president even if he or she comes from a different party. Duterte can easily secure himself from impeachment, unless he commits grievous mistakes detested by the people.

Even while running for the presidency, Duterte gained the support of many retired and active military and police officers. Now that he is president, he is far more powerful than before as commander-in-chief. The threats from discredited characters like Aquino and Trillanes amount to nothing. No vice president can easily threaten a president with a coup.

11. What would be the national situation under the incoming “leftist” Duterte government? Would Philippine politics be interesting this time?

JMS: There are factors and conditions far larger than the president of a semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system. The ever worsening economic and social crisis of the world capitalist system and the domestic ruling system and the rise of he revolutionary movement can destroy Duterte if he fails to navigate the crisis and does not take advantage of the opportunities to make a just peace with the revolutionary movement and build a government of national unity, peace and development.

Philippine politics would be interesting if there is a government of national unity against US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism or if the armed revolution advances further because the basic problems of the people are not being solved by the reactionary government.

12. What are the basic socio-economic problems that would the outgoing government leave to the incoming government? Do you see any prospect of social justice and people’s democracy under the incoming government?

JMS: The outgoing Aquino regime has aggravated and deepened the problems of underdevelopment, unemployment and poverty by serving the interests of foreign monopoly capitalism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. The incoming Duterte government can avail of the offer of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to make agreements to uphold national sovereignty, people’s democracy, social justice and all-round development.

Ka Parago tribute march in Davao city

13. I see signs of public optimism that the incoming Duterte government would bring sweeping and drastic changes in the Filipino nation. When would it last?

JMS: The people expect so much from the Duterte government and are eager to support it in doing what is in their best interest. It remains to be seen whether the Duterte government will fulfill the expectations of the people. I cannot say how long the public optimism will last because the Duterte government has not yet been inaugurated and has not yet started to negotiate with the NDFP.

14. I believe that a possible “leftist” Duterte presidency would be a good and interesting opportunity for the Left to popularize the people’s agenda and push him to adopt or play it up. What would be the substantial items in the people’s agenda-to be in his first 100 days as president?

JMS: As far as the NDFP is concerned, the unfolding of Duterte will occur through the peace negotiations and related events. As far as the legal democratic forces like BAYAN are concerned, they should call on Duterte to realize the program of BAYAN. They should meet him to present the people’s agenda in his first 100 days as president. In my conversation with him last April 25, he was proud to say that he had always been a member or adherent of BAYAN. In that sense, he considered himself Left and wished to be the first Left president of the Philippines.

15. Would the Duterte government pave the good way for the resumption of peace negotiations between the government on one side and the NDFP, MILF, and MNLF on the other?

JMS: Duterte is committed to the resumption of the peace negotiations with the NDFP as well as with the MILF and MNLF. As candidate, he was the most vocal about peace negotiations and the need to achieve a just and lasting peace.

As emissary of Prof. Jose Maria Sison and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, Fidel Agcaoili of the NDFP Negotiating Panel hands over to newly-elected President Rodriigo R. Duterte a bag full of Sison's recent books and NDFP publications as tokens of friendship and promoting the peace process | Photo from Jose Maria Sison's Facebook page
As emissary of Prof. Jose Maria Sison and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, Fidel Agcaoili of the NDFP Negotiating Panel hands over to newly-elected President Rodriigo R. Duterte a bag full of Sison’s recent books and NDFP publications as tokens of friendship and promoting the peace process | Photo from Jose Maria Sison’s Facebook page

16. Are you ready to return to the Philippines for the resumption of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations? This is the most anticipated question about your presumptive role under the Duterte government.

JMS: I am ready to return to the Philippines after the substantial grounds for peace negotiations have been agreed and acted upon. I am interested in the soonest release of all political prisoners and in an immediate mutual ceasefire. I will go to the Philippines to promote the peace negotiations. But the negotiations of comprehensive agreements on economic, social and political reforms still need to be done abroad.


17. What would be the major role of the Left movement under the Duterte government? How do you see the prospects of legal struggle, armed revolution, and reaction at this situation?

JMS: All forms of struggle, including armed struggle, are valid so long as there are yet no comprehensive agreements on economic, social and political reforms and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces. But there can be a temporary mutual ceasefire while the comprehensive agreements are still being negotiated. The negotiations of these can also be accelerated and the legal forms of struggle can support these negotiations.

18. This is the last question before the people would witness the ascendance of the Duterte government: if he seeks your unsolicited advice on basic issues, what is your advice to him?

JMS: I am always ready for conversation with President Duterte and his emissaries. We can advice or make suggestions to each other. My position is clear about upholding national sovereignty and territorial integrity, people’s democracy, social justice, development through national industrialization and genuine land reform, expanded free public education and patriotic and progressive culture. The best advices to the Duterte government from the NDFP will come through the peace negotiations. ###

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