What to expect in the year 2020?

To us, church people, we always hope and pray for the best. We always pray and encourage our people to stay strong and leave the sad and bad experiences we had encountered last year. We always look forward for the best in the next 12 months. It will be so because church people must give positive outlooks in the midst of despairs and hopelessness. We are called to become prophets of hope.

Nonetheless, church people must tell the true stories based on the realities in which the people are experiencing every day. Thus, we should also help the people in taking their time to discern and understand on the issues that affect them.

Here are some concerns.

 

  1. The people still live in abject poverty

Even the Duterte regime had recognized that mass poverty should be given a passionate solution. But the government will just opt for “band aid” solutions like “dole-out” assistance to solve mass poverty.

The soaring prices of the basic commodities, joblessness or high unemployment, contractualization, low or lack of incomes and underdevelopment are not given attention and solution by the Duterte administration, despite his clear and vocal campaign promises. The administration actually favored foreign and local companies by providing them tax holidays, more incentives and free tariffs but squeezed the workers and employees to accumulate more profits.

The imposition of heavier taxes on the people due to Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law and other oppressive laws will further worsen the lives of the people. The paying of loans and services of the local and foreign debts will just be passed on to the people.

Last year saw inflation surge to a 10-year high led by a spike in rice prices. Prices of goods went up by 24% or higher. Fares were hiked as well due to the double burden of increase prices in oil and basic commodities. Prices are set to hike again in the new year due the continuing effect of the tax package – when the oil taxes are hiked, prices of basic goods and services will again rise.  

Meanwhile, ancestral lands and public lands will further be opened to foreign ownership through foreign investments and joint ventures.

According to the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA) this month, some 5.9 million Filipinos were no longer considered poor in 2018, as poverty incidence declined to 16.6 percent from 23.3 percent in 2015. The poverty threshold then was at P9,452 on average, for a family of five per month in 2015 or P315 per day.

The PSA said in their press release that the 16.6% poverty incidence “translates to 17.6 million Filipinos who lived below the poverty threshold at P 10,727, on average, for a family of five per month in 2018.” This threshold is beyond ridiculous! This means a family of five is no longer considered poor if they have P357 a day for all their needs or maybe P71 to spend on every family member. How can one be rich, not poor, with having only P357 when a kilo of rice is P40, canned sardines at P20, poor man’s fish galunggong P300, jeepney minimum fare at P9 and minimum train and bus fare at P12. How now will the poor who do not own homes pay rent, electricity and water or afford medical or health services.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said the latest figures show “significant progress,” and puts the Philippines on track to meet its target to lower poverty incidence to 14% by the end of the Duterte administration in 2022.

When government talks about poverty alleviation, they are sure to talk about palliative solutions like dole-outs. Lauding the PSA lower poverty incidence figure report, NEDA cited the assistance to the poor via conditional cash transfers under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, unconditional cash transfers from the TRAIN law which took effect that year, and the Pantawid Pasada program.

At the same time, basic services (e.g. light, water, communication, transportation) continued to be placed under the control of the oligarchs.

Land reform, rural development and national industrialization are shunned by the present regime. Instead it promoted “land grabbing” through mining, logging, high value crops productions, commercial tree plantations, land used conversions, national greening programs, infrastructure projects, dam projects and reclamations.

 

  1. The people suffer on fascist repression and human rights violations

The mass of people will not just stand idle and accept the “will of God”. They will surely rise up against the government. The Duterte regime expected this. The regime has already engaged in spending public funds for bureaucratic and military corruption to counter the people’s anger and united action.

Through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which have regional, provincial, municipal or local counterparts, the regime has engaged this scheme to destroy the revolutionary movement. It does not, however, make any distinction between the underground and armed forces to the legal and progressive organizations. The scheme imposes a fascist dictatorship on the struggling people.

Using Proclamation orders 360 and 374, Memorandum Order 32, Executive Order No. 70 and Oplan Kapanatagan, the regime hunts the “enemies of the state” to “end” the armed conflict in the Philippines by the end of the Duterte’s term. It uses and promotes fake news and propaganda, fake encounters, fake war on drugs, fake war on corruptions, fake programs and projects, fake surrenderees and fake rallies.

The regime militarizes the government bureaucracy; authorizes the military and police to trample the rights of the people; and, promotes state agents, anti-communist organizations and private groups to vilify and red tag legitimate organizations and churches. The regime engages psychological operations and combat warfares. However, Martial law in Mindanao and de facto martial law nationwide are counter-productive and costly programs of the Duterte regime. Gross human rights violations happen and thousands of victims are rising.

 

  1. Cronyism and corruption to worsen and ruling elite forced to protect their own interests from the most greedy, most despotic

We have heard Duterte lambast the old rich and oligarchs for having benefited and cheated on the people. The latest of this storm of curses are for the concessionaires that distribute water to Metro Manila. Will Duterte nationalize the water utilities and do away with the laws that allowed private corporations to profit from this basic service? The yes answer to this question will be a big test on Duterte’s sincerity. Lesser than this, we can only surmise what were exchanged or who will these lucrative contracts be given to, if taken away from the control of its current oligarchs.

Duterte speaks disparagingly of the oligarchs, that same clique that Duterte and his friends do belong. And maybe these are not the oligarchs who does not support him, but the rich and powerful that do, including former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Duterte’s own close friend, big campaign funder and alleged Phoenix Petroleum partner Davao-based businessman has accumulated wealth and businesses in Duterte’s three years and six months – acquiring the third telco Dito Telecom (a joint venture of Uy and China Telecom) and a venture into media and entertainment with Udenna Communications Media and Entertainment Holdings Corp (and with the same foreign partner) amid ABS-CBN franchise non-renewal by its March deadline; contracts for Manila Bay reclamation and taking over the development of Clark Global City; majority of Malampaya, buying 100% of Chevron’s 45% stake and replacing Chevron as the third partner in the three-part venture; exclusive dealership of the Ferrari sports cars, parts and accessories in the Philippines; Cebu-based shipping company Super Cat; and other businesses like family restaurant Conti’s, fastfood chain Wendy’s, convenience store chain FamilyMart, and Enderun Colleges, Inc. among others. Uy’s acquisition spree does not look like it will stop anytime soon.

 

  1. Duterte’s fractious relationship with the US

There is a chance of “political settlement” because the worsening crisis of the Duterte government and the entire ruling elite have divided and weaken them. However, the government of the United States will not be happy if any threat to the status quo will arise.

Duterte had made state visits to China, Russia, Japan, Israel and other Asian countries but has yet to visit the US. He did not visit the US because he was not able to crush the revolutionary movement in the Philippines, as he wants to please and maybe brag to the US and local ruling elite any results behind all the cursing and strongman talk since he ascended to power. His failure to destroy the revolutionary forces shows there is too much talk but little output to speak of for the $ 15-billion military aid his government has received from the US in the last three years. And for

The people’s resistance to the Duterte regime’s cruel, brutal and corrupt counter-insurgency campaign will weaken the imperialist chokehold on the nation’s economic and political affairs.

With this condition, the US would mobilize its agents, including the Central Intelligence Agency, to find an opportunity to replace Duterte in due time.

Another reason for the US to want to remove Duterte is the actions of Duterte to favor China that compromised the “economic and security interests” of the US in the Philippines. The West Philippine Sea is rich in oil, gas and marine resources and Duterte signed an agreement for China to explore and exploit the country’s energy resources.

The action of the US to ban Philippine officials who jailed Senator Leila De Lima is only the “tip of an iceberg” to the mounting pressure for the Duterte regime to hold on to US control and dictates. Duterte will have a few more months to show deference, if not loyalty, and ultimately puppetry, to the US amid the wars the US is courting for US President Donald Trump to avert his own presidential crisis post-impeachment at his homeland.

 

  1. The clamor of the people to resume the peace talks is a chance

The resumption of peace talks is a chance for the people to have a breathing space from repressive economic policies and militarist programs.

It is their chance to call on the government to consider the offer of the revolutionary movement to lay “the ground for the Interim Peace Agreement, which is a package of agreements involving the 1) general amnesty and release of all political prisoners; 2) the approval of articles of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), particularly those on agrarian reform and rural development and national industrialization and economic development; and 3) coordinated unilateral ceasefires.”

The resumption of peace talks is a chance because the Duterte regime failed to destroy the revolutionary mass movement because it continues to fail to address the roots of armed conflict – poverty, injustice, inequality. It must be noted, however, that Duterte offered his “last card” of peace negotiations the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on December 5, 2019 as his desperate move. He may be listening to some government officials and congress representatives who urged to resume the peace talks, but his military and police officials and other peace deniers make demands that are impossible if not contrary to long-held previous agreements, such as holding the peace negotiations in the Philippines.

The resumption peace talks is really a chance of the Duterte regime to negotiate for “political settlement” with the NDFP, but the people must note also that Prof. Jose Ma. Sison says, “So long as there is yet no final agreement that ensures a just peace, the people and their revolutionary forces have all the right to wage revolutionary struggle.”

 

The people’s hope, prayer and struggle

The year 2020 is more challenging to the church people and to the Filipino people. The people’s hope, prayer and struggle must be given flesh in loving and serving the people itself. It will start with discerning and awareness.

The state attacks, deceptions and vilifications on people and nationalist and progressive organizations and movements, and church people must be studied and examined based on its circumstances and government program of action. Along with this, the spirit of unity among us and our action would be our guide to carry on the struggle against the fascist Duterte regime.

The militarization and police brutality are still expected but more and more people’s resistance to police and military violence will be also expected. Though, the legal and defensive struggle are exercised in the urban centers but there are militant methods available to address state violence. The militancy of the people and church people must be sustained by encouraging them in our actual presence and solidarity.

We must learn some lessons of the people’s protests. The first mass protests took place in the 1960s, the First Quarter of the 1970s, the giant protest protests of 1983 to 1986 that overthrew Marcos’s fascist regime and also expelled the corrupt Estrada regime in 2000-2001.

The protests around the world against oppression, exploitation and fascism, especially the Palestinian people and the people of other countries, including the countries of both backward and advanced economies will also inspire us to be steadfast in our struggle.

The worsening crisis of the ruling elite in the Philippines is happening at present. Further exploitation and oppression will induce and encourage the masses of people to act and fight against the weakening Duterte regime and the ruling elite.

The people of God will not be defeated. The power of the Holy Spirit will surely empower the people to stand for justice and lasting peace. The steadfast struggle of the people to achieve the victory will happen in the years to come.

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