It has been a year full of unexpected and interesting developments. The year 2016 will be defined by the rise of the Duterte presidency and the people’s response to its policies and pronouncements. It was a year of militant struggle even with the Left’s alliance and cooperation with Duterte. The Left’s relationship with the incumbent regime continues to be tested through different issues.
Here are 10 important events that happened in 2016 related to the people’s movement for national freedom and democracy. These are 10 events that made a great impact in national politics and consciousness and whose effects will be felt in the years to come.
1. Duterte becomes president – The year 2016 gave us the Duterte regime, a presidency swept into power by 16 million votes, borne out of the crisis of the ruling system, and buoyed by the promise of “change”. The new regime shook the poltical landscape with many firsts, but also continues to encounter serious challenges from forces opposed to change. It remains to be seen if Rodrigo Duterte will go beyond the “change” rhetoric and engage in serious, wide-ranging reforms that will go against the interests of the ruling elite. For example, just recently, workers have criticized the DOLE for failing to really put a stop to contractualization of labor with the new Department Order 168.
2. Resumption of the peace talks – Duterte has accomplished more for the peace talks with the NDFP in his first 100 days than the entire 6-year term of Benigno Aquino III. Previously signed agreements were reaffirmed, NDFP peace consultants were released on bail, and separate unilateral ceasefires were declared by both sides. For the revolutionary movement, the unilateral ceasefire was the longest yet in its 48-year history. The talks are now entering discussions on social-economic reforms. The ceasefire however is continuously undermined by the government’s failure to release all political prisoners and by the AFP’s continuing militarization of the countryside. Last December 26, revolutionary forces held a show of force in different guerrilla fronts nationwide, most notable of these are the battalion-sized formations in Mindanao. They have expressed readiness to face the consequences of continuing fascist aggression against the people.
3. The War on Drugs – Even before he assumed the presidency, many had feared Duterte’s planned war on drugs now that it would have a nationwide scope. While Duterte succeeded in exposing the magnitude of the drug problem and how it ties up with corruption in government including the police and military, it is the rising death toll and impunity which people will remember most. The stories of the victims are heartbreaking. Innocents have been killed with impunity. State forces have gone on to kill even persons already detained. There are no indications that the President will back down on his declared war on illegal drugs, and we can only expect the people’s opposition to increase as the death toll rises.
4. The Left joins the Cabinet – In an unexpected move, Duterte opened his cabinet to the revolutionary forces of the CPP. However, since the roots of the armed conflict had yet to be resolved, the revolutionary forces couldn’t yet be part of the Duterte government. The NDFP instead nominated progressives to several government posts. Despite being a minority in a Cabinet dominated by pro- US neoliberals and militarists, the progressives continued to push pro-people reforms within the limits of the reactionary government. Ka Paeng continues to uphold the interest of poor peasants and farm workers struggling for land reform. Judy Taguiwalo has steered the DSWD to meet the demands of the most vulnerable sectors. Liza Maza is working hard at the National Anti-Poverty Commission.
5. Kidapawan: Bigas Hindi Bala – On April 1, police opened fire on unarmed North Cotabato farmers protesting in Kidapawan City. The drought-stricken farmers demanded rice but got bullets instead. Two were killed and scores were injured. Around 80 were arrested. The incident called attention to the plight of farmers all over the country who were reeling from the effects of prolonged drought and landlessness.
6. Huge SONA rally and Lakbayans – This year saw a huge rally that marked Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address. For the first time, contingents from Mindanao and Bicol joined rallyists from Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon. More than 30,000 marched very near the Batasang Pambansa in another first under the Duterte regime. After the SONA, the President meet with rally leaders including Lumad and Moro representatives. Previously, the President also met with Bayan leaders who held a really coinciding with his inauguration. There would be three inter-regional Lakbayans (SONA, Mindanao, Visayas) for 2016, also another first.
7. The violent dispersal at the US embassy – It was an incident that shocked the world. A police car rammed unarmed protesters in front of the US embassy in Manila. Scores were injured. A jeepney driver was nearly beaten to death. More than 40 were arrested. In a time when the Philippine president was announcing his separation from the US, Philippine police forces violently attacked protesters after the police complained they had “lost face” with the US embassy after protesters breached the police line.
8. Assertion of an independent foreign policy – Many progressives and patriots applauded the speeches of the President criticizing US foreign policy and history of colonialism in the Philippines. Duterte brought the issue of US atrocities in the Philippines to the international stage. He threatened to terminate the VFA and EDCA. He said that he wanted the US to know that “there is such a thing as the dignity of the Filipino people”. He has also rejected any US criticism of his human rights record, often pointing out US hypocrisy. The most serious threat yet to the Duterte regime may still come from the US and its reactionary allies in the Philippines. During this year, the Philippines also won a landmark case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration which voided China’s 9-dash line claim and upheld Filipino fishermen’s rights to the waters within our EEZ.
9.The Marcos burial – The issue that sparked a direct confrontation between a broad array of forces on one side and the Duterte regime and the Marcoses on the other; the burial of the dictator Marcos triggered street protests across the country. The SC decision, the ensuing burial and Duterte’s justification thereof, were roundly criticized. If there is one good thing that came out of the incident, it was the rapid political awakening of the youth, who despite being several generations removed from Martial Law, were still able to grasp the implications of the formal honors accorded the dictator. Stay vigilant because the fight against the Marcos restoration will continue all the way to 2022.
10.Tuition-free SUC’s – Congress has approved appropriations that is supposed to make tuition free in all state colleges and university. The move is a product of the assertion of the student movement and a vindication of the historic position against commercialization of education. The development has been described as a “game-changer” and will likely usher a new wave of mass struggles on campus and in the streets next year. The fight is by no means over and a new round is just starting.
There were many other issues that made 2016 “memorable” and challenging. We had the tanim-bala scam, MRT-LRT commuter woes, horrible traffic, the continuing agrarian disputes in Luisita, the filing of corruption cases against Aquino and his officials, the acquittal of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her officials, the SC declaration of EDCA as constitutional, the Save Fabella campaign, the mining audit and suspension of destructive mining companies and many more.
One event that should be watched closely at the start of the new year is the third round of formal piece talks between the GRP and NDFP which will say a lot on how the Left’s relationship with Duterte will be the rest of the year, and perhaps for the rest of his term. The talks would be an important indicator of the direction the Duterte government will ultimately take: whether it veers more to the Right and protects the status quo or it stays true to the President’s pronouncement that he is Left, thus ushering progressive change.
The next round of formal peace talks are set on January 19, 2017.
In all these events, the people are not mere spectators waiting for the next big revelation. More than ever, the people must weigh in and wage militant mass struggles for national democracy. Unless the Duterte regime addresses the root causes of the armed conflict, the basis for revolutionary struggle will remain. The militant mass movement will continue to march in the streets. The struggle continues
We welcome the new year, the only way we can: with a firm resolve to fight for the liberation of the people.
A happy and militant new year to all!