Civil Society to BBM: The government is for the people, not your family and other elites

September 27, 2022

It is nearly three months since the dictator Marcos’ son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., was sworn into the presidency. The country’s 17th president took office with a large majority of votes according to elections long criticized as opaque and vulnerable to electronic cheating, aside from campaigning marred by massive vote-buying and disinformation.

 When the election results started to come in, Marcos Jr. pleaded: “”Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions.” The last three months have already provided much to judge him by and the general directions of his administration are becoming clear.

Marcos Jr.’s early appeal confirmed his and his family’s intent to try and bury the sins of the Marcos dictatorship. Yet, as many have recently reminded around the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his father’s declaration of martial law, the family has continued to benefit from the economic and political spoils of the dictatorship.

The country’s political elites – not just former president Duterte but other administrations as well – have been complicit in letting the Marcoses slowly rehabilitate their reputation and rebuild their myths. While some did this out of loyalty many more did so out of sheer political self-interest. Unfortunately, the Marcos family has built on this and shaped perception with historical distortions, disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation – resulting in collective denialism.

Among the things Marcos Jr did to divert attention from the gruesome atrocities under his father’s rule is to make populist promises. He wildly promised to rice at Php20 per kilogram. He said that the fishing vessels of Filipino fishermen would be modernized and that teachers would be supported to become better educators. He even promised, without any self-consciousness, no corruption under his watch and accountability for human rights violations.

 There is still no real action on any of these or the many other promises he has been making.

 There is token acknowledgement of some economic difficulties, but no effort to address structural problems. At his first state of the nation address he made it clear that, like his predecessors, he would not break away from the neoliberal economic policies that his father started implementing as early as his first term. He would also continue with the previous administration’s infrastructure offensive renamed Build, Better, More.

In these first critical months of his term, he has shown that he does not intend to revisit the failed economic plans of the past. There is no long-term plan to develop the agriculture sector for food security, starting with genuine land reform, and for national industrialization.

On the ground, the economy and millions of the Filipino poor reel from accelerating inflation, falling real wages and earnings, growing joblessness and informal work, and unresolved landlessness. The peso keeps falling to record lows and will make prices of goods and services soar even more because of the country’s huge import-dependence. As it is, inflation has already more than doubled from 3% in January at the start of the year to 6.3% in August. Food supply woes have set in with sugar and salt shortages. Even Coca-Cola Philippines had to stop operations at four factories in August from the lack of sugar.

Meanwhile, the prospects for ending impunity and improving the country’s human rights situation remain bleak. Various civil society organizations (CSOs) registered their disappointment at the president’s position not to rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC). The government also requested the ICC not to continue its investigation of the Duterte administration’s drug war atrocities and extrajudicial killings. Liza Maza, spokesperson of the Council for People’s Development and Governance said “this sent a strong signal that impunity would continue under Marcos Jr.’s watch.”

Impunity has continued under the new administration. Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (KPNE) reported over 200 environmental defenders under the Duterte administration, aside from eight recent attacks on 120 individuals from May-July 2022. This included the illegal arrest of a 69 year-old woman opposing the Ahunan Hydropower Dam in Pakil, Laguna and violence against 93 farmers, students, artists, and media persons. There is still no action on any of these.

Red-tagging and harassment of activists also continues. Last June 22, Philippine Army soldiers tried to hunt down BAYAN Aklan Chairperson George Calaor and its spokesperson, Kim Sin Tugna. In Ilocos region, last July 23, land rights defender Genaro Dela Cruz of Alyansa Dagiti Mannalon iti Ilocos Norte, Antonino Pugyao of Stop Exploitation, Angelica Galimba, Kabataan Partylist second nominee were harassed and surveilled. Farmer-leader and trainer Lucia Capaducio of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) and Joe March Villarante of the Community Empowerment Resource Network (CERNET) were also recently accosted and intimidated.

Marcos Jr. is also continuing infrastructure projects that violate economic, social and cultural rights of people. For instance, the New Manila International Airport under construction in Bulacan will cause wide-scale displacement and damage to the environment. Farmers and fisherfolk stand to be displaced and lose their livelihood with little or no assistance, aside from already suffering militarization and different forms of harassment.

The Marcos Jr. administration has much to do to show that it will be different from past administrations which have been inordinately occupied with enriching politicians and big business allies while seeking to expand their political power. What is unique to the new administration, however, is its single-minded focus on securing its ill-gotten wealth and rehabilitating the Marcos name.

Marcos Jr. maintains his family’s refusal to settle their family’s unpaid Php203 billion estate taxes and has even argued that they were denied due process. He also repeats his father’s specious justification of martial law that this was essential because to battle Communist and Moro separatist uprisings.

The administration quickly confirmed its conventional traditional politician credentials with its proposed 2023 budget. In it, the budget for the Office of the President (OP) is as grossly bloated as under the previous Duterte administration and increases to Php9 billion, or over three times as much as the last OP budget under Aquino. Marcos Jr.’s Php5 billion unaudited confidential and intelligence funds alone are already more than Aquino-era OP’s entire Php2.8 billion budget.

The proposed budget of the Office of the Vice-President (OVP) under Sara Duterte is even more egregious. The Php2.3 billion OVP budget for 2023 is three times as much as the last budget in 2022 of Php713.4 million under Vice-President Robredo. This includes an unprecedented Php500 million in unaudited confidential and intelligence funds and over a billion additional pesos for projects to be dispensed as political patronage in preparation for the next elections.

In the wake of the commemoration of the 50th year since the Marcos dictatorship declared martial law and as the Marcos Jr. administration finishes its third month and approaches its first 100 days, CPDG decries the continuing impunity and bad governance. The Marcos-Duterte administration is early on showing its colossal corruption and the continuation of their families’ tyrannical streak.

The Marcos family, above all, should admit their sins, return their plundered wealth, and be held accountable for their corruption and human rights violations. The family should also desist from their malicious historical distortions which run roughshod over the narratives of thousands of Martial Law victims. This would be a start to righting the wrongs of the past.

The government should stand for so much more than just increasing the wealth and power of a self-serving elite few. Among the Filipino people’s urgent demands that the government should prioritize are the following:

  1. Address the rising prices of basic commodities including providing relief with immediate emergency cash assistance
  2. Revive local agriculture and ensure food security and self-sufficiency
  3. Undertake genuine agrarian reform and agricultural modernization
  4. Build national industries for pro-people economic development
  5. Provide free health care and basic social services for the people
  6. Protection, rehabilitation and sustainable use of the environment
  7. Uphold national sovereignty and an independent foreign policy
  8. Stop spending on wasteful and unproductive infrastructure, pork barrel, militarist and other expenses
  9. Respect, protect and fulfill civil, political and economic human rights
  10. Combat disinformation, protect freedom of expression and press freedom
  11. Institute democratic, ethical and accountable governance

The CPDG supports the people’s agenda and reiterates the call for human rights-based, people-centered, and ecologically sustainable economic development. It is essential to have transparency, accountability and genuine democratic participation in governance and development planning to achieve these.#