Duterte’s 3 prime goals in first 6 months

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Well ahead of his formal proclamation as the nation’s 16th President by the joint session of the Senate and the House (sitting as National Board of Canvassers for the presidential and vice presidential contests), Rodrigo R. Duterte has lined up three big initiatives concurrently within the first six months of his administration.

The initiatives will implement Duterte’s three-pronged platform, said Peter Laviña, his campaign spokesperson and now member of a transition team formed by the presumptive president. These are:

• Pursue a 24/7 fight against drugs, criminality, corruption, and poverty (the single promise highlighted in his presidential campaign that generated a groundswell of popular support);

• Call on Congress to pass a law for the election of members of a Constitutional Convention to undertake a “major rewriting” of the 1987 Constitution. Objectives: to institute a shift to a federal parliamentary form of government, and to ease the current restrictions on foreign ownership of land, public utilities, educational institutions, and participation in the exploitation of natural resources; and

• Pursue negotiations and forge peace agreements toward political settlements of the protracted armed conflicts both with the Left revolutionary forces and the Muslim rebel organizations. (Laviña described this step as a “golden opportunity” because the long-term Davao City mayor has been close to both the leaders of the Left and the Bangsamoro organizations.)

How the anti-drugs and anti-criminality drive will be carried out remains to be seen. (Thankfully the threatened killings en masse haven’t been repeated!) Relatively tame steps, such as imposing a curfew and banning the sale of liquor after midnight (as in Davao City), have been mentioned thus far.

On rewriting the Constitution, the proposal to shift from a unitary to a federal system of government has stirred spirited debates, which should be encouraged. However, easing the restrictions on foreign ownership continues to meet strong public opposition since this was formally proposed under the Estrada administration. A joint resolution on this proposition, sponsored by the Senate and House leaderships, is pending in the 16th Congress.

The amendments to be recommended by the proposed Constitutional Convention, Laviña said, would be submitted to a plebiscite during the mid-term elections in 2019. Per Duterte’s timeline, if the shift to a federal system is adopted by the Con-Con and ratified in the plebiscite, the first federal elections would take place after the end of Duterte’s term in June 2022.

The third initiative is to pursue peace negotiations, specifically with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which the P-Noy government shunted aside in 2013, but didn’t formally terminate. Various peace advocates – human rights defenders, church leaders and formations, nongovernmental organizations, and communities – have zealously pushed for resuming the talks.

Last April 25, Duterte took time out from his campaign to engage in a Skype discussion with Jose Ma. Sison, CPP founding chair and NDFP chief political consultant, on the urgency of resuming the talks. Recalling Duterte’s plan to visit the Vatican after the elections, Sison suggested – and Duterte acceded – that they meet up in Europe so they could talk more extensively. Sison disclosed recently that Duterte and CPP representatives were having preparatory talks on the European meeting.

Besides the apparent rapport between them (Duterte was Sison’s student on the history of political thought at the Lyceum of the Philippines in the 1960s), the new president can readily avail of useful advice from three political allies who had played key roles in the peace talks.

The first one is former President Fidel V. Ramos, who endorsed Duterte’s presidential candidacy and presumably is a senior adviser. It was during Ramos’ tenure that the GRP-NDFP peace talks – initiated by President Corazon C. Aquino in 1986 but aborted after the Mendiola Massacre in February 1987 – acquired traction and produced 10 substantive and procedural agreements in on-and-off negotiations between 1995 to 1998.

The most important agreement signed so far has been the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which the European Parliament hailed as a “landmark” accord. It provides for compensation to civilian victims of HR-IHL violations. Surely, Ramos would be interested to see the completion of the peace edifice he started to build – and not allow it to crumble, as the P-Noy government apparently has done.

The two others (both Duterte’s long-time buddies in Davao) are Jesus Dureza, a former congressman, and Silvestre “Bebot” Bello III, incumbent congressman and former justice secretary. Dureza had been Ramos’ peace adviser, and Duterte has indicated he would harness him back to that job. Bello was a member of the government peace panel under Ramos and panel head under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

To his credit, Bello publicly defended the integrity of the agreements he had worked hard for, particularly the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), when the P-Noy government peace adviser, Teresita Deles, tried to discredit the accord and violated its provisions. Bello would be a good choice to be Duterte’s chief peace negotiator with the NDFP.

Once the negotiations are resumed at the stage that these were suspended by P-Noy, it’s important for earnest and assiduous implementation of the CARHRIHL to follow. Doing that could turn out to be Duterte’s landmark legacy as president – rectifying the violations by all previous administrations of human rights and international humanitarian law during the almost 50-year armed conflict.

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