Duterte’s Unfinished Revolution

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Calixto V. Chikiamco


President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has unfinished business.

No, it’s not the drug war, which he looks likely to lose, given his hammer to the fly strategy and his failure to put any big fish drug smuggler and kingpin to jail.

His unfinished business is to complete the anti-Yellow revolution which he promised to set out to do. After all, he was elected on the promise of systemic change — “change is coming” was his slogan — and on the people’s obvious disappointment with their lot thirty years after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.

So far, he has targeted only the political foundations of the EDSA People Power or Yellow Revolution. Indeed, one can understand his political actions through the prism of his anti-Yellow revolution. He has targeted the Catholic Church, seeking to demean and degrade the institution. It’s not because he was, as he says, a victim of a Catholic priest’s abuse in his youth, but because the Catholic Church was part of the coalition, together with the anti-Marcos big business, that was responsible for the EDSA People Power Revolution.

He has also targeted ABS-CBN and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, two media outfits strongly associated with the Yellow revolution. ABS-CBN because former President Cory Aquino allowed the anti-Marcos Lopezes to reclaim it after the People Power Revolution, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, because its rise to a major daily traces its roots to its role in that revolution. In the case of the Inquirer, he made a particular point of targeting its owners, the Prietos, regarding its lease of the Mile Long property, which sits on government-owned land.

Indeed, President Duterte tries to be the anti-Yellow, even in foreign policy. He has shifted the country’s foreign policy away from former President Noynoy Aquino’s staunch pro-American and anti-Chinese foreign policy. The Yellows’ pro-Americanism can be traced to the help that the Yellow forces allegedly got from US officials in a critical juncture of the uprising against Marcos: Senator Paul Laxalt’s crucial call to former President Ferdinand Marcos “to cut and cut cleanly” and to the US forces spiriting former President Marcos against his will out of Malacañang and into exile in Hawaii.

However, he has not completely swung Philippine foreign policy to the Chinese side, given the strong pro-American and anti-Chinese sentiment of the public and the strong bond between the Philippine armed forces and the US military. A number of treaties also tie the Philippine government to its US alliance.

To his credit, however, President Duterte has expanded his own political coalition to include former prominent “yellow” figures or Cory Aquino acolytes. His Foreign Affairs Secretary, Teddyboy Locsin, used to be former President Cory Aquino’s speechwriter and spokesman. His Presidential adviser on entrepreneurship is Joey Concepcion, whose father was a prominent member of former President Aquino’s cabinet.

However, if all President Duterte does is demonize the Yellows (read: the Liberal Party and its allies), and strengthen his political power at their expense, then his anti-Yellow counterrevolution is a fake, i.e. it’s nothing more than just a struggle of political factions over rent-seeking positions, and not the “systemic change” or revolution that he promised.

The reason for this is that President Duterte has yet to act on the economic foundations of the EDSA Revolution: the 1987 Constitution and the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), which were instituted shortly after former President Aquino took power.

These two economic foundations laid by the Yellow revolution are the reason why the EDSA revolution essentially failed. Thirty years after the Revolution, there has been no inclusive growth, poverty remains endemic, rural poverty is widespread, strategic services are controlled by monopolies or duopolies, and government services, whether issuing licenses or running the MRT, remains abysmal. As a result of the Yellow revolution’s failed promises, a tenth of our population sought greener pastures abroad to work as OFWs, even at great social cost.

Although the stark cronyism and corruption practiced by a single political faction was no longer evident with the return of liberal democracy in 1987, nonetheless, corruption, albeit by alternating factions of the political elite, remains rampant, amidst deteriorating public services.

This background of economic and social failure engendered by the EDSA revolution was what a foul-mouthed, tough talking Mayor Duterte exploited to win the presidency in 2016. To a weary public, he promised that finally “change was coming.”

Let us now try to understand the twin economic foundations of the EDSA Revolution: why they were instituted and why they failed.

We should understand that the EDSA Revolution wasn’t really a “revolution” in the classic sense of one class overthrowing another class. It was more a restoration of the pre-martial law order, where factions of the political elite took turns on political power in a relatively peaceful manner under the rubric of democratic elections. The EDSA revolution returned the anti-Marcos oligarchy to power and the 1987 Constitution protected its economic interests with the restrictive foreign ownership provisions in the Constitution. These restrictive provisions limited competition, particularly in strategic sectors of the economy (public utilities and media).

These restrictive provisions even became more onerous because while the Cory Aquino administration bowed to globalization and embarked on reducing tariffs, the protected sectors were in non-tradable services — power distribution, shipping, ports, media, banking and real estate. Shielded by being non-tradable and the restrictive provisions in the 1987 Constitution, monopolies and oligopolies came to control strategic sectors of the economy. Consequently, the public suffered from high prices and shoddy service of these monopolies. “Captured regulators,” like the National Telecommunications Commission, added to the misery of the public. In the meantime, manufacturing, battered by globalization, a strong peso policy, and high prices of non-tradable services, shrunk.

With respect to the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, it was supposed to be the landmark and defining legislation of the EDSA Revolution. However, while it was touted as a social justice legislation, it was actually an anti-insurgency measure, meant to snuff the oxygen out of the Communist rural insurgency whose political cry was “land to the landless.”

The focus of CARL was land distribution, and not raising agricultural productivity. Small and medium-sized landlords were sacrificed for this anti-insurgency measure but big landlords got exemptions through a so-called stock ownership plan or conversion to residential and industrial estates. However, as a land distribution measure, it was very successful. The World Bank has said that the Philippines has the most successful land distribution program in the world.

So successful has the land distribution program been that you no longer hear the Communist Left demand “land for the landless.” It’s now “condonation of land amortizations to the Land Bank.” The CPP-NPA forces have dwindled and this is why the Communists are recruiting from the lumads, rather than landless farmers, since the lumads feel exploited by the lowlanders or unscrupulous mining companies. It’s worth noting that leftist leader Satur Ocampo and others were arrested last year after visiting a lumad school in Davao del Norte.

However, as a measure to alleviate rural poverty and increase rural prosperity, the CARL has been and is a gigantic failure. The CARL just turned landless farmers into impoverished landowners, according to National Scientist and economist, Dr. Raul Fabella. Agricultural productivity is the lowest in the ASEAN. Agricultural growth even fell behind population growth.

The premises of the CARL were also wrong: 1. That the government is better than the private landlord. The government became the new landlord as the mortgagor of CLOAs (Certificate of Land Ownership Awards), 2. That the government, which is corrupt and inefficient, will be able to extend support and services to the farmer, 3. That big farms are, ipso facto, bad since ownership beyond five hectares is prohibited, 4. That the country has a good land administrations system with clear and updated land records, and 5. That the farmer is better off with restrictions (CLOAs cannot be mortgaged or sold in the first 10 years, for example) and should not be allowed to dispose of the land as he wishes.

The twin economic foundations of the EDSA revolution have therefore run its course. They have failed. Besides, there have since been enormous changes in political economy and technology. The Lopezes, for example, are no longer in power distribution and telecommunications. Technology has rendered the 100% local ownership of mass media meaningless.

Therefore, it’s time for President Duterte to finish his unfinished revolution and complete his counter-revolution. Finishing his revolution doesn’t mean pushing for federalism but attacking the economic model of the Yellow revolution. That’s the only way to give substance to his revolution and to bring systemic change. It will also ensure the sustainability of his political revolution and cement his legacy.

Therefore, he has to push for a Constitutional change to remove the foreign ownership restrictions in the Constitution (which he has already hinted at). Also, he has to remove the restrictions in the CARL and curb the overreach of the Department of Agrarian Reform.

These are his unfinished business which he must address in the remaining years of his presidency.


Calixto V. Chikiamco is a board director of the Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis.