By Getsy Tiglao
“Duterte represents a movement in the Philippines to change the way politics works.” This surprisingly positive analysis of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency came from Stephen Sackur, the presenter of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s program HardTalk, which is known for its hard-hitting interviews.
It’s surprising because Western media such as the BBC had been critical of Duterte’s war against drugs and human rights record, and for one of their pillars to speak favorably of the Philippine President marks a sea change in their perception of him.
This was among the interesting points we gathered while watching Sackur’s interview with Senator Antonio Trillanes, who was introduced as “one of the President’s fiercest critics.” But Trillanes didn’t live up to the hype: He offered facile and superficial views that didn’t quite match Sackur’s profound questions about the radical changes happening in the Philippines under Duterte.
As Sackur told Trillanes: “You are talking to me from Manila and there is no doubt that in some ways Duterte represents a movement in the Philippines to change the way politics works. He’s talked about imperial Manila. He says the country has never been governed by people who really have the best interests of the poor and the disadvantaged at heart. In particular, he says the country has never been governed before by someone from Mindanao who is not obsessed with looking after the elite and the oligarchs based in Manila.”
“He has a point, doesn’t he,” Sackur asked Trillanes. “If you look at his economic program he is committed to a radical poverty elimination program which is gonna raise up the poorest Filipinos particularly in those neglected areas in the south of the country and that appeals to many people.”
Trillanes could only answer that this was “campaign rhetoric” and that there was no economic program for the Filipino poor. “In fact he has been killing them,” Trillanes declared with all the dramatic flourish he could muster. Comedy gold, is all I can say to this allegation of his.
The senator obviously hasn’t been reading enough economic and business news. A massive amount of press has been devoted to explaining Duterte’s economic program, including the various reforms for the agricultural and fisheries sector where the bulk of the poor are based; an infrastructure program that will improve access, markets, and connectivity; and the job creation boost expected from the foreign capital now pouring into the country.
But Trillanes was aware of one of Duterte’s economic reforms, the comprehensive tax reform program, which he dismissed as inflationary and anti-poor. “We in the Senate do not have any plan of passing it,” forgetting that no senator ever wants somebody else speaking for them, especially one who belongs to the tiny minority party.
The administration’s tax plan is anchored on the lowering of the personal income tax and the corporate tax, a move that central bank officials said will boost consumption and encourage businesses to produce more. Officials added the resulting increased capacity and production levels will offset any moderate price movements.
Unlike Trillanes, Sackur was very well informed about the positive developments in the Philippines. He cited the country’s economic growth of 7% for the year that the World Bank expects to continue through 2019. In the West, such a growth rate “would be regarded as a wonderful achievement.” The HardTalk host also noted the entry of $15 billion worth of investments from China. “Duterte-ism appears to be working for the Philippines,” he told the Trillanes who, of course, sneered that these achievements are just “on paper.”
Many Filipinos have been wanting to give Trillanes a good thrashing but our media here are too reserved to call him out for his nonsense. Sackur had no such qualms: He pummeled Trillanes on his background as a failed mutineer amid the senator’s assertion that he was a “democrat” or a believer in a democratic values.
“You had an abortive coup attempt which lasted, well, let’s face it, only a day. It wasn’t very successful. And even more, to many Filipinos, sort of pathetically, you made another attempt to gather out in 2007 and you ended up in prison for the best part of seven years,” Sackur told Trillanes. Filipinos knew this but in the early days they were so enthralled with Trillanes’ megalomania that they voted him into public office.
Duterte’s high approval ratings of 75% was also discussed during the interview, with the former foreign correspondent noting that Trillanes’ constant negative are “out of tune with ordinary Filipino opinion.” Anti-Duterte to the core, Trillanes responded that the ratings were 92% when Duterte came into office.
Sackur scoffed at this. “Believe me, senator, if a Western politician could command a 75% approval rating, they would regard that as the happiest day of their life. Believe me.”
The tide of international criticism against the Philippines appears to be finally turning. Lucky for us, the BBC is far away from the ambit and influence of American Loida Nicolas Lewis and her favorite anti-Duterte mouthpiece the New York Times.
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