Continuing the ‘change scamming’ agenda

One faction in the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) claims there is a “huge clamor” for President Rodrigo Duterte to run for vice president in next year’s elections in order “to continue (his) agenda of change” and his administration’s 10-point economic program.

Duterte won the 2016 presidential race largely on his “change is coming” slogan, which has been derided as “change scamming” not only by his critics but also by those who have regretted voting for him. Now, his supporters want a continuity of this “agenda of change” from which they must be benefitting.

Alfonso Cusi, who appears to be busier these days attending to his tasks as the ruling party’s vice chairman than as Energy secretary, said the “people on the ground” want a transition of leadership that will “guarantee continuity of the economic and infrastructure projects” established in the last five years.

Those clamoring for continuity, he said during Duterte’s meeting with PDP-Laban executives on July 6, recognize the administration’s achievements in the fight against illegal drugs, corruption, terrorism and poverty.

Does this also mean continuity of extrajudicial killings associated with the drug war and anti-insurgency campaign, unabated corruption and more people living in dire conditions?

Government data show at least 6, 000 individuals have been killed during police anti-drug operations as of November 2020. The New York-based Human Rights Watch reported early this year that drug war killings increased during the COVID-19 lockdown.

World Bank economist Kevin Chua said earlier this month that at least two million more Filipinos became poor in 2020 due to reduced household income and disrupted business activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Poverty is estimated to increase by around 1.4 percentage points in between 2018 and 2020 based on the lower middle-income poverty line of $3.2 per day,” he said, citing the July 2021 edition of its Philippine Economic Update. “This represents around two million more poor Filipinos in 2020 than in 2018,” he added.

Duterte’s supporters refuse to acknowledge these realities as they choose to mention only the projects in their respective localities.

According to Raul Lambino, the party’s vice president for international affairs, said that in vote-rich Pangasinan, his home province, the political leaders were “unanimous” in urging Duterte to pick Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go as his presidential running mate.

They said Go was qualified and capable to become president, having been with Duterte most of the time.

The PDP-Laban leaders formally presented their resolution of endorsement to Duterte and Go on the heels of the accusation of former senator Antonio Trillanes IV that the tandem allegedly committed plunder involving P6.6-billion in government projects, mostly from contracts secured during the current administration’s first two years.

The allegation is a serious blow to the administration that won the presidency on a promise to end corruption “within three to six months” in office.

During the July 6 meeting with the PDP-Laban executive officers and some local government officials, Duterte himself said he got upset at the statement of Sen. Emmanuel ‘Manny” Pacquiao that corruption tripled during his presidency which, he said, prompted him to declare that he was entertaining the thought of seeking the vice presidency in the 2022 elections.

Last January, the country’s rating in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index was at 34 for 2020, the same level as in the previous year and one notch lower than 35 in 2016, the year he assumed office.

The president’s partymates seemingly ignore scandals and allegations of corruption, and cover-ups in various agencies ranging from the prisons, Philippine Health Insurance Corp., immigration, airports and customs, to the police and the drugs enforcement agency, few of which led to convictions or high-profile resignations.

In some of his speeches, Duterte said corruption has worsened under his administration and, by his own admission, the coronavirus pandemic and the community lockdown to contain its spread have become lucrative sources of graft.

Addressing his partymates, Duterte said he has been “trying (his) very, very best” to curb corruption and acknowledged that he could not do it overnight.

“I have made some, a little progress in terminating, dismissing individuals,” he said. ‘I can’t abolish offices but I can dismiss employees … starting with DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways), went to (the Bureau of) Customs and eventually, ‘yung pastillas (referring to a bribery scheme in the Bureau of Immigration in which the masterminds allegedly amassed P40 billion),” Duterte added.

Although Duterte has yet to make up his mind about running for vice president in the next elections, voters must be reminded of his vows during the 2016 presidential campaign that he has yet to deliver.

“I will not promise you heaven but I will try to stop corruption. In three to six months, I will stop corruption in government,” Duterte said in his closing speech at the second presidential debate in Cebu City in March 2016.

It has been five years and what he could brag about is the dismissal of some officials, most of whom were his own appointees and very few of them have been prosecuted.

His anti-drugs campaign has been the subject of a potential investigation by the International Criminal Court following findings during preliminary examination that “police and other government officials planned, ordered, and sometimes directly perpetrated extrajudicial killings.”

The ICC prosecutor said “state officials at the highest levels of government spoke publicly and repeatedly in support of extrajudicial killings, and created a culture of impunity for those who committed them.”

In pushing the President to run for vice president, his partymates are either choosing to ignore these serious allegations or purposely want him to remain in power to shield him from potential investigations and court cases after May 2022.

At 76, Duterte has said several times that he is old and tired. He could barely walk straight although his tongue remains sharp against anyone who dares to criticize him. Even if the Constitution allows him to run for vice president, he should just rest and live in peace with his family. PDP-Laban must have a stable of able leaders to join the 2022 race.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.

This column also appeared in The Manila Times.