The end for DU30’s catastrophic rule,the start for people-driven governance

Sorsoganons are coming together to end President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal and incompetent administration. The people’s clamor in the province for a truly just, humane, and participatory government is bound to expose the usual lies expected in Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.


The Duterte administration ran on promises for “change.” But the last five years have proven it was a change for the worst, especially for the basic sectors that have long been neglected and marginalized. Nowhere is this more apparent than in provinces remote to this administration’s seats of power.


State of Human Rights, Basic Sectors


Duterte has never been known to be a champion of human rights. The protection of life, liberty and property is one that his administration has not only trampled on, but even flaunted its utter disregard of due process.


Human rights violations have ballooned to unprecedented numbers both in the cities and in the countryside. In Sorsogon province alone, the KARAPATAN alliance has tallied 658 victims in 554 incidents of various rights violations to date since Duterte rose to power in 2016. These include 41 victims of extrajudicial killings, 14 incidents of assault, 2 victims of illegal arrest, and 55 incidents of illegal searches and seizures. KARAPATAN has also monitored 15 political prisoners in Sorsogon facing trumped-up charges, two of which are for violations of the manifestly unconstitutional Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL).


These attacks tend to target already vulnerable sectors. Of the victims of rights violations in the province over the last five years, 112 have been women, 175 minors, and 346 farmers and fishers. Those accused of terrorism were Elizabeth Estilon, jailed while she was pregnant, and senior citizen Enriqueta Guelas. Both were arrested in Bulusan on Christmas Eve last year. Estilon had just given birth last April and had to be separated from her newborn since being discharged from the hospital, as pandemic regulations and jail facilities had made it impossible for her to tend to her child while incarcerated.


State of Farmers, Urban poor


The state-sponsored harassments have only intensified following the government’s lawless crackdown on dissidents, poorly masked as counterinsurgency campaigns. Just this March, farmers in Hacienda Peralta in Sorsogon City were forced by the military to “surrender” and “clear their names,” were warned not to join rallies, and threatened with daily surveillance. This harassment was also experienced by the urban poor group Pinaculan Anti-Demolition Alliance (PADA), also in Sorsogon City, as well as other farmers in the municipalities of Irosin, Barcelona, and Bulusan. Farmers in Hacienda Berenguer in Sorsogon City, likewise face constant threats from supposed surrendered rebels.


This, as farmers and fishers across the Philippines remain the worst-hit by unabated poverty and hunger. The Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Sorsogon (SAMASOR), part of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-Bikol, echoes latest findings from no less than the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) that in the context of the overall population, poverty incidence remains highest among farmers at 31.6%, followed by fisherfolk at 26.2%.


Local farmers blame the Rice Liberalization Law, enacted in 2018, for worsening their already desperate situation. The law removed limits to foreign rice importation, causing selling prices in the local market (in Sorsogon) to be driven down to as low as P9.00 to P14.00 per kilo for palay, P21.00 per kilo for copra, and P7.00 per kilo for coconuts.


Another anti-poor policy initiated under the Duterte administration that further exacerbated the economic malaise of drivers and operators in Sorsogon is the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program. This program only served to mire PUV drivers and operators in deeper debt and poverty, forcing them to replace their vehicles with newer models costing millions, while supposed government assistance for the purpose has been limited to inaccessible loan schemes.


State of Calamity Response


The Duterte administration has condemned even future generations to more of this same poverty, having amassed billions in loans purportedly to address the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the national government’s pandemic response has barely been felt on the ground, with the one-time cash aid amounting to a measly P1,000-P4,000 per household, limited to the poorest families, the beneficiary identification and disbursement for which have been questionable.

As with most other areas in the Philippines, COVID-19 cases and deaths also continue to rise in the Bicol region, reaching, to date, 20, 439 cases and 776 dead.


State of Teachers


Even rising from poverty through education has been rendered into nothing but a fairy tale, with Duterte having largely abandoned the education sector. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT)-Sorsogon underscored that not only did Duterte fail to keep his promise to double the salaries of teachers, supposedly in honor of his mother who was also a teacher, but he had also vetoed a P500 medical allowance in 2019, while performance-based bonuses remain delayed. Demands for such rightful benefits have only been met with harassment, profiling, and red-tagging.


This neglect has only been highlighted under this pandemic, with the national government leaving to their own devices teachers and students who continue to struggle with an ill-conceived distance learning program.


Clearly, Duterte’s supposed “tapang at malasakit” (courage and compassion), for the masses, has only been “patayan at pasakit” (death and suffering) for the past five years.


No longer can people suffer a government which destroys lives and betrays hopes. Duterte and his ilk need to be removed from power so that they can be held accountable for their crimes.


1Sambayan-Sorsogon and its partner organizations join mounting calls for justice, and for a reliable and responsive government in service of the common good. #

Editor’s note: 1Sambayan is a coalition of pro-democratic forces from a wide swath of political persuasions which aims to unite the opposition to field a single slate of national candidates for the 2022 elections. 1Sambayan-Sorsogon has been formed by civic-minded individuals and sectoral leaders from the church, farmers, women, youth, and teachers. These leaders seek to bring 1Sambayan’s eventual national candidates and their platforms closer to the localities, and vice versa. These local leaders hope to empower and inform voters across the province and present genuine choices to meet the united clamor for good governance.