Hardships and Authoritarianism: Understanding Politics in the Philippines

r1 Bullet logo

Hardships and Authoritarianism: Understanding Politics in the Philippines

Ben Reid

On Sunday March 7, nine human rights activists were killed and six others arrested in coordinated police and military actions in the Philippines. This was an escalation of the state repression and targeted assassinations that have become a common occurrence under the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte since his election in 2016 under the rubric of a ‘war on drugs’. Bloody Sunday is another incident in the state violence deployed by Duterte’s regime. But the state violence also marks a new phase in a so-called ‘whole of nation’ approach to combating the insurgency of the Communist Party of the Philippines,... and the armed wing New People’s Army, with the raids and murder of unarmed political activists. Bloody Sunday represents a further closure of democratic space in an intensification of state violence, ‘national security’ measures reorganizing state apparatuses, and the erosion of fundamental human rights. The paths forward for the left in the Philippines at this moment to a mass movement able to defeat Duterte and set an alternate economic and social agenda remains unclear. The essay below provides some political perspective and historical background to these latest events.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest outrage is an attempt to shift the blame for rising numbers of COVID-19 cases onto healthcare workers. Duterte made his extraordinary outburst – accusing them of inciting “revolution” – after reimposing strict quarantine in many of the country’s major cities on 2 August. With more than 150,000 cases, and having overtaken Indonesia’s lead within South-East Asia, the Philippine epidemic is out of control. This is mainly due to Duterte’s flawed policies.

Coming to power as a “strongman” and populist in 2016, he promised to make some progressive changes. Yet his government increasingly is characterised by all the worst features of his predecessors. For the COVID-19 crisis, it meant a highly militarised response with draconian enforcement of lockdowns and roadblocks. Coordination with primary healthcare agencies and mass testing received little emphasis. Repression and harassment of the media also escalated. And new counter-terrorism laws further threaten civil liberties.

The failing healthcare system and increase in state repression both reflect the broader historical and political malaise of the Philippines. With a resident population of more than 108 million people and a per capita income of just US$3,890 (Australia’s is US$54,910), more than 20 percent of the population last year still lived below the country’s nominal threshold of poverty. In 2017, per capita health spending was just US$132.90, and the infant mortality rate was 23 per 1,000 births (compared to US$5,332 and 3.1 in Australia). There was only one hospital bed per 1,000 of the population in 2011.

Both the endemic poverty and this latest crisis are the product of historical factors that provide the context for understanding Duterte and the struggle against his government.

Continue reading

Follow the Socialist Project on Social Media:

Facebook Twitter Instagram

Share on Facebook

The Bullet is produced by the Socialist Project. Readers are encouraged to distribute widely. Comments, criticisms and suggestions are welcome. Write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Bullet archive is available at r0

Forward to a friend: this link

powered by phpList

Login Form