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[Newspoint] Duterte’s abridged war and peace

The outrage had scarcely begun to subside when another controversy rocked Mr. Duterte’s government: The ceasefire occasioned by the peace talks he had initiated with the communists broke down when he went back on his promise to release all political prisoners. He said the military was against the concession, arguing that it would seriously weaken the government's position in the talks. If he did not go along, Mr. Duterte said, “the military might not like it . . . [and] oust me.” He had actually freed some of the prisoners, and now, with the ceasefire ended, he ordered their re-arrest.

The situation recalls a comparable initiative taken by Corazon Aquino upon her accession to the presidency in 1986, after Ferdinand Marcos, dictator for 14 years, was deposed. She freed Marcos’s communist captives, including their party's founder, Jose Ma. Sison, who, taking no chances, fled the country and found asylum in the Dutch city of Utrecht, also the site of the just ended talks. Aquino's gambit ignited a series of military coups; the last one, in December 1989, nearly toppled her government.

Taking the opposite tack and siding with the military, Mr. Duterte, on the other hand, earned quick notice from the leadership of the communist ground forces that the cease-fire was off, a decision just as quickly sanctioned by Sison and the other communist elders in Utrecht. Clashes have since broken out intermittently, with the army acknowledging some casualties on its side.

No telling how the breakdown in the peace effort will affect Mr. Duterte's political partnership with other leftist leaders, some of whom sit in his Cabinet, but a strain is bound to develop, if not between them and Mr. Duterte, between them and their comrades.

Fallback war

Meanwhile, Mr. Duterte has begun a fallback war – a war on illegal gambling, of which a numbers game called "jueteng" is the most common. It is popular with the poor because it's an affordable habit and it suits their fatalistic bent. It accepts as low a bet as five pesos, the equivalent of an American dime, yet promises winnings of up to a thousand times that or more.

Jueteng also happens to be a convenient whipping boy for Philippine leaders who are lost for wars to wage, or have just lost one. It’s a good show: they look like they're having a go at it out of some moral conviction, but they are not really expected to win. Mr. Duterte could have left the initiative to the police but decided to issue an Executive Order for his new war, perhaps to give it an air of official seriousness, and promised victory in six months, the same amount of time he had given himself in defeating drugs – and fell gravely short of.

As an autocratic mayor, Mr. Duterte may have succeeded in eradicating jueteng, and much else, in his native Davao City, but on a national scale the odds are simply too great: Jueteng has flourished for centuries because it is driven by market forces and protected by political patrons and government and police officials.

The irony is the Spanish colonizers introduced it to amuse the natives and divert them from subversive thoughts. – Rappler.com