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[OPINION] Duterte dismantles nation-builders, not oligarchs

Referring to ABS-CBN, President Duterte said in his controversial Jolo speech last July 13, 2020, “Without declaring martial law, I dismantled the oligarchy that controls the economy of the Filipino people.” This was said merely a few days after the House Committee on Legislative Franchises refused to grant ABS-CBN a franchise for its continued operation.

The goal of dismantling oligarchy in the country, as affirmed by political analysts and the academe, is truly laudable – only if done correctly. We agree with this, and as discussed in the first and second parts of this series, waging a war against oligarchy, without distinction between real oligarchs and the legitimate and sustainable business community, and without regard for the possibility of transformation from an oligarch to a nation-builder (i.e. Lopezes), is bound to fail and to widen the cracks of our already fragmented society.

An endeavor like Duterte’s where no such distinctions are made will dismantle the nation.

Too proud

In the midst of an admittedly inept pandemic response and with only two years left in an administration that has failed its biggest ambitions for the country – eliminating illegal drugs, pushing for federalism, concluding insurgence through peace talks, defending the West Philippine Sea, and ending ENDO – the closure of ABS-CBN seems to be the only trophy that the Duterte administration has under its belt. He said in the same speech, “Sa totoo lang, I’m extremely proud of myself and I do not want to share that with anybody.... Gusto ko, ako lang ang proud that I dismantled the bedrock – ‘yong pinakaposte ng oligarchy sa Pilipinas.”

We hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but still, ABS-CBN’s closure is nowhere near an achievement – if it is the country’s benefit that we are concerned with, not in some vested interests.

As we comprehensively argued in the second part of this series, the Lopezes, the owners of ABS-CBN, may have had oligarchic roots, having both economic and political influence, but has since proven to the world that it has transformed to a nation-builder through the countless initiatives “in the service of the Filipino.” Thus, the closure of ABS-CBN is no less than the closure of a nation-builder.

Sadly, we ask, what do we then call a person, much more a President, who dismantles nation-builders and is “extremely proud” to have done so?

One thing is for sure though: a nation-builder does not and will never dismantle a fellow nation-builder.

A President may have been democratically elected to lead a country, but that does not in itself make him a nation-builder. It entails so much more than the position.

Our history shows that being a nation-builder requires genuine selflessness, competence, and integrity, not some mere title or authority that can be wielded at one’s own will. More often than not, it also involves compassion and humility.

Other dismantled nation-builders

The Duterte administration and its allies have brought down numerous nation-builders since 2016.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, only on the 6th of her supposed 18 year-term, who was ousted by her own Court through a quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida (together with Senator Leila de Lima who is now unjustly detained for more than 1,000 days on made-up drug charges), earned the President’s ire early in his term. Sereno had been vocal against Duterte's list of judges allegedly involved with drugs, while de Lima is a staunch critic of Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign even before he became President.

Recently, Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler, who has maintained standards of critical reporting that always seems to uncover hidden tracks by the government, was convicted of cyber libel.

These people are nation-builders through and through. Definitely, the country would have been in a better position if these had not been done to them.

If we will be creative enough, the tens of thousands killed, mostly poor, in Duterte’s drug war including fathers, mothers, and youth were also potential nation-builders – if they had been given the opportunity to live and reform. Tens of thousands of families orphaned, grieving, and resentful. What then is left for the nation? Only damaged families that will be difficult, if not impossible, to heal.

Many more nation-builders will fall when the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 becomes operational. With its unconstitutional provisions on extended period of detention and violation of due process, activists both online and on the ground will be targeted by this law. The unbridled and overly vague law will have a chilling effect on progressives, reformists, and even the ordinary Filipino.

Why should our nation-builders have to suffer?

State of the (dismantled) nation

The President delivered his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 27. Expectations for a comprehensive roadmap for recovery were not met. Instead, as we have discussed in an earlier article, the President’s SONA was not meant for a country that suffers from a pandemic. What reverberated in his speech was his threats to the Ayalas and Pangilinan, referring to their telecommunications enterprises Globe and PLDT-Smart: “[I]f you are not ready to improve, I might just as well close all of you and we revert back to the line telephone at kukunin ko 'yan, i-expropriate ko sa gobyerno.”

Duterte found his next oligarch-target.

But we echo again that the Ayalas and Pangilinan are legitimate business people with nothing else in mind but entrepreneurship and economic growth. Instead, Duterte should focus on what Deans Ronald Mendoza (Ateneo) and July Teehankee (DLSU) refer to as "new oligarchs" or the political dynasties that capture our country’s political landscape and undermine investments. Make his administration and allies look into mirrors and they shall see the oligarchs that they ought to dismantle.

By dismantling nation-builders and failing to dismantle the "new oligarchs," the country’s institutions erode. Duterte himself dismantles the nation.

Is he proud of this – with the same pride that he felt when he successfully brought ABS-CBN down? That we do not know.

But we all know that this could be his legacy. A legacy of a dismantled nation. That we must resist. – Rappler.com

Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.

Jayvy R. Gamboa is a student at the University of the Philippines College of Law and an advocate of youth formation.