Nothing is new under Duterte’s ‘New Normal’

Duterte’s New Normal Plan will only aggravate the people’s suffering by holding a tighter grip on neoliberalism and fascism

The Duterte regime is determined to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic through its deceptive rhetoric of ‘the new normal.’ As of Duterte’s fifth report, state offices helmed by the National Economic Development Authority are going into the transition stage. Agencies are submitting priority program and projects and identifying their respective budgetary priorities for fiscal year 2021. However, there is certainly nothing novel about a ‘normal’ that is characterized by glaring economic hardship, social inequality, massive corruption, parochial relations to imperialist powers, and militarism. Rather, the Filipino people are being subjected to the true face of the semi-colonial and semi-feudal condition.

The inherent weaknesses of the semi-feudal and semi-colonial system are being laid bare by this crisis. The age-old problems of hunger, poverty, and lack of health services have been amplified and exacerbated to such a degree that it can no longer be denied – to the great detriment of the Filipino people.

Moreover, the bumbling inadequacy of the regime, its criminal neglect of the people, and its self-serving agenda are plain to see. With more than 7,000 confirmed cases and more than 500 dead, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from contained. Now, with its inanity and callousness in full view, this Duterte regime is desperately clinging to power by resorting to draconian rule and a militarist lockdown with no end in sight.

Unabated Health Crisis

Even before the onset of this pandemic, the country’s public health system has been in a state of disrepair due to decades of neoliberal policies. The policies of privatization, annual budget cuts, and state abandonment has left it weakened and sickly. Public hospitals are ill-equipped and health workers are overworked. Moreover, the doctor-patient ratio of 1:33,000 is simply appalling. It should come as no surprise then that the poor populations in both rural and urban areas are left with little to no access to health services, leaving them all the more vulnerable.

The Duterte regime has certainly done nothing to reverse this situation, albeit it has actively pursued the same policies. For instance, the funds for the epidemiology and disease surveillance program, which could have played a crucial role in early detection of the disease, was reduced by P148 million. Now, as the lack of medical equipment becomes an issue of survival for those in the front line, health workers in are left to fend for themselves.

So far, there are now over 1,000 health workers infected with the virus. At least, 26 of them have died that we know of. This situation could have been prevented had the regime prioritized social services and provided them with the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Many of them have even resorted to the use of plastic bags as makeshift equipment. Moreover, the lack of mass testing makes the fight against the disease all the more difficult.

Despite the fact that all the death and suffering of our frontliners hung over his head, the madman in Malacanang still had the gall to call these deaths heroic. A tragedy and a travesty would be more fitting. As the regime adds more names to its list of victims. Duterte’s hands, long sullied by blood of innocents, will now have those of the fallen health workers.

Exacerbated Hunger and Poverty

The vast majority of the Filipino live in the deplorable conditions of poverty. Social distancing becomes an impossibility when you are living in a shack in an overpopulated slum. Staying at home would be suicide if you have no means to feed yourself and your family. While our farmers are able to grow an abundance of food in the countryside, the militarist lockdown ensures that it all goes to waste. This is the reality that the Duterte regime has created because of the anti-people policies it has promoted and pursued.

The workers and the semi-proletariat bear the brunt of this crisis. Because of this militarist lockdown and the regime’s stinginess, they are forced to suffer through the worst imaginable conditions. The process of distributing aid perfectly encapsulates this regime’s incompetence. It is laden with red-tape, bureaucracy, and chaos. It is as if the tightfisted regime has no plans to distribute the funds the people direly need.

Workers, for instance, have had to make do with their measly wages and persistent job insecurity caused by contractualization. According to the Department of Labor and Employment, 2 million workers have already lost their jobs because of this lockdown. Even those who didn’t lose their jobs but are unable to work will have to deal with the fact that most enterprises enforce a ‘no work, no pay’ policy.

For the semi-proletariat living in shanty towns in the shadow of the metropolis, this militarist lockdown is adding insult to injury. Time and again, their demand for decent and affordable housing has been ignored by this regime. Now, it has the gall to tell them to stay at home.

In addition to this, the country’s long-neglected peasantry has always been at the receiving end of feudal and semi-feudal exploitation. The state acts as an enforcer for the landlords and facilitates the export-oriented agriculture that has resulted in the Philippines being unable to feed its own population. Now, we are set to reap the effects of an import-dependent economy. The country’s food security will soon be put in jeopardy as more and more countries will look to secure their own needs first.

This realities are further exposed as Duterte fails in handling the national emergency. Even the promise of social amelioration still leaves 64% of the 19 million target with no support from the government. Not to mention that the P5,000 – P8,000 economic aid is far from being enough to buffer the impact of the pandemic.

The need for economic reforms has become all the more obvious and urgent in this time of crisis. In order to address the needs of the Filipino people, the people’s demands for agrarian reform, national industries, job security, greater wages, and decent housing must be met. Yet, it is obvious that this regime is stubbornly doubling down on neoliberal measures which made the Filipino people vulnerable in the first place. Duterte even announced that it is still his government’s priority to continue debt servicing and loans from China and other foreign lending institutions.

The social and economic conditions compel the Filipino people to defy the lockdown restrictions. Failure to do so will mean certain hunger and death. Yet, despite the widespread clamor for aid, the Duterte regime continues to do nothing to address the people’s situation. In fact, it actively works to make aggravate the situation and compound the people’s problems.

Normalizing Repression Through a Militarist and Fascist Lockdown

The regime has a bloody record filled to the brim with extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and a myriad of human rights violations. Oplan Tokhang, All-Out War, and Martial Law in Mindanao all stand as testament to the Duterte regime’s fascist and militarist mindset. It is wholly unsurprising then that the regime is making the most of the opportunity provided by a public health crisis to impose a fascist dictatorship.

Instead of putting public health experts at the helm, the regime has put the military in charge, giving way to a militarized approach to the crisis. All over the country, more than a hundred thousand people have been fined, arrested, accosted, and detained for supposed quarantine violations. The is also a rapid increase in military deployment to the National Capital Region while their rampage in the countryside continues unabated.

Military and police forces are being emboldened to abuse their authority. In order to ‘impose order’ Duterte has given his flunkies orders on how to deal with quarantine violators, telling state forces to ‘shoot them dead.’ The fascist forces have certainly taken this order to heart. In the month of April alone, there have been two cases wherein the police have shot civilians dead. The first case was that of a farmer in Agusan del Norte who was shot by police in a checkpoint. The man refused to wear a mask. The most recent victim was an Army veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

To justify his authoritarianism, the Duterte regime has put the blame squarely on the people. Stating that their failure to obey and follow the rules has led to this point. Now, not only is this a blatant lie, it is also a base attempt to conceal the regime’s failures. The people remember clearly how this regime downplayed the severity of the crisis in order to kowtow to his imperialist master. It seems Duterte’s decrepitude and senility always gets the better of him when it comes to matters of accountability.

The pandemic is only getting worse as time goes by. Without mass screening, testing and contact-tracing, the disease will continue to spread undetected and will infect a vast portion of the population. Yet, this regime remains pre-occupied with implementing despotic policies that will ultimately benefit no one but Duterte and his henchmen.

With the extension of the militarist lockdown in NCR and several parts of the country, we can expect only expect more blatant violations of the people’s liberties. This is the ‘new normal’ that the regime wishes to impose on the Filipino people – wherein repression, fascism, overt military presence and the curtailment of their rights are everyday realities.

Overcome the Lockdown, Forward the Revolution

The new normal we want is a society that is truly just and free, where inequality and exploitation are nothing but relics of the past. In order to achieve this ‘new normal’ the Filipino youth must take on its historic role of being a proactive agent of change in this time of great upheaval.

The youth and student movement must continue and advance its mutual aid efforts in their communities. Alleviating the hardships imposed on the masses should be our priority while we expand, educate, and organize our forces. This is crucial to strengthening the people’s solidarity. Only through collective struggle can we overcome this economic and health crisis.

We must not let uncertainty, despair, and lethargy get the better of us. We must make the most of all avenues available to us. Alongside the broad masses, we must overcome the social paralysis being imposed upon us by the Duterte regime’s lockdown. The weekly outpouring of online indignation following Duterte’s late night blathering should serve as a stark reminder that the Filipino people are their own messiah. The Filipino people are ready to oust this dictator.

Nothing is new under Duterte’s ‘New Normal’