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A Judas kiss for an adoring public

MANILA (SE): The Philippine middle class may well give its tick of approval to the president of the Republic of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, for his war on what it regards as a blight on the national landscape; the poor of the shanty settlements.
However, it does not seem to be so forgiving when it comes to scandals linking his son to drug lords, allegations of hidden wealth and secrecy over the required reports of assets and liabilities for government officials.
Duterte campaigned for the presidency in 2016 on a strong anti-crime and anti-corruption ticket, garnering around 16 million of a fairly split vote by promising to crack down on the plunder of state resources by those who sit in the places of privilege.
Inday Espiña-Varona says in a report published by UCAN, “He launched his presidency by attacking his political enemies with unsubstantiated intelligence reports, which are now being used to wrest power over the police force, which is being accused of summarily executing thousands of people, away from local governments.”
Soon after assuming office, Duterte signed an executive order instituting the Freedom of Information Law, but the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism reports that his administration has become increasingly opaque amid a series of scandals involving government officials.
The media watchdog says that in response to requests for Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth reports, which must be filed annually by government officials, the government is blacking out critical information.
The reports also cover the acquisition costs or amounts of personal properties, locations of real properties and acquisition costs of real properties, but the report on Duterte himself shows only one item—his address, which the entire country knows anyway.
The president is squirming in the face of a probe by the Office of the Ombudsman into undisclosed wealth. In addition, an opposition senator, Antonio Trillanes, who originally raised the charge against Duterte, says that he has failed to disclose US$47 million ($364 million) worth of cash and assets.
The Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism says that the database shows that Duterte reported an asset base of only US$29,679 ($229,981) in the form of cash on hand or in a bank account in his last report, which was filed before the presidential election.
He campaigned on the image of a man from a poor family, but has since admitted having wealth, ascribing this to inheritance. Yet he cannot explain the non-disclosure of this supposedly legitimate bonanza.
His critics claim that most of the undisclosed cash has been coming in regularly for years and is apportioned to members of his family from a businessman friend involved in various infrastructure projects on his old political turf of Davao City.
There is also a growing dissatisfaction over the company the president keeps and the makeup of his courtier of friends, especially the family of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, on whom he has showered many favours.
Lawyers for the government and Marcos are currently involved in talks to settle cases of corruption and ill-gotten wealth in return for what is quaintly described as gold discovered by the former president’s heirs.
But as the campaign pledges are being shown up for the puppet imagery that they were and the actions of the president become more incoherent, there is growing concern that his obsession with his drug war and accusations of corruption against his political enemies are just masks to hide a push to consolidate power in a small circle of family and friends.
While Espiña-Varona describes as irrational the presidential habit of linking every issue from the festering unrest over self-determination in the southern island of Mindanao to legal challenges against his wholesale murder of the poor with the illegal drug trade, he now has to deal with a legislative investigation into his son, Paolo, who is vice mayor of the family’s home city of Davao, as being a long-time friend of suspected drug lords.
On top of that, customs officials appointed by the Duterte administration resigned amid charges of facilitating a US$128 million ($992 million) drug haul smuggled from China.
To date, none of the public and private individuals named in a probe conducted by the senate have been acted against.
On the other hand, a businessman from the central Philippine island of Cebu was hauled over the coals for his suspected involvement in the drug trade early in his term, but several other suspected drug lords in the same region have been gunned down or summarily executed, while Duterte has overturned administrative sanctions brought against the police officers involved.
However, since the Cebu businessman who got away with a rap over the knuckles was a good friend of a campaign contributor, he has been treated with kid gloves and is still as free as a bird.
Soon after he became president, Duterte attacked a powerful digital gaming firm for operating on a lapsed licence. The owner, known as a crony of the Marcos family, was forced to sell his interest. But the buyer was the husband of Marcos’ daughter!
He also went after a cigarette firm for under-declaring taxable income and even charged it with outright smuggling. But his government wrangled a deal for the unpaid taxes and left the issue of smuggling hanging. The lawyer for the cigarette firm was Duterte’s son-in-law!
Instead of the transparency he spoke so much about during his campaign, Duterte has been coy about the sources of his family wealth. But he did attack Trillanes, charging him with holding hidden bank accounts, but later had to admit that he fabricated the account numbers.
The Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales, and the chief justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, now face possible impeachment as Duterte vows to snub any probe into his wealth.
He has already killed off the old Presidential Commission on Good Government, which tracked down the Marcos wealth, and is now creating a replacement body for it, while his political friends want the customs bureau to be replaced with three different agencies.
Attacks have also been made on the Commission for Human Rights with the jailing of its secretary, Leila de Lima, while an attempt by the congress to strip it of its budget almost succeeded.
It is reported that the commission is currently investigating 951 cases filed on drug-related deaths since May 9 last year, when Duterte was announced by the congress as being the winner of the presidential election.
He assumed the office of head of state on June 30.
But a president who does not understand the concept of accountability, except when it involves his enemies, will never produce his promised cleanup of the government, no matter how many new offices he creates.
Duterte promised change, but what has been witnessed in his first year of office is a full-scale return to the old ways of privilege and oppression.
Cronyism, the apportioning of the country’s wealth to just a favoured few friends of government officials is back with a vengeance as Duterte’s tyrannical tendencies grow.
Much has also been made about expected aid coming from China, but Ernie Adella, a spokesperson for the Presidential Office, explained that the country would not accept aid from the European Union because of the conditions that it places upon it.
However, no mention was made of the conditions that would apply to overpriced loans from China.
Actually, the conditions the European Union insists upon are the protection of children, women, workers, minorities, people in the street and religious communities, all of which Duterte regards as his enemies.
Philippine democracy is flawed; there’s no denying that fact. 
But under Duterte, Espiña-Varona says all that can be expected from his seductive election promises is a Judas kiss for the adoring public that put him in Malacañang.
However, the Global Peace Index does give him one distinction, he reigns over one of the least peaceful countries in the world.

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