Duterte’s socialist experiment

Bobby M. Tuazon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 21st, 2016

A coalition government with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has been proposed by presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte’s with an offer of at least four Cabinet posts – agrarian reform, social welfare, environment and natural resources, and labor. Thanking his former student for the “magnanimous offer,” exiled CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison politely declined the Cabinet positions clarifying, however, that the proposal will be studied seriously.

Duterte’s flirtation with left politics began as a member of the Kabataang Makabayan and Bayan. As Davao City mayor, he staked his political career by accommodating the New People’s Army (NPA), and supporting a ban on U.S. armed exercises in the metropolis. From the lens of a true Marxist, it is more accurate to cast him as socialist-leaning and nationalist with an unqualified sympathy for the poor. In words easily grasped by the public during media briefings, he promises to curb corruption by cutting red tape, having a civil service that renders prompt service and courtesy, removing “discretionary funds” and cutting expenditures, and a stop to barangay junket “seminars.”

Duterte’s proposed coalition with the Left differs from the European norm where coalition regimes are transacted by opposing political parties for lack of a dominant political party. Forged by compromise and cabinet power sharing coalitions eventually turn fractious by incoherent policies and strategies.

In this case, the Cabinet posts are being offered even as the Davao mayor and his advisers know that the underground Left’s agenda of revolutionary reforms seek to alter the power structures in the country – dislodging the ruling oligarchs and financial elite and building a people’s coalition government. The posts at stake are as strategic and critical as they involve social services, employment, land reform, and protecting environment from development aggression. In short, they serve as key platforms for initiating basic social and economic reforms with socialist paradigms – issues which previous pro-elite regimes failed to address.

Offering the “hand of peace” to the Left as well as other cause-driven rebel forces, Duterte anchors his incoming government on a healing presidency with a program of national unity, peace, and development. He will definitely lead and micro-manage a hard-fist anti-drugs and anti-crime campaign but national security will lose steam without a peace pact signed with the Left capped by comprehensive social, economic, and political reforms for a just and lasting peace. A negotiated political settlement that will accommodate a progressive agenda opens the possibility of an alliance between Duterte and the Left which may even solidify the president’s socialist orientation.

In fact, the offer of Cabinet posts to the CPP reveals a Duterte ready to embrace the party’s national democratic program with a socialist perspective. Others may interpret it as an attempt to co-opt the Left by using the peace process as a ploy for capitulation. But the presumptive president knows better than that.

It’s too soon to predict whether the mulled coalition government will work. However, Duterte’s first moves as president converges with the Left agenda – an end to contractualization on the first day of his term, rebuilding the national steel industry en route to industrialization, and tax reform, among others.

In principle, a true coalition government must include forming parallel coalition councils at the local levels. The support that Duterte expects from the Left in helping administer government affairs can be enhanced by a broad progressive movement’s representation in the local government. Basic social and economic reforms of a Duterte presidency should be grounded where community-based change movers have long been struggling for grassroots empowerment. These are the change forces that no Cabinet secretaries, political and business supporters of Duterte can promise except the progressive movement. A reform agenda needs a strong and nationwide mass movement as a political backbone and development force.

Which brings us to the next question: If the Left comes on board a coalition government how will Duterte be able to balance and rein in a government of incongruent political forces - the Left armed with a progressive ideology and rightist groups representing neo-liberal and pro-elite interests? How will basic disagreements on policies and strategies be reconciled to assemble a coherent six-year program? How, indeed, will the expected resistance from the elite and diehard anti-communist elements be handled?

The answer lies in the outcome of the peace process. Peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) which was stalled in 2013 promises to rectify past mistakes of not honouring 10 peace agreements with both sides now expected to accelerate the process as speedily as possible. The outcome of these talks will shape the final configuration of the coalition government and to what extent Duterte is determined to support it.

Duterte understands the political influence of the armed Left – the extensive guerrilla zones they operate with countless barrios all over the country now under revolutionary councils. Past regimes failed to defeat the NPA because of its mass base support and also due to government’s inability to address the roots of rebellion.

Both Duterte and the Left will probably need mutual support and cooperation to sustain what may turn out to be the country’s first socialist experiment. The coming weeks will be crucial.


Bobby M. Tuazon is CenPEG’s Director for Policy Studies and teaches in UP.

Latest posts
Back to top Back to top >>
Telefax +6329299526 email:; Copyright ©2005
Center for People Empowewrment in Governance (CenPEG), Philippines. All rights reserved