Duterte and the death of democracy

War and martial law come to Mindanao – again.

Alan Tidwell

Does martial law in Mindanao spell the end of democracy in the Philippines? Alan Tidwell takes a look at the state of democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

Today one might well ask, does President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao spell the end of democracy in the Philippines?  The simple answer is ‘no’.  The cadaver of democracy already rests on the steps of Malacañang Palace and in the funerary plots of the 7000 killed thus far in Duterte’s war on drugs. It is a little late to worry about the niceties of things like habeas corpus.

Rather, the declaration of martial law ought to be seen as just one more nail in democracy’s coffin in the Southeast Asian nation. So, where did this nail come from?

Duterte declared martial law on 23 May 2017, suspending habeas corpus for the whole of Mindanao, and the islands of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.

The putative cause of the declaration stemmed from an outbreak of violence in Marawi City, on the shores of Lake Lanao. The Maute group, founded by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, has aligned itself with ISIS since mid-2015. Trouble erupted when the Philippine military launched a mission against elements of the Maute and Abu–Sayyaf groups (Abu-Sayyaf is a small terrorist group operating in Mindanao and Sulu).


More on this:

Duterte and Donald’s ctrl-alt-delete

Duterte had signalled the possibility of martial law well before the 23 May attack. The Philippine Sun Star reported on 16 May 2017 that Duterte had been considering declaring martial law in Sulu. A week before the Marawi attack Duterte said: “Do not force my hand to declare martial law because if I do, I will solve everything, not only about rebellion. I will solve everything that ails Mindanao. If I declare martial law, there’s no way of telling how long would it take us to restore order, or we might not really be able to succeed.”

Clearly, Duterte had been looking for an opportunity to make martial law a reality.  The attack on Marawi City gave him the excuse he was looking for.

Mindanao is no stranger to violence. It is the site of at least two conflicts pitting insurgents against the government. The New Peoples Army (NPA) is a communist inspired insurrection in Mindanao in the south and Luzon in the north. Duterte has made efforts to engage with the NPA to end the conflict. Thus far, however, the talks have foundered.

On the western side of Mindanao, several Muslim groups fight against the state. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a peace deal with the government in 1996. The Moro Islamic Liberation group (MILF) splintered from the MNLF and has been fighting ever since. They too have signed agreements with the government, but as yet no final peace deal has been negotiated. The Abu-Sayyaf group is a much smaller group known mostly for kidnapping and beheading their captives.


More on this:

Duterte and the return of the authoritarians

Like Mindanao, Duterte himself is no stranger to violence either. The former mayor of Davao, in eastern Mindanao, has several times claimed involvement in homicides.  He claimed in December 2016: “In Davao, I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys (police) that if I can do it why can’t you? And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

Martial law has a long history in the Philippines, and most notoriously under Ferdinand Marcos. Under Marcos it was clear he had no real intention to return to democracy, with martial law in place from 1972 to 1981, and he was only removed from power by the People Power Revolution.

Martial law returned briefly in Maguindanao from 4-13 December 2009 when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sought to disarm a local militia.

Which sort of martial law will Duterte pick – the shorter Arroyo version or the multi-year Marcos kind? Given his already apparent disdain for the rule of law and earlier mentions of martial law, it seems most likely Duterte will opt for the multi-year version of martial law, one heavy on order and light on law. I am betting on the longer version.

Violence in Mindanao gives Duterte cover to launch martial law. It allows him to complete the transformation of the Philippine state from a weak democracy into a more authoritarian state. How it plays out in the future and what the implications are of this transition for the Philippine people and the wider region remains to be seen. One thing is certain – Rodrigo Duterte has brought an end to democracy in the Philippines.


This piece was first published at Policy Forum, Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and opinion. Read the original here: https://www.policyforum.net/duterte-and-the-death-of-democracy/

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By inviting the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, Donald Trump emboldens a killer

duterte2e-1-webCheck out my editorial on Duterte’s visit to the Trump White House.

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The tag is cut: how will the Trump-Turnbull spat damage the alliance?

3718071086_59a816c2d7_mWhen former prime minister Paul Keating said last year it was time to “cut the tag” and loosen the bonds of the Australia’s alliance with the US, who would have thought the man wielding the knife would be Donald Trump?

The public disagreement between the Trump White House and the Turnbull government over the deal to send asylum seekers languishing on Manus Island and Nauru to the US is unprecedented. At no previous time in the history of the Australia-US alliance have things seemed so dire – and got there so quickly.

Past tensions kept quiet

Australian and American leaders over the years have, from time to time, disagreed or said things to cause embarrassment. But for the most part, such disagreements have been kept out of the limelight.

John Howard and Bill Clinton did not like one another. Their discomfort did not, however, seriously affect the alliance. But sometimes discomfort breaks into something stronger.

Blanche D’Alpuget, Bob Hawke’s then-biographer (and later his wife), recounts that Australia’s former foreign minister, Bill Hayden, and US Secretary of State George Shultz loathed one another. Hayden referred to Shultz as “the German pork butcher”, while Shultz called Hayden “stupid” to his face.

But, unlike the current saga, the Hayden-Shultz spat did not become public until after D’Alpuget published her Hawke biography.

In 2008, the content of another phone conversation between Australian and US leaders became pubic. A brief row broke out when reports emerged of a leaked conversation between Kevin Rudd and George Bush.

As the 2008 financial crisis erupted, Rudd had suggested using the G20 as a way of handling things to Bush in a phone conversation. Bush allegedly replied:

What’s the G20?

The White House angrily rejected the public version of events.

Time to think differently

Members of the US Congress have made a rare intervention in the latest spat in an attempt to counter Trump’s amateurish handling of the issue. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said:

Australia is a very important and central ally and it’s going to continue to be.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham admonished Trump, suggesting the president “sleep more and tweet less”. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said:

Before the president shows such disrespect again, he should consider this: there is only one nation that has stood with us in every war of the last century, from the fields of France and Belgium to the mountains of Afghanistan – Australia.

Trump has handled this situation very badly. In a very short space of time he has undone decades of work in building trans-Pacific security ties between Australia and the US. Other American allies – Japan and South Korea in particular – must look on, aghast at what has transpired.

But the Australia-US alliance was already under pressure before the phone call between Trump and Malcolm Turnbull went awry. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a vital element in the Obama pivot to Asia, was headed for the dustbin even before the US election. Within hours of being sworn in, Trump cancelled US involvement in the trade deal.

More ominously, other US security partnerships in the region exhibit severe strain. In an eerie and intemperate foreshadowing of Trump’s outburst, Philippine President Duterte in 2016 called Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and then denounced his country’s security alliance with the US and embraced the Chinese.

While many aspects of the US-Philippine relationship are still in place, it is nonetheless showing signs of strain.

In 2016 the Chinese refused to comply with the decision handed down by tribunal convened under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The tribunal found the Chinese had violated the UN convention in asserting its claim to disputes islands in the South China Sea.

The Australia-US relationship has suffered numerous knocks over the past year. The greatest threat to it has not come from China, the Philippines or Australia, but from the US. Trump’s misguided handling of the refugee issue and his withdrawal from the TPP has combined with external events to place real pressure on the alliance.

Trump has cut the tag. Now Australia must think differently about its relationship with the US.

creative-commons-logo-4cd655489c196c20a2416b8b696f5c31e9fec70dc21b5fdbf99306454f22f766 An earlier version was published in The Conversation

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Australia’s foreign affairs song remains the same

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Kookaburras, circa 1900, Powerhouse Museum

Australia’s last foreign affairs white paper, Advancing the National Interest, hit the streets in 2003.  Since then a lot has happened – wars waged, governments overthrown, and economies collapsed, just to mention the high points. Amid all of this change, however, is the feeling that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Coalition government has announced it is about to get to work on the next foreign affairs white paper. What can we expect?

Back in 2003 the authors of that white paper identified several challenges — terrorism, the future of the European Union, the ANZUS alliance, engaging with Asia, and assisting Pacific Island countries. In the ensuing 13 years the challenges have shifted somewhat, although some have a familiar ring – terrorism is still a problem, the need to deepen ties with the EU remains, but now without the UK, the requirement to engage with Asia is perennial as is maintaining ANZUS, and the Pacific Islands still need help.

What has changed? China is increasingly assertive. Australia’s largest trade partner has ruffled regional feathers by building bases in the South China Sea and thumbed its nose at the UN. Russia has re-emerged in troubling ways as a global force. Asymmetric campaigns against its opponents in Ukraine and elsewhere create problems leaving Western countries unsure of how to reply. The Arab Spring has collapsed into the oozing sore that is Syria. Since 2003 a refugee crisis has unfolded across northern Africa and the Middle East testing Europe’s will. Elsewhere migration flows enflame nativist sentiments. Declining rates of growth in economies around the globe today stifle and complicate government decisions from Washington to Beijing to Brussels. As if all of that were not enough cybersecurity has also erupted as an issue of concern for governments and businesses alike. The trial of climate change deepens this global complexity.

Replying to these challenges would have been hard enough for the finest political masters. Over the course of the past 13 years political leadership, however, has hardly been up to the task. Like most things, the quality of political leadership is not a constant but varies over time. In recent years it has been woeful around the globe. This is not to say that every political decision has been bad, or that some have not been excellent. It is to say that on balance political decision-making has not been of a high calibre.

Some of the more striking low quality political decisions made range from President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, followed by President Obama’s ill-conceived disengagement, to subsequent Australian prime ministers’ handling of asylum seekers, including the Rudd government’s decision to end the Pacific Solution and the Gillard/Abbott embrace of the son of Pacific Solution and Turnbull’s inability to manage the next steps. President Xi’s embrace of nationalism and an associated decision to build island bases in the South China Sea, Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex Crimea and the West’s virtual acquiescence, and David Cameron’s encouragement for a vote on the UK’s position in the European Union also fall into this category. President Rodrigo Duterte’s advocacy of extrajudicial killing of drug dealers in the Philippines ranks similarly low down on the scale of quality political decisions, as does the half-hearted way in which leaders from around the globe address climate change.

It would be easy to explain away such poor decisions. Their cause might be bad analysis, craven pandering to popular opinion and/or a lack of gumption.

The examples of Iraq, asylum seekers, climate change and UK membership of the EU are explained by domestic political division, the midwife to many of these ill-conceived ideas. Political leaders have been held hostage by a rump within their party. In order to placate these internal agitators, political leaders give in with hopes of securing their leadership. Of course, having capitulated to the cabal’s demands political leaders hurt their own effectiveness and restrict their room to manoeuvre.  Xi, Putin, and Duterte, much like Trump in the US, build their political base on a call to make their country great again. The romance of nostalgia calls to the public and those that stand in the way are swept aside.

The new white paper will focus attention on the myriad challenges, both new and old. Australia’s diplomats are dedicated professionals. To a person, they will do the bidding of their political masters, and their utmost for Australia. The new white paper will be their map forward.

It’s too bad that the white paper will tell only part of the story. Left unsaid will be a call for better informed and considered decisions from political leaders.

See original post at Policy Forum

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New Problem Solving for One blog

detourIf you are looking for material related to problem solving for one go to the new site problemsolving1.net.  You will find problem solving for one (PS1) material there.

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The Power of Contrast

Nelson_Mandela-2008_(edit)Below are excerpts from Nelson Mandela’s “Statement from the Dock at the Opening of the Defence Case in the Rivonia Trial,” Pretoria Supreme Court, South Africa, 20th April, 1964.

Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalize and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war. Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.

Later, at the end of his statement Mandela declared:

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

rob fordFor contrast read the statement from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s admission to using illegal drugs while in office.

“Yes I have smoked crack cocaine. But I am not an addict….  Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors.” (CTV News, Nov. 5, 2013)

In a statement released later that day he further explained,

“I love my job — I love my job, I love this city, I love saving the taxpayers money, and I love being your mayor. There is important work that we must advance and important decisions that must be made. For the sake of the taxpayers of this great city, for the sake of the taxpayers, we must get back to work immediately. We must keep Toronto moving forward.” (CTV News, Nov. 5, 2013)

Mandela gave up his freedom in his campaign for social, racial and democratic justice. Rob Ford gave up crack to be Mayor.  The contrast speaks for itself.

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Foreign Aid, Bad Driving, and Other Tales of Woe

car wreck

An Australian colleague once told me a story of watching two cars collide in an otherwise empty car park early one Sunday morning. The drivers, unknown to one another, shared only one goal of finding a parking space among an abundance of free spaces, yet somehow they managed to run into one another. Abundance sometimes breeds its own special kind of futility, whether one thinks of parking spaces or government budgets.

In the world of humanitarian and development assistance, more money certainly buys more stuff such as more medicine, more food, and more fuel. However, more money does not necessarily translate into getting more done, and sometimes it has the opposite effect.

Consider these examples from Afghanistan as told by Major Clare O’Neill, a combat engineer from the Australian Army who is currently at Georgetown University’s Center for Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific Studies as a visiting Fulbright scholar. In 2006, a drought that ravaged Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, received attention from a well-known NGO. The NGO funded the Provincial Director of Education’s management of the provincial delivery of food. Local food distribution was to be done through schools, thus incentivizing school attendance. Empowering the local leader to run the project seemed wise at the time because of his local knowledge. However, unknown to the NGO, the local Provincial Director sold the food on the black market in Kandahar, pocketing the proceeds. O’Neill explained, “A few boxes of food were kept by the Provincial Director at the boy’s high school for the obligatory photo shots when required. In 2006, people in Uruzgan were genuinely starving, and many died as their weakened bodies did not survive the winter months.” Damning further still is the fact that when the funding body was informed of the failure to distribute the food, they “insisted that it had been distributed and explained they had a report from the Provincial Director” confirming the food’s delivery.

As second example of poorly managed aid, a contractor from Kabul arrived at the Tarin Kowt Hospital to build an ablution block while, at the same time, Afghan government officials in Kabul approved an NGO project to build toilets in health facilities throughout Afghanistan. The combined lack of consultation and limited physical space created a problem. The proposed ablution block site was the same site where the hospital mortuary was to be built. Further confounding the location of the ablution block was its proximity to a well and the women’s hospital. Ignoring the wishes of the hospital staff, the contractor built the block. Once completed, photographed, and reported back to Kabul, the locals then destroyed the building in order to make room for the mortuary. According to O’Neill, “The ablution block project reeked of top-down good intention and an organization standing in front of a map of Afghanistan with pins to place. The toilets were a demonstration of a project with a set number outcome and outsider’s version of a golden solution. Back in Kabul, the quantitative measure of effectiveness of toilets built was a delusional success.”

Sometimes, however, things do go well. O’Neill noted that, in the Uruzgan Province, the Afghan Health Development Services (AHDS) provided health care, which was run by Afghanis and funded by western donors. With staff based in Tarin Kowt, the AHDS empowered the Principal Doctor to make on-the-ground decisions regarding health priorities with community consultation. As O’Neill explained, “The key to success was the professionalism and foresight by the Principal Doctor.”

In 2006, health facilities in Uruzgan Province were dilapidated, and its services were poor. From 2006 to 2010, AHDS, working with the Provincial Reconstruction Team, expanded and made health care more accessible. “The total number of active health care facilities in the province increased from 9 to 17 over that period. The number of health posts doubled to 200, and community health workers (CHWs) increased from 130 to 300, of whom 100 were women,” O’Neill explained.

All in all, big budgets can never replace good practice informed by local knowledge. With people on the ground, better choices can be made. As O’Neill argues, in insecure settings deemed too dangerous for aid agencies and NGO’s, the best local knowledge comes through the military. More broadly, Mary Anderson’s mantra of “Do No Harm” sets the bar too low. We need something better than that: consult, plan, and spend wisely and locally while at the very least doing no harm.

I offer this not as a rationale for doing more with less, but rather as a warning. Ambitious and large missions can sometimes replace wise planning and problem solving with poor practice. Cuts to humanitarian and development assistance create real obstacles to getting good work done, yet poorly conceptualized, badly managed, and faulty implementation of projects equally threatens the effectiveness of aid. Or as my Australian friend observed, “An empty car park is no excuse for bad driving.”

Reposted from the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs blog

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