Sin­gle-is­sue pres­i­dency

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - HERMENEGILDO C. CRUZ

The re­cent State of the Na­tion Ad­dress of Pres­i­dent Duterte, where he de­clared he will pur­sue his war against drugs in an un­re­lent­ing man­ner, con­firms that we have the clos­est thing to a one-is­sue pres­i­dency. Mr. Duterte him­self had on many oc­ca­sions pointed out that poverty fu­els the drug trade while ter­ror­ism is partly funded by the drug lords. On this ba­sis, it would ap­pear that the war on poverty should be our pri­mor­dial con­cern since it un­der­pins the two other on­go­ing wars. Nonethe­less, the war on drugs has de­fined our na­tional pol­icy.

In for­eign re­la­tions we have clas­si­fied as un­friendly any leader or coun­try crit­i­ciz­ing Mr. Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, among them for­mer US pres­i­dent Bar­rack Obama, for­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral Ban Ki-moon, Pope Fran­cis and lately, the Euro­pean Union. On the other hand, we have claimed as friends lead­ers like Xi Jin­ping and Vladimir Putin who had not en­dorsed Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs but sim­ply re­mained silent on the is­sue.

A coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy is care­fully crafted un­der the doc­trine that “pol­i­tics stops at the wa­ter’s edge,” mean­ing for­eign pol­icy should be non­par­ti­san and have con­ti­nu­ity. Ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and na­tional se­cu­rity are nor­mally non­nego­tiable as­pects of a coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy. How­ever, in our case now this has been traded by Mr. Duterte for Chi­nese for­eign in­vest­ment. It is doubt­ful if our suc­ceed­ing pres- idents will con­tinue this pol­icy; we could lose our claim to the West Philip­pine Sea un­der the doc­trine of aban­don­ment.

The war against drugs has been an un­winnable war thus far. Even the vaunted United States with its un­lim­ited re­sources, wag­ing the drug war all over the world, has not won this war. It is doubt­ful that we will be the first coun­try to win such a war with our lim­ited re­sources. The war against ter­ror­ism can be lost and then won, but with dire con­se­quences in terms of both the loss of hu­man lives and eco­nomic de­struc­tion. Afghanistan, Iraq, So­ma­lia, Libya and Le­banon il­lus­trate the high cost of ter­ror­ists tak­ing over a coun­try and the pro­hib­i­tive cost of lib­er­at­ing them. To this day, huge chunks of the ter­ri­to­ries of the coun­tries cited re­main un­der the con­trol of the Is­lamic State, al-Qaida, Hezbol­lah or other ter­ror­ist groups. An in­ter­na­tional coali­tion is help­ing th­ese coun­tries to rid their bor­ders of ter­ror­ists, with very lim­ited suc­cess. (This is the rea­son why we must ig­nore the mil­i­tants who ad­vo­cate that we fight the war on ter­ror­ism with­out for­eign as­sis­tance, as in the Mama­pasano op­er­a­tion). How­ever, the war on poverty is winnable; our Asean neigh­bors Malaysia, Thai­land, In­done­sia and Viet­nam have done far bet­ter than us in win­ning this war.

The war on drugs has thus be­come an ob­ses­sion of Mr. Duterte, to the detri­ment of the two other wars. To al­le­vi­ate poverty, we need for­eign as­sis­tance. But sev­eral times, we have given up for­eign as­sis­tance due to con­cerns ex­pressed by donors over hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in our coun­try. One such re­cent loss is the with­hold­ing of our Gen­er­al­ized Sys­tem of Pref­er­ences (GSP) priv­i­lege by the EU. The GSP al­lows us to ex­port cer­tain prod­ucts to the EU ex­empt from cus­toms du­ties. When we gave up this priv­i­lege, we de­prive some work­ers in our coun­try of their liveli­hood. In ad­di­tion, all the in­vest­ments in in­dus­tries geared to­ward the EU mar­ket will now be­come idle. Thus, the war on poverty is un­der­mined by the pur­suit of the war on drugs.

Two points em­pha­size the dan­ger of ob­ses­sion with one is­sue. It must have taken some time for the ter­ror­ists to ac­cu­mu­late the re­sources they used in the Marawi up­ris­ing; nonethe­less, they went un­de­tected. What hap­pened there is our in­tel­li­gence as­sets must have been over con­cen­trated in the war against drugs, al­low­ing us to get blind­sided by the Maute group. Like­wise, there will be a ready sup­ply of drug push­ers un­less we can re­duce poverty in the shan­ty­towns.

———— Hermenegildo C. Cruz was Philip­pine am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions in 1984-1986. COM­MEN­TARY

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