Over decades, Philippine senators, who were supposed to focus on national issues, had fallen into the trap of treating Metro Manila issues as national issues. Such disproportionate control of the country’s governance may change and backward regions may be brought to the forefront if Duterte’s team delivers
MINDANAO, Philippines–For the first time in Philippines’ political history, key cabinet positions will go to leaders from backward Mindanao.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, a Mindanaoan himself, made this announcement which is seen by many as an effort to dismantle ‘Manila imperialism’ that left provinces outside the capital impoverished and underdeveloped. For example, Mindanao gets only 18% of the national budget share while it supplies 41% of the country’s food requirement.
Most Mindanaoans have lauded Duterte’s move to induct the brightest of Mindanaoans into his cabinet.
However, skeptics have reservations about the incoming ministers’ proposed 8-point economic agenda which includes rural development, tax reform, corruption reduction, education, improved tourism, business-friendly government and foreign investments and Public-private partnership projects.
Sonny Africa, executive director of the economic think tank Ibon Foundation, says Duterte’s eight-point agenda does not offer anything new.
“His (Duterte’s) transition team hurriedly presented an eight-point economic agenda to assuage elite panic. Belying Duterte’s powerful campaign theme of change, it embraces and upholds neo-liberal economic policies that enrich a few but keep the national economy backward and tens of millions of Filipinos in poverty,” he said.
The initial list of Mindanao candidates who will sit as cabinet members includes Perfecto Yasay who will hold the Department of Foreign Affairs portfolio. A native of Davao City and professor in a US university, Yasay is a former top immigration lawyer of New York. He was also chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission under the Ramos administration.
Mindanaoan Emmanuel Pinol will hold the Department of Agriculture post. He is former provincial governor of North Cotabato and a staunch critic of the separatist rebellion in Mindanao.
Lawyer Jesus Dureza of Davao City will be the Presidential Adviser for Peace Process. He has served as presidential assistant for Mindanao.
Mindanao businessman Carlos Dominguez will occupy the Department of Finance post. A native of Davao City, Dominguez was formerly secretary of Department of Agriculture.
Political analysts say the Duterte presidency will try to showcase Mindanao as an island of qualified technocrats. Mindanao has an estimated population of 22 million or a fifth of the country’s population.
Political Science professor Henry Solomon of Western Mindanao State University told Asia Times hundreds of Mindanao applicants have gone to Davao seeking cabinet and sub-cabinet posts. For some, Davao has become the virtual seat of government of the Philippines after many foreign ambassadors and nation’s leading politicians visited the presumptive president in his temporary office there this week.
Solomon hopes Duterte administration will hire more Mindanao technocrats to promote the inclusive economic growth based on the 8-point economic agenda.
Surprisingly, Duterte hinted that he will be hiring qualified leftist leaders to occupy the four major sensitive Cabinet posts: the Department of Labor and Employment, Social Welfare and Development, Agrarian Reform and the Environment of Natural Resources. While this has evoked the curiosity of his critics, political analysts see it as a strategic move to unite Filipinos regardless of their political ideology.
Leftist groups in the Philippines are vocal against US foreign policies and have been staging protest rallies in the US embassy in Manila calling for the withdrawal of US troops in the Philippines.
Gadzhali Jaafar, a top leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was among the well-wishers who met Duterte this week. Jaafar is pushing for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to create an Islamic sub government in the Southern Phiippines.
In Cagayan de Oro, another Mindanao city, national president of the pro-federalism group Mindanaoans for Mindanao’s Rolly Pelinggon told Asia Times that they are supporting Duterte’s move for a federal form of government.
“The dismantling of Manila imperialism should have been done decades ago. Because of this culture prevailing through the past four decades, Mindanao has lost many socio-economic opportunities for development,” Rolly Pelinggon said.
Mindanaoans for Mindanao will urge the Duterte administration not to commit the mistake of the previous administration which had designated a peace negotiating team which was unaware of the complex dynamics of conflicts of the island region.
Noel T. Tarrazona is a freelance journalist and a senior analyst of Wikistrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org