"The rebel underground is likely to bear the brunt of the mailed-fist policy of the Duterte administration in the days to come."
What exactly did President Rodrigo Duterte mean when he said late last month that the public should expect a “very radical change” in the government’s war against the communist insurgency?
What he told the military during a recent gathering was that it is now urgent for them to defeat the insurgency.
“I do not think that we can afford to wage a war for another 50 years, so I am telling the military, ‘Can we end it now?’ We cannot afford to pass it on to the next generation. They might be unable to handle it. It has to be now,” he said.
“I’m serving notice to everybody that in the coming months, it will not really be bloody, but there will be at least a little trouble for our country,” Duterte added.
Turning his attention to the Maoist rebels, he said: “You cannot win a fight for social justice or for a better life in your country if you [wage] revolution. It won’t work. You can’t even control a single barangay.”
“Even if you did not exist, land reform would still be the program of any government here in the Philippines. That’s the truth. Because even without the element of violence and armed struggle, the time will come that you have to equitably distribute land to the people.”
From where we sit, we can interpret Duterte’s remarks to mean that the government would now wage a search-and-destroy and take-no-prisoners approach to the Maoist rebellion.
But can the military defeat the rebellion on its own, a feat it has failed to achieve in the past 50 years?
The government has unveiled what it calls the whole-of-nation approach to the insurgency. The creation of a multi-agency National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict is part of this initiative. Part of its work is to undertake peace talks at the local rather than the national level, since the peace talks with the National Democratic Front in Europe ended a dismal failure. But the NDF stoutly opposes the idea of local peace talks as this would undercut its control over its political apparatus and armed units on the ground.
The government has also moved in other directions as part of an over-all effort to defeat the insurgency. One is the recent proposal to allow the police to increase their presence in schools and universities, including the University of the Philippines, as a means to curb recruitment of youth and students to the New People’s Army. It’s intended to drain the pond that feeds the rebellion, but will it work and keep students from beefing up the rebel ranks?
News reports indicate heightened efforts by the government to hunt down rebel leaders, including those who surfaced during the short-lived peace talks but returned to the underground when the political negotiations went nowhere. The military even wants CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison sent back to the Philippines from The Netherlands to face a raft of charges related to the 50-year-old rebellion. If these are a portent of things to come, then the rebel underground is likely to bear the brunt of the mailed-fist policy of the Duterte administration in the days to come.
Health for all imperiled
Can the government afford universal health care for Filipinos in keeping with its constitutional mandate to “protect and promote the right to health of the people?”
For the first year of UHC implementation next year, Congress has allocated a total of P166.5 billion. Of this amount, P67.4 billion would be earmarked for government subsidy to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. for free health insurance coverage for millions of Filipinos, P9.5 billion would be for the deployment of health care personnel to the provinces, P9.4 billion for medical assistance to poor patients, and P5.9 billion for health facilities.
To the layman, the P166.5-billion allocation for universal health care may look gargantuan, and could assure adequate health care especially for the poorest of the poor. But that’s not really the case. In fact, according to Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, who heads the House committee on health, the UHC program has an estimated P62-billion budgetary shortfall in 2020. To augment UHC funds, she has proposed to allocate for the program the P1.2 billion returned to the government last year by Dengvaxia maker Sanofi. The use of the refund—representing the value of unused dengue vaccines when the Department of Health decided to stop the vaccination program due to deaths that were blamed on the vaccine—would no doubt support expanded health services to benefit more people under the program.
The funding shortfall is so serious that PhilHealth concedes that the UHC may take three more years to fully implement due to lack of funds and personnel. It says the program is “ambitious” and “challenging” but the Duterte administration intends to make it happen. Aside from funding, the other issue in UHC implementation is the absorptive capacity of PhilHealth as they have to recruit more people, put up more local insurance offices and extension offices.
If that’s the case, we can only conclude that Filipinos especially those in the margins of society will have to wait some more before they can avail themselves of the benefits of universal health care.