US-Duterte regime's neoliberal policies, fascism continue to aggravate natural calamities in Southern Mindanao

In the aftermath of Tropical Depression Vicky’s short but felt traverse across Southern Mindanao on Friday, December 18, more than 200 families have been temporarily displaced in the provinces of Davao de Oro and Davao Oriental due to flashfloods and landslides. Already beset with the economic downturn brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the poor Lumad and peasants in these areas have recently added the fallout of the natural calamity to their burden. It is estimated that millions have been destroyed in property and livelihood.

Absent in these figures of loss and destruction, however, is the obvious yet understated underlying reason: the US-Duterte regime’s relentless bid for neoliberal programs and policies and the escalating fascism that protects and perpetuates them. Neoliberalism in backward and pre-industrial countries like the Philippines prioritizes extractive industries such as mining and logging, agri-plantations for cheap raw materials and labor-intensive and graft-laden infrastructure projects such as the Build, Build, Build program.

In Davao de Oro, for example, where flashfloods and landslides forced families to flee their homes, the local ruling class has continued its mining interests in the towns of Pantukan, Monkayo and New Bataan, especially in Mt. Diwalwal which is being prepped for large-scale operations in the guise of much-hyped “rehabilitation project” and consequently displacing existing small-scale miners. Infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges meant to facilitate transport of gold and mineral ores are also being aggressively undertaken around the mineral-rich Black Mountain range in Pantukan, which saw no let-up in focused military operations since early this year.

In Davao Oriental, particularly in the towns of Baganga, Cateel, Boston and Caraga, it has been business as usual for several years since Duterte’s ascension to power for logging operators enjoying the patronage of local government officials who are obsequious to Duterte’s drug war, counter-insurgency attacks against the masses and his anti-people programs.

Banana plantations have likewise started to encroach in highland villages of the province, disrupting traditional and non-destructive farming practices of Lumad and peasants in favor of chemical-based monocrop agriculture.

Outside of the region, several towns in the provinces of Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Sur in the wake of TD Vicky similarly attribute the onslaught of surging floods to rampant logging, mining and monocrop plantations.

In all of these provinces affected by the recent tropical depression, fascism and impunity by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and their paramilitary dogs have been severe and incessant, carried out in combat operations and by their fixed installations. The AFP and PNP’s fixed installations, such as detachments, checkpoints and toll gates, serve as mercenary protectors of mining, logging and plantation operations, notwithstanding being extortion spots for trucks and commuters alike. In return, these companies copiously line the pockets of AFP and PNP officials.

The masses in Southern Mindanao decry the insatiable greed of local bureaucrat capitalists and bourgeois compradors in cahoots with imperialist corporations. For years, they have come to realize the inextricable link between this greed and the continued degradation of the environment, and thereby leaves them vulnerable and turn their communities into wastelands during natural calamities. Having gone through the tragedy of supertyphoon Pablo in 2012, Lumad and peasants in the region understand that when natural calamities hit, even just relatively weaker tropical depressions like Vicky, the destruction becomes extensive, as it is severely compounded by decades of unbridled environmental plunder.

These destructive economic activities wantonly carried out by Duterte and past reactionary regimes only halted when local organs of political power and revolutionary organizations, following the devastation of supertyphoon Pablo, implemented their own policies on logging, reforestation and sustainable agriculture programs in guerilla zones and bases in Southern Mindanao. National and local reactionary governments were likewise put to task by widespread protest actions and forced to help in the rehabilitation of livelihoods, communities, and schools.

However, intense militarization by AFP troops and their paramilitaries in subsequent years, especially during the US-Duterte regime, eroded the incremental but steady gains of the masses in protecting the environment, as harassment, abductions and killings of their leaders and members rendered the implementation of the policies untenable.

As revolutionary forces, allies, and NPA units in the region carry out relief, rescue, and rehabilitation operations, it is likewise most urgent to implement proactive measures to lessen the immediate destruction caused by recurring natural calamities like typhoons and earthquakes and the cumulative and long-term impacts of climate change. Programs for disaster risk reduction and management, for instance, must do away with reactionary victim-blaming. It is most effective and sustainable when situated under the framework of class struggle and implemented by revolutionary organizations.

We must staunchly oppose neoliberal programs of destructive mining, logging, monocrop plantation ventures, and other schemes which convert land-use and struggle instead for the minimum and maximum programs of revolutionary land reform.

Finally, revolutionary forces and allies throughout the region need to muster our collective strength in order to demand accountability from the US-Duterte regime for its criminal negligence, fascism, and remorseless corruption in dire situations of a pandemic and natural calamity. In short, in the interest of averting further disaster, we must strongly mobilize for Duterte’s ouster.

US-Duterte regime's neoliberal policies, fascism continue to aggravate natural calamities in Southern Mindanao