(The following article was published in the Inquirer’s Commentary Section last July 24, 2017)

To burn or not to burn: That is the question facing protesters on what to do with the effigy of President Duterte during the State of the Nation Address rally today.

This is because a year into Mr. Duterte’s term, the Left, in particular the national democratic movement, still finds itself critically engaged with him even as he is veering dangerously to the Right.

Mr. Duterte’s long history of cooperation with the Left, his highly critical view of the country’s colonial and neocolonial ties with the United States and his boldness and daring to challenge the status quo made him a genuine outlier and change agent upon assuming the presidency. This was enough basis for the Left to constructively engage with him in the last 12 months.

His presidency gave leftists and their organizations expanded, though still limited, opportunities to pursue policy changes and implement government projects and programs along progressive and nationalist lines. They supported and tried to expand Mr. Duterte’s populist programs and policies; at the same time, they did their best to neutralize and oppose those that were elitist and reactionary.

For example, progressive people’s organizations organized a People’s Summit last year and presented Mr. Duterte with a comprehensive 15-point “People’s Agenda,” including concrete proposals for his first 100 days in office.

Recently, the groups reconvened to assess how their proposals have fared, and concluded that Mr. Duterte miserably failed to deliver on his promise of change. His token concessions to appease the poor — the P1,000 increase in the social security pension, a token ban on labor contracting, conditional free tuition in state colleges and universities, free houses for the Kadamay “occupy” folk, among others—were not easy favors but a result of the hard-fought struggles of the marginalized sectors.

The groups concluded that Mr. Duterte has yet to break from the old policies and practices that have crippled the economy, undermined national sovereignty and encouraged government abuse and gross violations of human rights.

For its part, the revolutionary Left under the National Democratic Front of the Philippines accepted Mr. Duterte’s offer to resume the peace talks. Separate unilateral ceasefires held guns at bay for four months. There were four rounds of formal negotiations in the first eight months of Mr. Duterte’s term. Major breakthroughs were made on the proposed agreement on social and economic reforms, showing much goodwill and cooperation on both sides.

However, the Left’s fundamental disagreements with Mr. Duterte have intensified too much for comfort. These include his genocidal war on drugs, his economic team’s neoliberal economic policies, his adulation of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his imposition of martial law in Mindanao including the horrific aerial bombings in Marawi and other rebel-occupied communities, his continued implementation of US-designed counterinsurgency doctrines, his appointments of known human rights violators to top government posts and his farcical foreign policy.

On these issues, the Left showed its opposition to Mr. Duterte, admittedly with some restraint at the start when he had yet to unfold as a rightist demagogue.

The peace talks have become particularly difficult, with Mr. Duterte insisting on a bilateral ceasefire agreement ahead of negotiations on social and economic reforms. The NDFP views this as an unreasonable precondition tantamount to surrender and capitulation.

It is increasingly hard for the Left to play the dual role of ally and critic. A movement whose main asset is its ideological consistency and militant struggle against the reactionary state can only tolerate so much of the President’s mood and policy swings, demagoguery and thug leadership.

And with his regime not only careening to the Right but also teetering on the brink of open fascist rule, the Left’s cooperation with Mr. Duterte is at a breaking point.

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