Precarious drift

Reimaginings and reinventions in the first year of the Duterte administration seem to be stuck in a bureaucracy that is rowing in all directions, as if no one is tending the store these days. The delegated powers, the norm of leadership style of the Duterte administration, seem to be heading for separate shores instead of one definite and distinct destination by 2022.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on September 3, 2019.

When PRRD did not mention federalism in his last State of the Nation Address, advocates felt it was time to give up on an effort that was designed to fail from the start since the President himself was not clear on this supposed legacy agenda. PRRD has secured the free tertiary education and the universal health care laws. The Commission on Higher Education has been rolling out the free tertiary education law for the second year, while the Department of Health is about to release its implementing rules and regulations while performing internal cleansing. The war against illegal drugs has been spotty, while corruption has been unmitigated.

One opponent of federalism even said, why should advocates push federalism when the economy is at 6 percent gross domestic product, asserting the advocacy would impact on sustaining that growth. And yet the same set of officials want amendments introduced on economic provisions. Another posited that PRRD could have realized that a strong president is much better than a weak head of government under federalism, hence the lukewarm interest in the remaining period.

Still the 18th Congress would need to look into options in amending the economic provisions of the Constitution because that is the logical step to sustain growth, right? Legislators are not willing to think outside the box. Civil servants are averse to formulating innovative responses. Majority are not brave enough to try out something that is new, that has no real precedent. PRRD is leading the charge but the institutions are not adapting fast, and there lies PRRD’s irritation to get things done.

The blinders of central government remain despite years of decentralization. Even the decision of the Supreme Court on Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) remains pending with the Department of Budget and Management despite the finality of the ruling that “IRA of LGUs (local government units) should include tariff and duties collected by the Bureau of Customs (BIR) 50 percent of value-added tax, 30 percent of national taxes collected in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, 60 percent of national taxes collected from the exploitation and development of national wealth, 85 percent of excise tax from tobacco products and a portion of the franchise tax under Republic Acts 6631 and 6632 (Horse Racing Laws), among others.” Instead of doing a retroactive ruling, the Supreme Court applied the “operative fact” doctrine in ordering the prospective application, resulting in adjusted amounts to be “given to the LGUs starting with the 2022 budget cycle.” The ruling addressed the concerns that such increase in IRA would cost the national government some P1.5 trillion in funds. If the IRA was correctly computed, the LGUs would have been better off, 30 years ago. But then again, if it were, how would corruption be?

Reimaginings and reinventions in the first year of the Duterte administration seem to be stuck in a bureaucracy that is rowing in all directions, as if no one is tending the store these days. The delegated powers, the norm of leadership style of the Duterte administration, seem to be heading for separate shores instead of one definite and distinct destination by 2022. Brushfires are growing and the administration is trying to put the fires out in a haphazard manner as if one arm does not know what the other is doing.

Worse, not much time is spent on thinking about how policies are going to be communicated. If there is not much thinking done, and consideration is only an afterthought, a lot of confusion and some pushbacks occur. Which is why the administration is viewed as being in disarray. PRRD should probably start rebooting for the last three years. Getting fresh second liners to allow the frontliners to rest and regain their energies for the last offensive. “Thinking about the future is an essential and yet delicate task for governments to foster — both as a matter of institutional processes and as a habit of thinking.”

Reimagining and reinventions are all about hope, resilience and anti-fragility. But we cannot reimagine and reinvent if everyone is tired, burnt out and unable to see the long term under a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous or VUCA world. There is a need to sustain the building of an ecosystem that will nurture two generations after 2022 to ensure middle-income country status. Author Thomas Friedman has described the world as “flat.” “Everything is linked and connected to everything else. Globalization and advances in transportation and communication technologies have put nations, peoples and enterprises in touch with one another as never before.” And still another author, Richard Florida, pointed out that the world is “spiky,” not flat. His argument is that “higher value-added activities are densely concentrated and clustered in hubs” — what he calls the “mega-regions of the world.” These hubs and connectors of the world have superseded nation states as “natural economic units.” Six years after Duterte, who are we? Where are we? How are we? Can we claim to be a hub? A hub of what?

We should all remember why Duterte made it to the presidency in 2016 — huge disappointment in the ability of previous governments to deliver the goods. Frustrated, angry and having lost faith, Filipino voters in 2016 were prepared to put a bet that, maybe, “other types of governments may do better.” It has done much, but can Team Philippines with Duterte sustain the gains and build more?

When PRRD issued the directive to clear streets and claim back sidewalks, it was clear he was doing a reboot. But it was also clearly a central action that shows a total breakdown at the local level. He needs to inspire, if not coerce, local leaderships to be Dutertes of their jurisdictions. He has to replicate his achievements and possibly narratives of working hard, deciding strategically and enforcing laws. He has to win the war against poverty and not just do battle to get everyone on the same page. He has to inspire his cabinet and the local governments that the next three years will be a much batter phase than when he started in 2016. PRRD has “to conquer frustration, remain intensely focused on the outcome, not the obstacles.” With his Congress and supposedly his local chief executives, his team has been rebooted and retooled. But drift is felt and senseless battles are being made left and right by his own people. Arrest it fast and restore command, focus and direction. The flag, Mr. President, bear the flag.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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