Political Battlefield

Still, PRRD rules going to the sunset of his term. PRRD will be the first and only president in the country who will not be a lame duck because of Covid-19.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on May 19, 2020.

May 9, 2022 is the second Monday of May and in our Constitution that is the date for Elections 2022. There are 228 days in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 and 365 days in FY 2021, or a total of 593 days of serious nation building and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. The Duterte administration has a total of 776 days to go before it ends its term on June 30, 2022. Recovering from coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), both lessening the potential relapse and rebuilding the economy, are the two problems the administration would have to address in its remaining days in office.

The key milestones are the coming State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July, the passage of the budget for FY 2021, redefining of the legislative agenda for the remaining time in office, preparing for elections under the “new normal” and rolling out the Buid, Build, Build (BBB) program as the pump-priming initiative to be the main driver for recovery and ensuring that with a relapse, the capacities are there to respond to another crisis. FY 2020 will end up in a deficit-spending manner, hoping that the two drivers of the nation’s economy — the overseas Filipino workers and the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry — will be able to rebound effectively as new markets open for the former and new industries embracing BPO platforms come into play under the “new normal.”

By the last SONA of President Rodrigo Duterte (PRRD) in July 2022, politics will be on overdrive and the budget deliberations for FY 2022 will have a different hue as the campaign cauldron boils. By the last quarter of 2021, the filing of the certificates of candidacy will happen and from that point on, politics will be the driver until May 2022 and the peaceful transition to the next leader of the nation by June 30.

Transitioning from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to general community quarantine (GCQ) is jumping through a lot of hurdles on a track. Clearly, how the government is handling and managing Covid-19 is already the start of the campaign period because Covid-19 is actual, and constituents need to feel the government’s assistance, response and care since it is, first and foremost, a health issue. Jumping from modified ECQ to modified GCQ is behavioral. The government has done 60 days of handholding and taking care of everyone at the cost of the economy, which some businessmen have been demanding to stop and allow workers to return-to-work. PRRD decided in favor of health and insisted that decision makers go by the science. It was purely executive while the legislative branch was limited to enacting Republic Act 11469, or the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act,” and overseeing its implementation. Yes, the legislative body responded to the call of the time, but it likewise went to town snipping at every problem in the roll-out of decisions made by the executive and, probably, trying to tell Filipinos that it exists and that the war against Covid-19 was not just an executive show.

With the constant snipping, more and more Filipinos are revisiting the idea of a parliamentary form of government. It has been shown globally that there is reason for the fusing of the executive and legislative into one so there would be cohesion and the government could work together better, especially in a crisis. Another realization is that Filipinos are looking at federalism in a much better light, what with 83 percent of the economy being based in the National Capital Region (NCR). Our enemy won because it captured the seat of economic power. You cripple NCR, the whole country folds up. And that is why today, dispersal of power is welcomed, and local chief executives who shone and continue to shine are looked upon as the future. Certainly, the presidency is the executive while the legislators are all doing Monday morning quarterbacking, hoping to land in the news cycle to remain top-of-mind.

Duterte remains the single most influential person in the country, before, during and as we move forward from Covid-19. In one address to the nation near midnight, he talked about spirituality and his god. In another, he reached out to the oligarchs, whom he had framed as enemies of the state. Consistently, he riled about soldiers being killed by the remaining insurgents and got mad at the pasaway (stubborn) and the corrupt, who are there to game the system of financial support to the people. He has remained for science, even while he danced with the businessmen insisting on the use of rapid test kits. He commissioned the former military, now civilian secretaries in his Cabinet, to implement the interventions to contain the spread of Covid-19.

In the remaining period, health and the economy are the themes that will shape Elections 2022. Parties will remain paper thin as personalities will again rule 2022, unless the oligarchs backing political parties are able to put together a platform that will address public health and the economy and insist on their members running on those platforms.

Still, PRRD rules going to the sunset of his term. PRRD will be the first and only president in the country who will not be a lame duck because of Covid-19.

He can redefine this country for the final act, still reshape and rebuild the nation to correct age-old problems — the hold of the oligarchs on the economy and their control on politics and development, how to cement further free tertiary education and universal health care, how to ensure 100 percent cheap and reliable connectivity, and how to reopen the doors to domestic tourism that is sustainable and environment-friendly. PRRD can put into shape an economic blueprint of less concentration on the NCR and megalopolis, and sustainable spatial development through new townships that are entirely an ecosystem by itself rather than urban centers that sap resources because of the ill-conscribed population density parameters.  And setting aside these old blueprint of development and allowing the new townships to be the magnet of attracting more and more people from the provinces finding work in the urban centers.

PRRD should give incentives to businesses that will locate in provinces and create their own ecosystem there instead of concentrating in Manila. Having one major business per province operating on the comparative advantage of each is a good seed to plant as he wraps up his term. Green industries and businesses must be granted support by the government so that the country can maintain the gains of a clean air, regenerating forests and rivers and waterways because of Covid-19.

If BBB flies and becomes the engine for the reboots, PRRD can handpick his successor.

What he does for the remaining 776 days is already harvesting and ensuring his legacy, as well as making the case for his anointed. Most muted by Covid-19, there are shining stars in both the executive and the local governments that can be molded in the remaining days. All aspirants will need PRRD’s endorsement, and Covid-19 and the economy will be the indelible marks that voters will look into. We are alive because of the intervention of the government on the lockdown and the phased return to normal. We are alive and earning and can provide for the needs of the family because of the economic recalibration that PRRD and his Cabinet will do to reshape the future. Duterte has consolidated because of the past few months and Filipinos are approving of his leadership in this global crisis. The challenge and the opportunity are to move fast and strategically in the remaining days of his term.

One quick takeaway after four-and-a-half years — Duterte serves where others rule.

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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