It will not be 730 days of wrapping up. Yes, the legacy has to be defined and clearly communicated but the coming days could actually be the beginning of a new way of looking at things, possibly a new Philippines.
Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on June 30, 2020.
Today marks the fourth year in office of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD). Not exactly a leader in the usual mode of presidents we have elected before, Duterte is truly an outlier. From Mindanao, a mayor for two decades, plus a Bisaya. We would have hit our stride this year, but the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) changed all these plans and we are temporarily stomped in our war with the pandemic.
We are in fact on the 106th day of community quarantine, since the start of the Luzon-wide lockdown last March 17. And it is not as if we are worse off now than in March. We have in fact built our capacities, deaths in the frontline are gone (save probably in high-risk areas like Cebu), recoveries outstrip deaths and the gating protocol is working as we slowly walk to the new norm. It has been a disciplined approach in dealing with the pandemic. A plan evolves as any crisis would dictate. There is a policy body and an implementing arm.
Science and evidence-based are the drivers for the adaptive measures instituted. But even the pandemic has become the target practice for the administration’s critics not even halting the diatribe as we battle with Covid.
PRRD is duly elected, no cloud of doubt there but every year he has been subjected to ouster moves and critics are turning shriller and bluer by the day, hitting him with all the innuendoes and the lies. Calling him a dictator, a sick mind, a murderer and then some. There is death to democracy and death to free speech. The issue of a franchise is now a case of muzzling expression and yet when you follow the congressional hearing, questionable, bordering on illegal acts are aplenty.
His war against illegal drugs defined him and he continues to hit at it, always saying, “Not on my watch.” He sent straight jabs against oligarchs who amass so much in exchange for bad and expensive services. And yet he reached out to them in the pandemic. He moved to an independent and non-aligned foreign policy stance and readily cut short the running of time on the Visiting Forces Agreement on account of incursions on our borders and the dreadful terrorism shackle that have reached the metropolis. His being close with China has given rise to sinophobia among Filipinos when we are more Chinese than American. This is a “hillbilly” who has always left enough room to wiggle out for country despite the foul mouth and unpresidential acts. The default has been, what is good for the country.
Our economy has gained roots and would have been in the best of times, gross domestic product second only to China, dispositive income up, unemployment down, remittances up, peso strong, poverty slashed to 16.1 percent from 22.2 percent in 2015. The total crime volume in May 2019 was 38,284, as compared to 42,527 for the same period in 2018 or a drop of 10 percent. The Philippine National Police data also showed a “22.6-percent drop in index crimes such as murder, homicide, physical injury, rape, robbery, theft, carnapping and cattle rustling — from 7,421 in May 2018 to 5,744 in May 2019. Meanwhile, non-index crimes dropped by 7.31 percent from 35,106 to 32,540.
For a single-issue leader who is known only for public order, PRRD has gone a long way in the economic and foreign relations fronts. He has allowed the professionals in his Cabinet to rule and focus on things he wants done. Landmark legislation has poured and passage has been fast and swift. Universal health care and the free tertiary education are two laws that are generational and can impact both sectors at the time PRRD will be riding the sunset of his term. He has learned the art of certifying legislative measures and has been creative in impounding pork without necessarily vetoing the budget measure. He listens when needed; in fact, the balloon floats have been used quite often to measure the public pulse.
Still, there are things that need much attention. Build Marawi now. Until Marawi is completed, it will always remind Muslim Filipinos why they are second-class citizens in this country. It will be the continuing magnet for terrorism. Finish the rebuilding and we will have a window to the future of coexistence, peace and economic growth. The corruption at the Bureau of Customs has to stop. The bureau cannot function properly if the “bata-bata” system continues. It will always be a major financial leakage for government if we are unable to rein in the greed there and in major ports.
Leaders come and go and history has always been kind a few years after. This presidency though is truly one for the books. Late in entry by design, not vetted, and yet voters wanted a mold different from the previous. What they do not know may turn out to be the best for some. He is uncouth, hits everything bad in us, in the process trying to lecture us on history, religion and the oligarchs who have raped us blind. He is a father, flag hugger, probinsyano every step of the way and yet the best minds cannot read him, cannot fathom him and that’s where the uniqueness in governance style comes to the fore. Duterte is an acquired taste in a terrain that is too compromising.
With 730 days left till the end of PRRD’s term, what can we expect of this administration? With Covid-19, PRRD can totally change the country in terms of spatial development, industry, economy, education and public health. It will not be 730 days of wrapping up. Yes, the legacy has to be defined and clearly communicated but the coming days could actually be the beginning of a new way of looking at things, possibly a new Philippines.
In the end, if we come out all right, Duterte will be the strongest hand to determine 2022. Six years is not enough to redo the country, holding on for the past 34 years to the promises of EDSA. Duterte’s term is a start of what could be. Voters know they did not elect a saint, that Duterte is not perfect but we have today a caring president who acted first on the frontline services at the start of his term in 2016. He dared build the economy, allowing the technocrats to design the phase but certain of what he wants in the future.
Duterte likewise dared to execute by exploring the possibilities of enhancing the infrastructure of an archipelago. And who during crucial times in the life of the nation stood pat by what has to be done, sometimes sacrificing political capital.
Duterte will be a hard act to follow, for the leaders who will undo the gains of his six years. But if Filipinos are lucky enough to elect the next leader, who will continue and improve further the tasks at hand, then we and succeeding generations have a future to look forward to.
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