PRRD is also a veritable troll in the way he goes off the cuff in his addresses to often remind people of certain individuals. His presidential speech is full of metaphors and hyperbole some would often ridicule it as unpresidential.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on April 27, 2021.

IT seems after five years in office, some people still fail to understand President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) from his words to his actuations. It may not be the presidential speech we hear often in the wee hours via badly edited broadcast that sometimes one gets to ask — with technology and all, why can’t they do a better job of splicing in order that the video aids the national address? But then again, he has never intended to make things clear. Rather, an exit is always carefully integrated in order that presidential addresses become so unclear as to get the audience guessing in the direction suggested by Duterte. If he flips it the following day, he gets away with it and everyone is left holding an empty bag.

PRRD is also a veritable troll in the way he goes off the cuff in his addresses to often remind people of certain individuals. His presidential speech is full of metaphors and hyperbole some would often ridicule it as unpresidential. But that has often been his way of communicating. He may not be good by the tradition of presidential speeches, but it is intriguing to see who are his audience in these scathing remarks. It would be interesting to see most of the off-the-cuff speeches are actually communication exits that define the nature of his politics. He answers straight using the bully pulpit, which ends up not as policy but more political contrast thereby controlling the narrative. In the past five years, he has continued to control the framing and the priming, allowing others to enter the carefully laid out trap for him to pounce back and get his base riled up.

He rides fully his critics’ framing and positioning, making them look ludicrous and which actually feeds and fits into the narrative he wants to do at that point. Even floats are part and parcel of presidential speech. Reminding the audience of his critics is like brandishing a red flag to his base. Five years of hillbilly politics, of being just a mayor has resulted in still higher than average approval and trust ratings compared to previous presidents at similar points in their terms. His approval stands at 65 percent and trust at 55 percent.

Media critics still do not get PRRD. In fact, these critics have added to the shrillness of the moment but they have played into the arena of Duterte where every hit sends a signal to his base why Duterte is president, somewhat of rallying call to his supporters. It’s an intricate communication device that could explain why his approval and trust numbers are still high at this point. He has in fact elevated his so-called hillbilly ways into the national arena and watchers, observers and gladiators are missing the point when Duterte zigzags from themes and issues as he informs and attacks on a given night. Interestingly, no one seems to be able to read his directions; even his closest aides appear to be dazed and are the last to know. Those are given in the era of Duterte, something we have not seen or gotten used to.

Now comes another bewildering move via Executive Order (EO) 129, “Creating the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Streamlining of Government Processes, Providing its Functions and for Other Purposes.” Often, reorganization, right-sizing or streamlining happens at the start of every administration. Every president wants an invigorated bureaucracy ready to do the hard lifting at the start. Under the Duterte administration it looks like streamlining is going to happen 13 months before it ends on June 30, 2022. And the signing of this EO shows the ability of PRRD not to follow a defined pattern of governance. The tradition a year from the end of term is legacy building. It is completing what can be finished given a major part of the last 13 months will be allotted to political maneuvering with the filing of the certificates of candidacy happening in October 2021 and elections in May 2022.

Though PRRD has been focused on vaccines, the economic cluster has been quietly laying the groundwork for economic reform through policies that are needed to reboot the economy. The triumvirate of Dominguez-Diokno-Chua is moving across boundaries to ensure the needed policies are in place when we get to such a point when plurality get their vaccines.

Create, or Republic Act 11534, became law last March 26, 2021. This is very timely because of the current tax season. It provided the cushion to pay less in corporate taxes as companies are reeling because of the pandemic. Still, Congress has to get its act together to get the other three economic measures passed. These are the: amendments to the Retail Trade Act, or RA 8762, by relaxing foreign restrictions; amendments of the Foreign Investment Act, particularly on incentives and the revision of the 80-year-old Public Service Act. It is said the amendments to the Retail Trade Act and the revision of the Public Service Act would result in $30 billion in foreign direct investments a year. Clearly, a critical piece in the puzzle is opening up the economy but doing constitutional amendments or revisions may not be the right strategy going into the last months of the Duterte administration. Opening up the economy is vital in the reboot and looking into MSMEs is the lead engine to create a safety net for employees in the value chain. Then the government has to be able to build consensus with the big players in terms of incentives and ease of doing business and that is where EO 129 will play a crucial role post-Duterte. It can likewise provide continuity ensuring table business climate under the new norm.

Bewildering indeed but getting our act together and all-hands-on-deck are part and parcel of the new norm protocols that we should take to heart, regardless of the outcome of May 2022.

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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