Duterte the reformer — why he must not fail Nikkei Asian Review

Duterte the reformer — why he must not fail Featured

LONG before the mid-March lockdowns, this column warned against a looming pandemic. The first sentence of my January column reads: “We are facing one of the biggest threats in the world today: the possibility of the annihilation of our species, the human race, no less, and only one country, so far, has understood the magnitude of the impending disaster and has responded accordingly. This is the spread of coronavirus, the disease first detected in the central China city of Wuhan in December 2019.” (“The pandemic of 2020,” The Manila Times, Jan. 29, 2020.) I compared this to my blog of Aug. 11, 2014 on another outbreak, the Ebola virus, which razed countries in Central and West Africa. Then as now, there was no known cure or vaccine. There were no lockdowns then, resulting in world economic disruptions.

I wrote 13 other articles on Covid-19. I will now move on and instead dwell on the solutions to the multitude of problems confronting the Philippines today, running the gamut from this plague to the societal ills of widening poverty, injustice, corruption, impunity, economic dislocations and the overall contempt for the rule of law. All these are merely symptoms of failure of governance. I have always argued that no single president can solve these problems unless he or she recognizes that these are a festering cancer of misgovernance that must be surgically excised from the system itself. All presidents, this current one not exempted, always debut into power with good intentions and beautiful platforms of government; all eventually proving to be mere palliatives.

Inevitably, they are consumed by the very system that enticed them like a siren song to bid for power in the first place. I will not put the onus of blame only on President Duterte. The road to political hell is paved with good intentions. And in the general political dynamics, we the Filipino voters, who put these men in power, are complicit.

State of the presidency

In my past columns, I have outlined the Centrist Democrats (CD) framework for political reforms. In various permutations, all candidates for the highest office of the land always articulate similar morally correct and idealistic reform agenda, but once elected somehow manage to degrade the same into a menu of discarded pledges opting instead for the personally expedient.

At this late date, the most the Deegong’s government can do is to concentrate on the doables, as the president may no longer have the time, the energy nor the inclination to push for his original reform agenda of “Pagbabago” for the Philippines’ long-term emancipation. In a few more months, he will enter the twilight zone of his regime — his “lame duck hiatus” — when his power and influence wane and the political dynasts and the oligarchy, his political allies, opportunists all, then begin an exodus towards their next designated political Caesar. Such is the cycle of life and the dynamics of a dysfunctional governance system we inherited from America and subsequently modified.

We will allow future historians to render their verdict on the first four years of this presidency. With Covid-19 exposing the incompetence and vulnerability of the political leadership, the promised political reforms that will require Charter revisions may no longer be possible unless the President miraculously translates his blusters into real engagement. But gauging by his recent public appearances, he now projects weakness, an aura of invincibility gone. The cultivated persona of a charming, cursing promdi no longer has traction. His lingering autoimmune disease and chronic neuro-muscular disorder obviously taking its toll now requires his most trusted subaltern as a prop by his side. His alpha-male character that once dominated friends and foes, leaving his Cabinet squirming albeit arousing a certain sense of depraved accolade from the DDS — Diehard Duterte Supporters, propelling them to brandish their sieg heil of a Duterte fist bump. no longer comes across. He appears a pitiable broken man.

CD doables

To reiterate, four guiding CD principles were recommended to encapsulate his political reforms: adherence to the rule of law; creation of real political parties; establishing social market economy and federalism (TMT, Aug. 19, 2020, and CDP/CDPI philosophy www.cdpi.asia). But these require the revision of the 1987 Constitution. And the last four years were wasted waiting for his move.

But to emerge from the economic pit the country dug itself into as a consequence of inept government response to this eight-month pandemic, the imperative is for the government to reopen the economy safely yet vie for what this pandemic may have offered countries in Asia — a silver lining.

The world’s reaction to the emerging bully of a hegemon has been very negative. China finds itself the odd man out when Covid-19 came out of Wuhan to devastate the world, triggering a decoupling from China as the world’s manufacturing hub. American and Japanese companies are abandoning China in droves. Japan of late has started subsidizing 57 companies with billions of yen to relocate back to Japan. Telecom equipment makers, computers, electronic components, heavy construction equipment, auto parts and robotic components are now repositioning manufacturing sites in several Asian countries.

Worldwide brands, Harley-Davidson, Nintendo, Panasonic, Apple, Sumitomo Heavy Industries, Citizen Watch, Sharp Electronics, etc. — a mind-boggling compendium of world brands — are now uprooting from China and moving to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Myanmar and Cambodia. None to the Philippines. We are under the radar simply due to our antediluvian anti-FDI — foreign direct investment — policies protected by our 1987 constitution.

Foreign direct investment

FDIs are needed to inject badly needed capital to develop businesses and to generate jobs. The Philippines has some of the best and talented people and workforce in Asia. Yet we export them to other countries simply because we don’t have work for them here at home — or if there are, the pay can’t compete with our neighbors’. Thus, we drain our country of its best assets.

All these because of the shortsightedness of our policies and the provisions of our Constitution. As propounded by the National Economic and Development Authority: We have “…restrictions on foreign ownership, inadequate public investment in infrastructure, and lack of transparency in procurement tenders [that] hinder foreign investment. The Philippines’ regulatory regime remains ambiguous in many sectors of the economy, and corruption is a significant problem. Large, family-owned conglomerates, including San Miguel [Corp.], Ayala [Corp.] and SM [Group], dominate the economic landscape, crowding out other smaller businesses.”

The Deegong and his administration need to comprehend that in order for the Filipino to survive and flourish post-Covid, we need to attract and capture FDIs, repair our statutory inadequacies, and act to mitigate them by providing solutions — perhaps through a constitutional amendment (ConAss), people’s initiative (PI) — short of constitutional revisions. If only by doing this he is able to lift the Filipino from the quagmire we are in, he may be forgiven his transgressions; his contempt for civilized behavior; his irreverence towards the men of the cloth, religion and God; his disdain for women; and his cavalier attitude towards human rights. He may even redeem his legacy, promised at the outset of his regime, and be remembered as a great president, beyond the grave.

Thus, this president cannot fail.

Read 301 times Last modified on Wednesday, 26 August 2020 12:01
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