Duterte’s time running out: A case for repairing his legacy TMT

Duterte’s time running out: A case for repairing his legacy Featured

IN the first part of this series last week, I critiqued President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s three pledges as monumental failures. “Operation Tokhang,” his flagship program on war on illegal drugs, left in its wake thousands of dead Filipinos, meriting him a possible indictment at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. But in fairness to PRRD, “universal values” permeating human rights are slanted towards Western cultural prejudices, distorting Asian standards.

But his pompous declaration of eradicating graft and corruption, his second pledge, turned out to be a politician’s bold-faced play to the voters telling them what they want to hear. There are many facets to corruption, but what is familiar and pervasive to our Philippine experience is the inherently defective systemic political structures that undermine good governance and democracy.

Political patronage
To better understand these concepts, we go back to our historical and cultural roots. Patronage was a feature in our society and existed in pre-Hispanic times when traditional filial ties inevitably morphed into dependence on a benefactor, the “patron,” to an even extreme relationship of subservience between maharlika/timawa and alipin sagigilid. In our political ecosystem, we evolve a complicated practice of political patronage where the people we elect to power dispenses state resources rewarding the populace, principally the voters for their support allowing their continued stay in power.

Neither an upright leader presiding over systemic structural defects will succeed, nor would an immoral leader over a structurally sound one. A moral man paired with a good system under the rule of law are the fundamentals for good governance. Duterte and the system fail on both counts. To be fair but flippant, “…even if you put Jesus Christ on top of the Philippine bureaucracy, he would fail.”

His third pledge — revisions to the 1987 Constitution — signaled his intentions that systemic restructuring and political reforms are a must. On this he miserably failed, too.

The rule of law
I quote excerpts from my column years back clarifying the Deegong’s role under the rule of law: “In a democracy under which we claim we practice, prudent laws are its foundation and the glue that binds a civilized society. It is imperative that the laws laid down by government must be followed by all its citizens. The simplicity of the concept of the rule of law is oftentimes made complicated by those authorized to uphold it. And the President by virtue of his ascendancy granted by the Constitution also has the primary guardianship of that Constitution conferred on him. He must therefore uphold its principles.”

This is key to advancing the President’s legacy — a purposeful grasp of the mechanics of the rule of law. He need not employ histrionics as adjuncts to his image to enforce the law. He is already feared. He just needs to be respected. Braggadocio doesn’t enhance great leadership, humility does.

His successes
Admittedly, Duterte has had many successes. I count among them his elevating Filipino pride severing our umbilical cord from Mother America. Not that we are ungrateful, but his pivot away from America toward an independent foreign policy posture perfunctorily terminates US colonial presence since 1898; although Western cultural influence remains pervasive still.

But this choice too is double-edged. We were handed a potent international legal weapon at the arbitral courts negating China’s nine-dash line. But for reasons only known to Duterte, he set this aside. By default, China could drive us inexorably back to America’s embrace.

Poverty, health and the economy
Duterte reduced poverty incidence in the country from 23.5 percent to 16.7 percent by the end of 2019 — a significant 6.8 percentage point reduction, or 6.1 million Filipinos. Covid-19 canceled these gains.

Economic reforms, particularly the Tax Reform Law (Train), allowed middle- and low-income citizens to keep more of their income for consumption and savings. Tax was shifted to goods on sugar-sweetened drinks, cigarettes, cars and fuel. still burdening the poor while relieving the lower end with cash transfer assistance. The Rice Tariffication Law removed monopolistic rice importation pressuring prices downward, the biggest budget item in food consumption. But while this greatly helped the populace in the urban areas, the effects on rural palay farmers may turn out to be adverse.

The poverty-stricken were alleviated by the enactment of the Universal Health Care Law allowing the poorest Filipinos access to hospitals and medicines. Added to these are free college education and increases in pay for teachers, policemen and soldiers.

Infrastructure
Aware of the need for the country to grow and invest in the future, an aggressive infrastructure was put in place; power, telecommunications, roads, and bridges under the Build, Build, Build program. These were financed from borrowings from institutions with complete trust on the Philippines’ capacity to pay. The country achieved its highest ever credit rating — BBB+ in April 2020, despite Covid-19.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles recited a litany of accomplishments, including the construction and rehabilitation of thousands of kilometers of roads, bridges, flood mitigation structures and classrooms. The information superhighway connects the internet to people and provinces, providing opportunities for economic growth.

The endgame
These achievements, with many still in the pipeline, indeed enhance Duterte’s legacy. But in the next 15 months, more still has to be demanded of his leadership. He needs to decouple from the ugly maelstrom of politics now engulfing his presidency; for one, the singular ego-driven thought that he alone can finish what he started. This thought process is fed by the enablers and sycophants who have been presenting a scenario for succeeding himself in the next administration. The permutations are infinite: as mentioned, daughter Sara runs, with him as her vice president; then, son Polong will run, or son Baste or eventually another family member.

Off hand, the Deegong’s legacy must not involve the perpetuation of his political dynasty. This was once central to his belief in changing the constitution. John Raña, his close friend, has this to say: “A Duterte-Duterte tandem will be seen as the ultimate political dynasty…while there are precedents in the case of the Macapagals and Aquinos, there were long intervening periods between the terms of parents and offspring….”

As initiated by Congress, constitutional amendments are possible only for inputting liberalized foreign direct investment or FDI provisions to attract quality investments. Congress will not allow constitutional revisions for federalism, parliamentary government, and other critical political reforms. The center has won. The Centrist Democrats (CD) and the periphery have lost. Perhaps another time, beyond our lives.

Gauging performances is a subjective exercise. Maintaining 80-percent approval rating is not a mark of greatness — just a sign of popularity any actor can achieve. But the Deegong is to be judged harsher than a mere mortal — in exchange for our gift of the presidency. To date, his monumental failures on unfulfilled promises far outweigh his achievements which by reason of his ascendancy are expected of him. Boy Scout merit badges are not awarded for triumphs but failures demand condemnation. Such is the burden of leadership.

In the end, with his legacy repaired, this Davaoeño may yet surprise us — not as an ordinary president but perhaps a great one. But that is a long shot!

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Read 121 times Last modified on Wednesday, 17 February 2021 10:14
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