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Distracted

Last Tuesday night it took me 45 minutes to reach the Dusit Thani hotel in Makati from the intersection of Magallanes and EDSA – a distance of about two kilometers. The traffic along EDSA seemed to stretch all the way to Monumento on the other side of town.

The chronic traffic gridlock is just one of the many problems waiting to be untangled by the Duterte administration.

A year and a half is not enough to produce any palpable improvement in this area. But people are also waiting for new ideas and some movement in the implementation of projects that will improve mass transportation facilities.

It’s not enough to hold accountable those behind the disaster that is the Metro Rail Transit 3 (something that the Office of the Ombudsman has shown great reluctance in doing) and those whose managerial failures contributed to driving Filipinos to embrace Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.

We need to fast-track the implementation of transportation infrastructure. Malacañang seems to have given up on seeking emergency powers from Congress to deal with the traffic mess. But President Duterte can lean on his super majority to quickly pass certain laws or amendments, such as in government procurement, to facilitate project implementation, simplify procedures and ensure reasonable quality rather than the lowest price in bidding requirements.

Better infrastructure is needed everywhere, from airports and sea ports to roads, bridges and telecommunications as well as in tourism facilities.

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Let’s admit it – the drug menace and narco politics are genuinely serious problems that are undermining democracy and aggravating corruption.

But there are also many other problems calling for official attention, from deteriorating quality of education to inadequate public health care and enormous red tape. Marawi needs massive rehabilitation, and the nation faces a serious threat of terrorism that may spread nationwide.

An increasing concern is whether the administration can focus on dealing with these problems when the Chief Executive appears distracted by brawls with his political opponents.

* * *

The bickering between President Duterte and his critics led by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV is starting to look like a fraternity rumble. After the other day’s descent into testicles and kulasisi, I don’t know how much lower the level of public discourse can go.

I wish I could say that the one who resorts to gutter talk is the loser who has run out of arguments, but this is not always true in this country. There are Filipinos who find gutter talk superbly entertaining, especially coming from the president of the republic.

This Pinoy sense of humor, where political correctness is an unknown concept, baffles many foreigners. But Rodrigo Duterte gets it completely; he’s a natural comedian, like Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. Like the open cussing, the kanto boy jokes endear Duterte to the masses.

Being president, however, Duterte should realize that while it’s OK to crack jokes, he must also avoid the devaluation of his word.

A man’s word is his honor, and all the more so when one is the leader of over 100 million people. Everything a president says in public is an official line or policy. Every about-face, every clarification and flip-flopping on a public pronouncement degrades the value of President Duterte’s word and erodes his credibility.

He must be careful particularly when he hurls serious accusations against his opponents, and he must always expect a rejoinder or counter-attack. Duterte is a lawyer; he surely also realizes the value of incontrovertible evidence to support his accusations.

In the ongoing battle of Duterte versus Trillanes, the senator so far remains ahead, thanks to the President’s jokes and flip-flopping. When Trillanes gave a detailed narration of how the Palace was allegedly conned into paying a hustler named Daniel “Snooky” Cruz millions for wrong info on the senator’s supposed offshore accounts, Duterte’s response was the allegation about the mistress and the manhood challenge.

Until yesterday, there was no direct presidential comment on being snookered by Snooky Cruz.

* * *

Apart from the word war with Trillanes, the administration is also busy fighting with the Office of the Ombudsman, and seems to believe there is a genuine campaign to oust Duterte or at least destabilize his government. So the administration is also preoccupied with its counter-attack.

An administration has the right to defend itself, but it must not lose sight of its duties to the nation. There are so many urgent matters calling for the government’s attention.

With his still immense popularity, President Duterte can achieve so much. He was borne to power by perceptions of being an action man, in contrast to his predecessor. People brushed aside early warnings from his opponents that Dirty Rody could ignore the law, due process and certain civil liberties to get things done; voters gave him the imprimatur to just do it.

With that kind of mandate, and with the opposition in Congress reduced to the size of an amoeba, the President should still be able to get a lot of reforms done. His Tokhang and Double Barrel have also generated a powerful fear factor that could enable him to compel even local government executives who think they run independent republics to go along with his reform agenda.

The President is not yet even midway through his term, and the surveys indicate that he continues to enjoy widespread public support.

Rodrigo Duterte promised voters real change. With fewer distractions and proper focus, he can still deliver on his promise.

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