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Duterte’s political will

Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2017 - 12:00am

The good news is… President Duterte has recognized the risk to our political and economic stability that the impeachment calls will bring. He has called on his political allies to just stop calling for the Vice President’s impeachment. Here is how he responded to a question during a press conference:

“Look, you know we just had an election. Guys, lay off. Let’s stop it. You can do other things, but do not tinker with the structure of government. I will not countenance it.

“Elected ‘yang tao eh. So why do you have to? Just because she keeps on harping me? Hayaan mo, this is a democracy, freedom of speech. Wala naman… There are… There is no or there are no overt acts committed. Kakatapos lang ng election. Bakit mo sisirain ang bayan?”

The bad news is… his supposed ally, the House Speaker, will hear none of it. He announced they will still put the impeachment complaints on the House agenda.

This is not the first time the House Speaker has disregarded President Duterte. The emergency power to deal with the transport crisis which Mr.Duterte sought even before he took his oath of office is nowhere near being passed by the House of Representatives. Worse, the Speaker had been undermining DOTr Sec Art Tugade every opportunity he gets.

It isn’t as if it is beyond the capacity of the House to act speedily. They passed a cigarette tax proposal favored by Mighty Corporation in less than a week, four days to be exact, last December. They disregarded the objection to the bill made by Duterte’s Secretary of Finance.

Indeed, Duterte’s so called allies in the House continue to defy him. The Tax Reform bill, the cornerstone of this administration’s economic and fiscal program, is not getting the kind of enthusiastic support one would expect for a measure that would spell the success or failure of Mr.Duterte’s watch.

The thing is… people voted for Duterte because they saw him as a strong leader. They did not choose someone who will end up a political wimp ignored by his own allies.

But, pray tell… outside of the war on drugs, where else has Mr. Duterte shown any political will since he took power? Sa totoo lang… again, outside of the war on drugs, Duterte has proven to be a rather laid back president who is more than eager to let those around him run government any which way they see fit. Kanya kanyang discarte!

True, the details of day to day management should be left to Cabinet members. But President Duterte should never let people forget who is boss. Certainly, the House Speaker has forgotten that fact. In defying Duterte’s order to lay off VP Leni, the Speaker even boasted the House is independent of Malacañang.

I know… that’s hilarious. The House is independent of Malacanang? When did this happen? The so-called super majority didn’t happen because congressmen want to be independent of Malacanang. Next to Duterte, the most important executive official to them is Budget Secretary Ben Diokno.

Then maybe, Duterte and the House Speaker are merely playing good cop, bad cop. Duterte sounds off as a statesman and the House Speaker does the dirty work. But it’s horrible to play around with the national interest at risk in this high stakes political maneuvering.

Then there is the economy. Despite the constant announcements of big ticket projects approved by NEDA, the line agencies aren’t visibly moving to get anything started.

The administration seems distracted from doing the important and urgent things. For example, nothing big has been done to attack poverty.

Indeed the DSWD under the control of the National Democratic Front (let us drop the pretension and say what really is) is even opposing the conditional cash transfer program and the tax reform proposal. They don’t want the poor to feel the government cares for them because that will extinguish the fire of discontent they are fanning to spark their hoped for revolution.

Then nothing much has been done about the problem of creating jobs. Duterte promised OFWs in Bangkok that soon going abroad to work will be a choice rather than a necessity. Duterte is sounding like P-Noy who said as much. But Duterte, like P-Noy, has done nothing earthshaking to get that promise fulfilled.

I am worried Duterte is now seen as a one trick pony, able to think only of the anti-drug war and nothing else. Peace and order is essential to a functioning economy, but the President’s fingerprints must be seen in many other areas of national concern.

Has Duterte increased transparency in government as he had promised? I don’t think so. Government accountability has not improved over the last nine months of Duterte’s watch.

But Mr.Duterte gets credit for keeping true to his word that he will go against vested interests. He allowed Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez to go against Mighty Corporation, a sacred cow during the Aquino watch.

Let us see if the Secretary of Justice will follow through with that over P9 billion tax evasion case. Indeed, there should be supplemental cases because P9 billion is below earlier estimates of the cigarette company’s liability.

Duterte’s insistence on his P3 billion compromise is disturbing given the enormity of Mighty’s potential tax liability. A small compromise of P3 billion will reward what Mighty has allegedly been doing based on DOF findings.

President Duterte deserves credit for going all out in support of embattled DENR Secretary Gina Lopez. He even went further as he declared he is ready to forgo government income from mining, if he cannot be convinced the rape of the countryside will stop.

But in Gina’s case, the personal rewards for members of Congress to reject Gina may be too great even for Duterte to overcome. This is a most serious test of Duterte’s political will. If his call for Gina’s confirmation is ignored, he comes out looking like a political wimp.

The business world is waiting to see if Mr.Duterte has political will to carry out his promised economic and fiscal reforms. Both former presidents Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III got their boost after it was ascertained they stand behind sound fiscal and economic policies. That’s when our stock market boomed and the peso became the region’s best performing currency.

A strong or a weak peso is not the best measure of a sound economy but still, it is a good barometer of how the market views us. A president and his economic managers can bullshit all they want with fancy powerpoint presentations in international road shows, but currency traders cannot be fooled. They simply buy or sell our peso based on what they see minus all the noise.

President Duterte has not yet exercised his political will in a way that would make us feel he is in overall control. He is hesitant to use his political capital. Yet, his supporters want to give him extraordinary powers of a dictator when he hasn’t even shown he wants to use powers he already has.

Many of those around Mr. Duterte are just pampering his ego to cover up their own less than honorable agenda. It will be good to see President Duterte show he is indeed the boss and for more of the good stuff than just the nightly carnage of the anti drug war.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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