DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - February 12, 2018 - 12:00am

President Duterte said last week that he is a dictator because it is the only way to get the country moving forward. The scary thing is he is partly right. Vested interests have become so entrenched in this country that it takes a president with extra strong political will to introduce reform to fix things.

That’s it… political will. That’s the positive way of describing what we need from our supreme leader. Dictatorship by Mr. Duterte, given his mercurial mood swings that determine policy, will scare away investors, foreign and local.

Dictatorship also evokes images of Venezuela whose failed political system and economy are making its people live miserable lives. No, we do not want Venezuela. It is a dictatorship by megalomaniacs. We want a Singapore of vintage Lee Kuan Yew.

The problem with wishing for a dictatorship, as many of our people say they want, is we cannot be sure we will get a Lee Kuan Yew and not a Chavez or Maduro. And we will never really know until it is too late. That’s why a well run democracy is still the best.

But many of our people are increasingly frustrated and Duterte knows that. That’s why he was elected, in the first place. And Mr. Duterte knows how to play to the gallery. I imagine he told the returning NPA rebels that he is a dictator out to produce change because he knows those in his audience became rebels out of frustration with our current system.

For all their talk about democracy, the communist rebels and their extreme left sympathizers in the so called parliamentary struggle believe in a dictatorship so long as they are calling the shots. National Democratic Front is a misnomer because democracy isn’t what we will have if they take power.

Mr. Duterte understands the psychology of our people. He picks on our pet peeves to show how he exercises power to put society’s economic elite in their place.

The most recent example is how he angrily declared that he would send BIR examiners to go through the books of the duopoly or anyone who makes it difficult for a third telco player to be viable. Then he said he would not allow government to pay a centavo for frequencies returned on the principle that the frequencies were given free to begin with.

 Sure enough, one of the telcos that was supposed to have sought compensation agreed to return the frequencies, at no cost, for reassignment to the third player. Duterte knows the current subscribers of the duopoly are an unhappy bunch and it is easy to win political brownie points by going against the duopoly. 

How Mr. Duterte managed to get Lucio Tan to fork over P6 billion, representing debts of Philippine Airlines for landing fees and other charges, is another good example. The amount was being contested with CAAP, MIAA among other agencies. It made good business sense to just pay. Duterte threatened to close Terminal 2 otherwise.

The Rufinos, with conflicting interests in property and media, also gave in to Mr. Duterte. They not only left the contested Mile Long property, but also paid hundreds of millions of pesos in back rentals. He is still threatening to file plunder charges against the Rufinos and that’s unbailable.

Duterte has declared time and again that he owes nothing to Manila’s elite and that he will do everything to take away their hold on the economy. That’s well and good, but folks know a Davao elite is fast taking their place and that, unfortunately, reduces the luster in Mr. Duterte’s bluster.

For Metro Manilans, Duterte’s claim of political will has done nothing to improve MRT-3 services, nor has it brought us closer to the day when MRT-3 services can be depended on. Why can’t he get MRT-3’s private owner and DOTr to work together to improve MRT-3 now?

Political will has also failed to get the right of way needed by the NLEX-SLEX connector road, a project that’s supposed to decongest EDSA significantly. Delivery of the project has been delayed by over a year because DPWH can’t deliver right of way. Is dictatorship by Mr. Duterte necessary to make that project go faster? Or will Mr. Duterte tell DPWH to deliver or else be sufficient?

In Malacañang itself, there are many active turf wars among his subordinates that work against the public interest. The most glaring one has to do with rice.

Last Thursday, ANC reported that Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco announced that the standby order for 250,000 metric tons of rice has been confirmed and would be available to boost NFA’s buffer stock.

Evasco explained they initially did not act on it because the National Food Authority Council had not certified as urgent the need to import rice. Besides, the 325,000 metric tons imported by the private sector would be completely delivered by the end of this month.

But NFA’s management has been manipulating public sentiment to force an importation by NFA. So when the NFA spokesperson was asked, she said she could not confirm the veracity of the statements personally made by Evasco.

What’s going on here? Evasco is chairman of the NFA Council and it is obvious the NFA administrator is actively at war against him. How can Duterte claim to have the ability to be a dictator for the nation when he can’t even dictate to his own subordinates to work together?

Indeed, on the rice situation, there are three singers. There is also the agriculture secretary who claims there is a bumper harvest of rice. But that does no good for poor consumers who depend on subsidized rice.

No, we don’t need a Duterte dictatorship or RevGov to solve our problems. Duterte himself has shown political will is enough to get things done. But he should make more tough decisions that show political will, specially with his subordinates.

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

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