DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - August 10, 2020 - 12:00am

Highest number of total COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia. Worst GDP contraction among major ASEAN economies. First recession in nearly 30 years. Worst economic contraction ever in Philippine history. All in ONE day.

I don’t know how long Sec. Sonny Dominguez and the economic team can keep the dam from bursting. People are terrified.

Something is obviously very wrong. But our Great Leader insists on doing the exact same thing with the same people who have consistently failed. Einstein has a crunchy word to describe this attitude.

Moments like this in history call for the likes of Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt who can inspire and unite their people to endure and overcome the crisis. Unfortunately, the world today must live with the likes of Trump and Duterte.

Both leaders are divisive. They cater to their circle of supporters and to hell with the rest of the country. The economic and pandemic challenges require a whole country approach and neither of these two leaders are capable of that.

At least with the US, they have institutions that continue to work. When Trump tried to use the military to support his egotistical fantasies, they pushed back.

Same with the judiciary, which time and again stopped Trump from trashing principles long held dear by the American people. It doesn’t stop Trump to keep on trying, but he knows he won’t always get his way.

Here, it was easy for Duterte to take control of institutions designed by the Constitution to check and balance each other. The legislature’s two houses, particularly the Lower House, are eating out of his hand. Same with the Supreme Court... his appointees feel too indebted to him.

From the start, Duterte tried to govern the country as if it was Davao. His style of governance mimicked the shock and awe approach that worked for him in Davao.

The insecurity of the provincial mayor in him was obvious from the start. His close aides still call him mayor, a title he seems more comfortable with.

He calls the PNP his police and the AFP his army. They are his police and his soldiers. He chose retired officers to run key Cabinet and government offices. And he unashamely says the uniformed services constitute the backbone of his government.

Of course on paper, under our Constitution, our government is supposed to be civilian in nature. I guess Duterte is just so insecure he made sure the big guns provide him cover.

But we can live with that. Many retired officers are excellent trained managers with MBAs. Our problem is the management style.

Strong blind loyalty may be expected in areas of the country controlled by political dynasties or warlords. But so totally inappropriate for governing a country like the Philippines. We deserve better.

How Duterte strongly defends Duque even in the face of a long series of bad decisions and equally bad management style is a disservice to our people. It is personal loyalty against the public interest.

Changing an incapable general in the middle of a war is sometimes necessary to win the war.

The COVID numbers are calling for fresh ideas and new strategies. That’s what the timeout was for. Duque’s way got us nowhere for five months, but more suffering for our people and the hollowing out of our economy.

It isn’t as if there are no qualified replacements. At least three former secretaries of health come to mind, one of whom has international experience at WHO in dealing with pandemics and has successfully handled the last one on SARS.

It should also be clear by now that Duque has lost credibility among our people and even among his professional peers. He is the symbol of the administration’s ineffective COVID effort.

Duterte says Duque has done nothing wrong. But neither has he done anything significantly good. Between the PhilHealth corruption scandal and the incompetence in the conduct of this COVID war, replacing him will boost the administration’s credibility.

I am sure even the generals in the IATF would rather work with a new secretary of health, but are too intimidated by Duterte’s strong defense of Duque to speak out. They, too, must be so exhausted and by now and are dreaming of their own timeout.

Duterte must show he can credibly handle our two-pronged crisis in the economy and the pandemic. But our failure on the pandemic side is tying up the hands of guys like Sec. Sonny.

Right now Sec. Sonny can say the good things they have done the past four years can still help us put the economy back on track, but only if investors, financial institutions and credit ratings agencies are reassured we are on the right track. Otherwise, past gains will be lost and wasted.

I am sure that the folks we need to help us recover are looking at the quality of our national leadership.

Cursing and threatening so-called oligarchs has probably caused a quiet domestic capital flight. It makes sense to park resources abroad and wait out this regime, even if you are not a Lopez. Investments have declined considerably in the last GDP report.

That unfortunate public emotional breakdown of Duterte last week as he accused our doctors of plotting a revolution didn’t inspire confidence. It only raised doubts among investors about our political stability.

I can almost hear Duterte screaming we don’t need foreign investors... we can recover by ourselves. “Wag kayong matakot,” he will add, “ako muna ang magugutom.”

Well... that’s not how the world operates outside of Davao. Even Trump, who is trying to tell the world the US can be self sufficient, is learning the hard way it can’t be done.

I have no doubt about our Great Leader’s patriotism. Perhaps we can appeal to his love of country to shift course. The guys around him who understand the importance of timely and strategic decisions should have a long talk with him.

I know Sec. Sonny will say he is in no position to teach someone with a popularity rating as high as Duterte’s. But he should, if only because it is a service he can do for an old boyhood friend and also for our country.

Otherwise, our future could be more uncertain than it should be. We need good, inspiring and effective leadership. Nothing less.

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

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