Duterte’s swan song

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Swans sing most beautifully just before their death, bewitching everyone who hears it, so says ancient belief. Even Aristotle said swans sing chiefly in their final moments. Thus, it came to be that a swan song often referred to the final performance of an artist, a poet or the like.

Monday’s three-hour speech was President Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address, but it was by no means his swan song, he said. There’s still so much he wants to finish in his remaining days as chief executive, he said.

But history will judge Duterte’s term not just with how it started or how it ended, but with everything that happened in between.

There are many ways to remember Duterte’s legacy, depending on where you sit. You can revel over the pristine dolomite beach, thank him for free education and free health benefits or whatever convenience you get from those malasakit centers. Some will applaud him for making the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos a hero, to the dismay and heartbreak of the tens of thousands of human rights victims during Martial Law. Others love Duterte for his sense of humor, and even more for his rape jokes. He speaks the language of the people and very few of our presidents were like that.


How about specific indicators? How does one assess Dutertenomics for instance? We could simply look at the numbers.

From 2016 to 2019, the Philippine economy posted slower growth: 6.8 percent in 2016, 6.7 percent in 2017, 6.2 percent in 2018 and 5.9 percent in 2019. This was all before COVID-19.

The Duterte administration had a good jump-off point, inheriting an economy that was the toast of the world, touted by the international community for it was no longer the Sick Man of Asia.

The country then earned the confidence of credit rating agencies and foreign investors, as marked by the first investment-grade rating for the Philippines in 2013, among others.

In contrast, Fitch Ratings recently gave a “negative” outlook to our credit rating due to increasing risks as the pandemic drags on.

But during his SONA, Duterte urged Congress to immediately pass economic measures, hopefully to attract more investors. This move cheered the stock market, leading to a rally the next day.

Social and health issues

In his SONA, the President also trumpeted a landmark legislation passed early in his term — the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act — which provides free tuition in state universities, as well as the Universal Health Care Act and Malasakit Centers Act.

A lot of Filipinos, especially the less fortunate, will remember Duterte for these measures because they respond to the basic needs in life. But these populist measures have their costs and we may all be paying for them, one way or another.

As our fiscal authorities always say, any expenditure without the corresponding identifiable revenue will put a squeeze on the budget deficit.


President Duterte said the goal was to make Filipino lives comfortable with good governance, noting efforts to improve government services.

I commend the practical move to extend our passports’ validity to 10 years and, soon, the driver’s license for non-violators.

The passport process has also significantly improved. But I hope the process at the Land Transportation Office for first timers will be similar to that in the US, where only those who really pass practical driving tests are issued licenses.

The drug war

Duterte won on a campaign promise that he would fight criminality and corruption, and end the drug menace in the country.

But this has not happened yet. As Duterte said in his SONA, the problem was too big and a culture of deeply entrenched corruption in government allows for this drug war to continue.

“Customs and everyone else were facilitating the importation of drugs,” he said.

True enough, some of the biggest drug scandals in the country happened under this administration — P6.5 billion worth of shabu during the time of former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and P6.8 billion during the stint of Commissioner Isidro Lapeña.

Combined, that’s about P13 billion worth of shabu, equivalent to 2,200 kilograms. Theoretically, that’s enough for each and every Filipino in this nation of 110 million to get high on drugs.

The drug war should have, therefore, focused on the source, not on the desperate small-time peddlers and users in the slums because it was ineffective and has been nothing but bloody, resulting in more than 20,000 deaths.

This “kill them all” leadership also sadly, empowered some of our policemen to do as they please with their guns and badges. How many senseless police killings have happened in recent years?

And this is how I will remember his term. Despite all his administration’s accomplishments — big or small — I will remember him for the bloody drug war and the bloodied corpses of my fellow Filipinos I saw lying in the nooks and crannies of Manila the few times I joined the night beat.

I don’t need to wait for his swan song because, however great it may turn out to be, it will never undo this legacy of death.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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