FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2019 - 12:00am

The latest SWS survey shows President Rodrigo Duterte garnering an 80% satisfaction rating at the midpoint of his term. That is unprecedented. 

Those who wish the President’s political base would somehow evaporate with constant drumming about surrendering sovereignty or waging a bloody war on drugs are spitting against the wind. They are wishing against the evidence.

There are large trends that could not be reversed. Poverty incidence is down dramatically. Unemployment is climbing down as well. Social services, such as free tertiary education and universal health care, are forthcoming. 

Despite the slight setback caused by the delayed passage of this year’s budget, the growth momentum remains strong. The Philippines continues to be a growth leader in this part of the world, protected from the vagaries of the global market by strong domestic demand. 

The ambitious infrastructure modernization program, with its awesome multiplier effects, will drive domestic growth. For many of our people, this program alone excuses everything. It is palpable and visible. It drives up property values and brings efficiency to many economic sectors. 

While human rights activists rail about the killings associated with the war on drugs, the man on the street appreciates the peace and order this has caused. Crime volumes are dramatically down.

The greater number of Filipinos shares the pragmatism of the Duterte administration in rebalancing our foreign relations. All the ranting about surrendering our sovereignty in the rocks and reefs of the South China Sea strikes our people as abstract. The benefits we win in improving relations with China are concrete. 

At midpoint, the Duterte administration’s political capital is even larger than when it began. That is significant.

The administration has the political means to move its agenda further. The State of the Nation Address should give us a glimpse of where the President might want to take the nation. 

Most of our people feel that today the nation has willful leadership and effective governance. The national community will be better because of that.

The best measure of willful leadership is the pace with which projects are getting done. The effectiveness of governance is summed up in the fiscal discipline that has earned us unprecedented credit ratings upgrade. 

The public’s expectation for willful leadership and effective governance trickles down to the local executive level. People expect their mayors and governors to be both compassionate and decisive. 

 See how people have cheered when Isko Moreno hit the ground running in the City of Manila, clearing the clogged roads of illegal vendors and setting a clear policy agenda to reverse that city’s slow death. See how our people cheered when Benjie Magalong took Baguio City’s problems by the horns.

The Duterte administration sets a new benchmark for leadership that will influence the political choices our people will make going forward.


 If President Duterte did not endorse anyone to be Speaker of the House, Rep. Joey Salceda said, the prospect was for a “bloody floor fight” on the day of the SONA. The opening of Congress would be as it was last year: tumultuous.

Reluctantly, the President “anointed” a leader for a House when none of the principal contenders appeared capable of mustering an outright majority. He had wanted to stay out of the fray even as he must have been conscious of the tradition that the President effectively names the Speaker. 

He had to move quickly, too. His daughter and son last week began forming what they called a “Duterte coalition” that endorsed Isidro Ungab for the Speakership. Had this gathered momentum, the President would have lost command of the House to, ironically, his children.

Duterte was also bound by an earlier promise made to Cayetano. He had to somehow stand by that.

Of the three serious contenders for the top House post, Cayetano probably enjoyed the least support from his colleagues. If a “bloody floor fight” did break out, it would be between Lord Velasco and Martin Romualdez. The two contenders had enrolled the most number of congressmen behind their bids.

Some have described Duterte’s decision to enforce a term-sharing arrangement between Cayetano and Velasco, along with the installation of Romualdez as majority leader, “Solomonic.” It was not. It was plain pragmatic. It should most accurate to describe the President’s role as one of an “arbiter” in a factional struggle without anyone gaining hegemony.

The “Magellan” formula for term sharing was the only one acceptable to the parties concerned. Duterte gets to keep his promise to Cayetano. He appeases his PDP-Laban mates by getting their favored Velasco to be Speaker at some point. 

There are clear losers in the modus vivendi enforced by Duterte. The party-list bloc, that was maneuvering to be the largest single faction in the House, was sidelined. Romualdez, who might have had the largest numbers of supporters, was eased from contention.  Sara and Paolo Duterte were dislodged as the decisive powerbrokers in that chamber.

As a concession, the “supermajority” is likely to name Ungab to chair the powerful appropriations committee. That keeps the Davao brand in play apart from ensuring the budget process proceeds on schedule.

Fredenil Castro, an outspoken supporter of Romualdez is expected to become minority leader. This brings us to another open secret about politics at the House: the majority gets to name the minority leader.

 By exercising his role as “arbiter” over an inconclusive factional fight, the President gets to keep his “supermajority.” No one is completely happy about this arrangement. No one is completely excluded either. 

The spoils were divided equitably even if imperfectly. 

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