The good, bad and ugly of the Duterte administration
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - June 24, 2020 - 12:00am

Despite the economic blowback of the Wuhan virus, the President and his administration still enjoy an approval rating of well over 80%. This is phenomenal. Never before has a Philippine Chief Executive enjoyed such overwhelming support in a time of crisis.

But President Duterte is different from the rest. Unlike past presidents who were bred with genteel manners and trained as technocrats, Mr. Duterte embraces his provincial ways. He speaks the people’s language, complete with invectives, and unabashedly displays his machismo. All these resonate well with the majority such that they fondly address him as “Tatay Digong.”

Fortunately or unfortunately, my level of confidence toward this administration is not absolute. While I recognize that this government has delivered numerous programs that have benefitted the nation, there are also aspects of it that cause me worry.

Lets start with the positives. Among the branches of government that have served the nation exceptionally well is the trifecta of the Department of Finance, Bangko Sentral and NEDA. Collectively, these government agencies are responsible for economic planning and the management of our finances.

Acknowledged by international think tanks as among the best in the world, these agencies have managed our financial and monetary affairs with such expertise that we are now ranked the 6th among 66 emerging economies with the strongest financial fundamentals. In 2017, they succeeded to pass the TRAIN Law, a feat administrations before it could not accomplish. Hence, the country’s revenue collections are now at its highest since 1997.

Prior to the pandemic, our sovereign debts were well on its way to becoming A-rated. This means that our financial system was so strong enough to be classified in same category as Spain, the UAE and Malaysia.

Although the onset of the Wuhan virus set us back, the trifecta responded well by putting in place a ingenious two-pronged plan meant to minimize the impact of the crisis whilst fortifying the weaknesses in our institutions (agriculture, logistics, healthcare, etc). All these are embodied in its masterplan called PH-PROGRESSO for which the CREATE Law is an integral part.

The prudent policies of Secretaries Sonny Dominguez, Ernesto Pernia (now Karl Chua) and BSP Governor Ben Diokno have inspired confidence in the economy despite the political noise. The economy expanded at a stellar rate of 6.6% from 2016 to 2019.

Another exemplary branch of government is the transport and infrastructure cluster consisting of the Department of Transportation, BCDA and the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Many complain that infrastructure projects are too few and too slow to roll out. What we fail to realize is that this is the first time that multiple game-changing projects are under construction, simultaneously. We are indeed in our golden age of infrastructure. Secretaries Arthur Tugade, Mark Villar and Vince Dizon should be given credit for expertly navigating the bureaucratic and financing obstacles in infrastructure development.

The only red mark is Secretary Villar’s failure to implement the national building code for outdoor advertising. Due to the DPWH’s cavalier attitude toward billboards and lamp-post banners, they now litter our highways making our cities appear more cluttered than need be. It is visual garbage. They are also safety hazards given their perilous positions over and across our roads and within striking distance from electric posts. It seems the outdoor advertising industry is too much for Villar to handle.

The tandem of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat and Undersecretary Bong Bengzon also deserve mention. Before the pandemic the local tourism industry was soaring with record-breaking numbers of tourists. This was done despite enforcing strict environmental regulations to make the tourism industry sustainable. Normally, the pursuit of tourism numbers come at the expense of the environment – but the DOT managed to balance both.

The DTI, under Secretary Mon Lopez is another success story. It played the key role in taming inflation last year and is acting as the leading light to save MSMEs from quarantine-induced insolvencies.

Just as there are departments who succeed outstandingly, so are there outstanding failures. The Departments of Health and Education are catastrophes due to incompetent leadership. Their bodies of work speak for themselves.

But what really drags confidence down is this administration’s policy on China.

The devotion of the President and by delegated authority, the entire Cabinet, toward China goes beyond reason. It seemingly puts Chinese interest before that of the Filipino and this makes us uneasy.

Patriots like myself questions why this administration adopted a policy not to enforce our victory at the UN Arbitration Court over China’s illegal occupation of our sovereign territories in the West Philippine Sea. Being passive about China’s illegal occupation is akin to giving her consent to militarize our sovereign territories.

Some say that there is a strategic reason for it. If so, it must be explained to the people.

The argument that we do not have the military prowess to engage China does not hold water. We can always confront her on the legal and diplomatic front as Vietnam is. Neither does the promise of billions in investments carry credence. Records show that China’s investments have been minuscule compared to what we have given up, just $819.6 million in 2017 and $930 million in 2018. Neither can we say that we need China for its official development assistance. Japan is ready and willing to grant more ODAs at terms far more superior than China.

This administration has made our sovereign republic submit to China without getting the equivalent in return (unless you count banana exports and a million tourists as substantial enough). Adding insult to injury are the juicy contracts awarded to the red republic including the construction of the Kaliwa Dam and the third TelCo franchise.

Despite everything, this administration tiptoes around China as if the Chinese communist party has a hold over it.

Another source of unease is the suppression of our freedoms of speech, press and assembly. I get it – Malacañang does not like to be criticized, nor does it appreciate dissenting opinions. Who does? But its distaste for criticisms does not warrant permanently gagging the people’s voice through the Anti-Terrorist Act.

Look, this administration will end too but the Anti-Terrorist law will endure. This means, the people’s voice will forever be suppressed by the threat of being branded a terrorist. If signed into law, the Anti Terrorist Act will forever debase the very democratic principles in which our republic was built.

Let’s hope the festering issue about China and our discomfort over the Anti Terrorist Act is given due attention. If it does, there will be nothing ugly about this administration.

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