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Opinion

Gratefulness, regret and relief as President Duterte exits

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

President Duterte’s six-year term will come to an end in two days. While our headstrong president led us to many breakthroughs, he also dragged us to the gutter in many respects. It was a turbulent ride under his leadership. As Mr. Duterte exits from Malacañang, I am left with sentiments of gratitude, regret and relief. Let me elaborate…

I am grateful to Mr. Duterte for making good on his promise to foster a golden age of infrastructure. Infrastructure spending over the last six years averaged about P1 trillion a year, equivalent to five percent of GDP. This is a far cry from spending an anemic P100- to P400 billion over the last 30 years. Thanks to Mr. Duterte, our ports, roads, bridges and railways have begun to modernize significantly.

I am grateful for tax reform. The passage of TRAIN made our personal income tax structure more equitable. Now, the wealthy carry more of the tax burden while struggling households who earn less than P250,000 a year are tax exempt. The passage of CREATE was a game changer too. CREATE slashed corporate income tax from 30 percent to 25 percent, making the Philippines more competitive in attracting investors. It also gives small businesses relief by reducing their income tax to just 20 percent.

I have always said that foreign direct investments (FDI) is the silver bullet that can generate much needed revenues, solve poverty and improve the lives of our people. I am grateful that Mr. Duterte succeeded in passing three laws that override the prohibitive provision of the 1987 Constitution relating to foreign investments. These laws are the Public Service Act, the Foreign Investment Act and the Trade Liberalization Act. Collectively, these laws will allow us to attract a greater share of FDIs. It will be a game changer for us.

I am grateful that President Duterte agreed to bankroll the second phase of the AFP’s modernization program worth $56 billion.

I am grateful that Mr. Duterte opened up the mining industry, allowed satellite broadband and enacted the Rice Tariffication and Ease in Doing Business Acts.

On regret – I regret that the government’s COVID response was unnecessarily heavy-handed. The militaristic lockdown caused the economy to contract by 9.6 percent, which could have been tempered if better- considered policies were adopted. The two-year school lockdown will reduce our children’s life earnings by nine percent a year.

I regret that Mr. Duterte failed to arrest the free fall of Philippine educational standards.

I regret that Mr. Duterte did not do enough to ensure water, energy and food security.

I regret that Mr. Duterte succumbed to pressure from an ally and agreed to rescind the privatization of NAIA even if it was won fair and square. Now we have to contend with an aging NAIA until the Bulacan gateway opens. Realistically, that will take at least eight years.

On relief – I am relieved that vulgarity and irreverence is on the way out and hopefully, decency will be restored in the Palace. Our society is patriarchal and we emulate the behavior of our father figure. By example of the father figure, Filipinos in and out of government have been emboldened to cuss and attack people with rancor and vitriol. Duterte made indecency “acceptable” and this is fatal because it erodes our humanity and turns us into a mob.

I am relieved that we no longer have to deal with audacious promises like eliminating the drug problem and criminality in 30 days. While promises like these pander to the crowd, they are clearly a case of underestimating the situation and over-estimating one’s ability.

I am relieved that opaqueness and flip-flopping messages from Malacañang will be replaced by clarity.

I am relieved that the disrespect for the rule of law and due process will be a thing of the past and hopefully, the law will be held primordial again. President Duterte weakened our institutions by bamboozling due process whenever expedient. He did so by way of instigating extrajudicial killings and when he ordered his Cabinet not to attend the Senate hearings on the back of the Pharmally heist, among others.

I am relieved that the era of vengefulness is over and hopefully, replaced by a culture of national reconciliation. The incarceration of Leila de Lima was excessive, considering she was only doing her job when she filed charges against Mr. Duterte for his death squad. Similarly, the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise was severe and tainted with personal prejudice and political revenge.

I am relieved that shameless corruption can be arrested, if not be tamed. A presidential candidate in the last election alleged that as much as P700 billion out of our P5-trillion national budget is typically flinched by corrupt government officials. This amount was validated to me by a high-ranking official of the Department of Budget and Management.

More significantly, I am relieved that incoming president Bongbong Marcos will enforce our claim over the illegally occupied territories in the West Philippine Sea. Marcos made his position clear in a series of statements last month. Suffice it to say that he is determined to enforce our territorial claim based on the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The defeatist attitude of Mr. Duterte emboldened China to expand her territorial grab and militarize the disputed waters. Mr. Duterte’s refusal to enforce our victory in the United Nations Tribunal allowed China to have its way without consequence. Worse, his permissive, submissive and preferential attitude towards China did not pay dividends by way of investments or economic concessions, at least not in the scale promised. Rather, it made us Filipinos feel unempowered, subsumed and vulnerable.

Like I said, the last six years was a turbulent ride... I am happy to move on to calmer skies.

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Email: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan.

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