Grassroots & Governance

Rodrigo Duterte’s management style — if you can call it that — seems to be an extension of his parochial authoritarianism as long-time mayor of Davao City. His focus on crime fighting, which seems to have been the main problem when he became mayor may have worked well at the time. However, to run a whole country of over a hundred million people, in almost a hundred provinces and almost 2,000 towns requires more thinking and strategizing since there are a myriad more stakeholders and competing interests. And whether he cares to pay attention to it or not, a more complex national and global environment. But Rodrigo Duterte has the habit of talking before he thinks; and because as president his word is considered a decision or policy statement, he has to backtrack every so often. Or his minions need to reinterpret his language the next day to the point of absurdity.

Where he is demonstrably consistent is in his constant parading of machismo by denigrating women, especially strong, assertive ones (e.g., detained Senator Leila de Lima, Retired Justice and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Vice-President Leni Robredo, etc.); and in publicly issuing orders to kill, kill, kill. Methinks he perhaps doth protest too much.

For instance, recently the President ordered a stop to the importation of rice. Just a day or so later, having heard the objections of stakeholders including the Secretary of Agriculture and the Director-General of National Economic and Development Authority, he had to reverse himself: a typical example of announcing a policy decision before he had done his study and consultations. His campaign promise to ride a Jet ski to Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal and to plant the Philippine flag there, of course, was just talk. He has more than once said that we cannot risk offending China, our powerful neighbor.

The President’s job offer to Vice-President Leni Robredo may have been just a macho dare; but he underestimated the Vice-President, thinking that she wouldn’t dare take the difficult and dangerous job. Well, she did. And he got caught off-guard. So, day after day, the Office of the President and/or his spokesman announced new orders and decisions on the job description for the new “drug czar.” Also, no, it wasn’t for a drug czar, just co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs. And yes, she was to be a member of the Cabinet. Then, later, no, she could only attend meetings where the illegal drug problem was on the agenda. And still later, no, she could not attend Cabinet meetings because he couldn’t trust her. Finally, it was explained that because she was a member of the opposition and she met with international groups like the United Nations and representatives of the US government and could therefore not be trusted, he fired her.

This is the decision-making process under this president. Shoot first and study and think later.

It is a good thing that when it comes to the economy, he basically leaves the economic cluster (Secretaries Carlos Dominguez, Ernesto Pernia, and Ramon Lopez) in his Cabinet alone. Fortunately, they have been making responsible decisions. The Secretary of National Defense is no pushover, so there is generally peace and order, except for isolated cases of kidnappings and killings in the usual Southern areas.

I don’t know if the President appointed Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to head management of the Southeast Asian Games, as if he doesn’t have enough to deal with. No wonder it is such an embarrassing mess, whatever excuses they are trying to give.

When she accepted the “drug czar” job, Vice-President Leni Robredo proceeded to do her research and consultation with professionals, officers, stakeholders, and experts in a position to provide information and insights to help her understand the problem. Unlike the President, she does her homework before shooting her mouth off. She was, of course, guided by a principle of preventing more and more deaths due to the “drug war.” She had been searching for new approaches and cooperators in order to accomplish her goals. She also consulted international agencies since she was quite aware that the drug problem is “transnational,” and that much of the illegal drug source is outside the country. However, our parochial president could not see the point of including “outsiders” in her consultations. Did he, for instance, ask his friend Xi Jin Ping to do something about the illegal drugs being produced in and shipped to our country from main supplier China? Certainly China’s Supreme Leader for Life would have enough power and wherewithal to at least reduce the volumes?

The lack of study and paucity of thinking has it seems to me, led to lame brained decisions to opt for bilateralism as preferred by the powerful China vs. the multilateralism needed by a poor and small country like the Philippines in dealing with the competing claims for the West Philippine Sea. After all, we had international law behind us following the favorable UN Arbitral Court ruling. Duterte went so far as to ensure that the issue was not on the agenda at ASEAN meetings. We have become China’s spokesman at the ASEAN!

If enough study and thinking had been done before proceeding with the shooting drug war, we would have concluded that priority attention should have been given to the supply problem (drug producers and wholesale dealers) rather than small fry user-addicts. Where is Peter Lim today? The President had promised publicly to kill the man whom he had identified as a drug lord. Instead, we have victimized thousands of users, mainly young and poor.

Apparently, instead of helping clarify the thinking, the implementing agencies just obey. That doesn’t help at all.

We need more thinking, more studied inputs into presidential policy making. Duterte is President of our country. Not just our mayor.


Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and Fellow of the Development Academy of the Philippines.