Grassroots & Governance
By Teresa S. Abesamis
After one year, it is time for stock taking on the Duterte administration. I see its impact so far on our country as a mixed bag. President Rodrigo Duterte is certainly making a difference, and over the long term, some of his decisions could be good for the country. However, some of his decisions are clearly bad; and some obviously ugly.
The pivot to China over the long term could be a really shrewd move; and could be beneficial. America’s global leadership in terms of economic prosperity and bettering life for more countries is waning; and this trend seems to be accelerating under the parochial leadership (“America First”) of Donald Trump. China’s initiative of building a silk road to link it closer to Europe and other neighboring countries demonstrates China’s well-considered long-term strategic thinking. Pushing the establishment of an Asian Infrastructure Bank will link it closer to its neighborhood, which is becoming economically the fastest growing in the world today. Perhaps Duterte’s brain trust is being shrewd and using our country’s strategic location in Asia and the ASEAN Region to leverage our advantages for our benefit.
Duterte seems to have made some laudable appointments to his Cabinet: Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez is pushing for sensible tax reforms, with constructive contributions in ideas and advocacy from a former World Bank executive, the young Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua. Under Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año, the military seems to have reached a professionalism and credibility that could be the highest in its history.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez is working hard to push MSMEs for employment generation and inclusive growth. He is getting strong assistance from one of our heroic professional civil servants, Undersecretary for Regional Operations Zeny Cuizon Maglaya, who has served the department since being recruited as a student into the MASIKAP program by the late Minister Vicente “Ting” Paterno in the 1970s. The ten-point agenda crafted under the stewardship of NEDA’s Director General and Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, has drawn a road map for prosperity and inclusive growth. Peaceniks Secretary Jesus Dureza and his associate in the process, Irene Santiago, long-time peace and women’s rights activist in Davao are persevering in their work of bringing about peace with various rebel groups despite many bumps along the road, including the war in Marawi City.
But there is also plenty of Bad. Thousands have been killed in poor barangays across the country; and more are dying from police operations as well as what seem to be undercover killers. There are even rumors that police precincts in the NCR are given quotas on drug pusher and user suspect kills to be accomplished and that the killer policemen are given financial rewards. This policy or practice is indicative of a primitive and uncivilized society. We are backtracking toward the brutality of the Marcos era, against which we marched in the streets for years.
The power of the State is being used to circumvent or flaunt laws as in the case of using hardened convicts as witnesses in order to imprison Senator Leila de Lima. The so-called Justice Secretary Aguirre has against the law, downgraded the charges against Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos (Bong Bong’s cousin) and his cohorts from murder (of then detained Albuera Mayor Espinosa) to homicide in order to allow them to post bail. Drug lords mentioned publicly early in his term by President Duterte, such as the wealthy Peter Lim (Duterte’s co-sponsor at a wedding of a mining magnate’s daughter) and former Police Superintendent Vicente Loot now wealthy mayor of DaanBantayan, Cebu, have not been charged in court.
Meanwhile, bodies of shoeless young men alleged to be drug pushers or users are found in dirty alleys in poor barangays. Huang Rulun, a business magnate based in China who was born in Binondo, cited as a good friend of President Duterte who donated a huge rehabilitation center in Nueva Ecija has been the subject of international publicity in which he is under investigation by the Chinese government for corruption and bribery.
Also bad for the country have been incidents of President Duterte getting carried away in his desire I suppose, to impress the leadership of China and Russia, that truly, under his leadership, the Philippines has adopted an independent foreign policy. He has announced that he is rejecting billions of pesos in development assistance from the European Union, claiming that it is tied to conditions that interfere with our sovereignty. I hope that he has changed his mind about this; because the European Union is our biggest trading partner being the number one buyer of goods from our country.
The European Union was also the biggest and earliest donor to the Yolanda victims, with the UK the biggest contributor. And the so-called conditionalities are no more than are provided by our own Constitution and the UN Commission on Human Rights, to which we are signatory. Most of the EU grants are meant for use in Mindanao, for infrastructure and for poverty alleviation, which we surely need. Here we are, rejecting help from our friends; and publicly kowtowing to the China bully which sells more to us than they buy. And, most importantly, has taken over our marine territories which the UN’s International Arbitral Court has certified as ours. These are marine territories that are potentially rich in natural gas and oil resources and are among the richest in marine life that our own fishermen have been denied access to.
The Ugly? Oh, there’s plenty of that too. Our president has publicly committed to our soldiers that he will answer for up to three rapes committed by them. He has on many occasions threatened to ignore the Supreme Court, and to declare martial law nationwide, because he can. He has, even during his campaign for the presidency used bad language, unprovoked, to describe then US President Barack Obama, who, bless his heart, did not respond in kind.
Some of President Duterte’s foul language and unjust decisions tend to weaken some of our already fragile institutions and constructive relationships. These can weaken our growing but still fledgling democracy.
Let us hope that his advisers and family exert influence on President Duterte whose frequently ugly language sets a bad example for our youth, and other politicians. And that as he matures as our national leader, he becomes more constructive and in the end achieves more good than bad. And that his foul language and immature braggadocio does not overcome what good his government is capable of achieving.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org AFP