I voted for President Duterte.
Like millions of Filipinos, I was desperate for change and was lured by candidate Duterte who promised that “change was coming.” The old political families that had governed the Philippines since Independence had given us nothing but grief.
I don’t agree with everything that President Duterte does. I strongly disagree with the ouster of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, masterminded by his minions, because it’s unconstitutional and rooted in petty grievances by her fellow Justices. It will also weaken the Judiciary as an institution.
I also don’t agree with President Duterte’s foreign policy of appeasement to China. Like Vietnam, we can still economically cooperate with China without yielding on principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
President Duterte practices a leadership style that doesn’t serve the country well. I call it leadership by drama. I have to call him the drama king. What are the components of this leadership by drama?
His solutions have been over the top.
Take, for example, the drug problem.
President Duterte has correctly identified it as a threat to the state. It’s also a human resource problem that has become a scourge in many poor communities. However, his solution has resulted in extrajudicial killings. Drug dealers and drug users have been treated alike, especially if they are poor. The aspect of drug rehabilitation has been basically ignored in favor of quick solutions engineered by the police.
Another example is the Boracay problem.
Again, here President Duterte is basically correct in that self-inflicted environmental problems were threatening this island paradise. He has also shown political will by going against politically powerful businessmen and local government officials. The problem is that he could and should have ordered the closure of Boracay in stages. Also, those who were complying with the law and those who weren’t, suffered alike with the closure of entire Boracay.
Not only has the closure of the entire island resulted in billions of pesos in losses, it has given the country a bad name in the tourism industry. It’s no longer fun to book beach vacations in the Philippines.
President Duterte has added to the drama and the uncertainty by saying he wants Boracay declared a land reform area. This is pure drama. There are no real agricultural lands in Boracay and the Ati tribesmen in Boracay aren’t farmers.
Then President Duterte piles on the drama by saying that the beneficiaries can turn around and sell the land to Big Business. Where’s the drama? The only legal way for President Duterte to give titles to the Ati tribe is through agricultural free patent. However, this means that the agricultural free patent beneficiaries have to wait for 30 years before they can be granted a title. During all that time, the Ati beneficiaries are supposed to pay taxes on the land. With what money since the land isn’t productive?
President Duterte has also said that land reform in Boracay is about social justice. Or is it about rent-seeking, since bureaucrats or politically-connected people may end up owning the titles and making a killing under the guise of land reform?
President Duterte may have good intentions but the Boracay drama has just given investors more uncertainty and reasons not to invest in the Philippines.
Another example of an over-the-top solution is martial law in Mindanao.
The ISIS-inspired insurgency is confined to Marawi and a few other provinces. However, President Duterte declared martial law in the entire Mindanao and even after the Marawi siege has ended. Martial law is drama enough, but does it have to be in the entire Mindanao? The declaration is not without economic consequences since tourists and investors would be warned by their respective embassies to avoid Mindanao. Martial law in the entire Mindanao gives the impression that there’s widespread lawlessness in the island when there isn’t.
President Duterte has a can-do attitude. He likes to solve problems immediately. He probably got this attitude as mayor of Davao City, where for instance, he could easily order the sanitation department to clean up the streets if he sees garbage.
Unfortunately, governing the Philippines is more complex and the bureaucracy is incompetent, politicized, and inefficient. His government’s move to turn away from PPP (Public Private Partnership) and toward ODA (Official Development Assistance) and GAA (Government Appropriations Act)-financed infrastructure projects is built on the assumption of a competent and efficient bureaucracy. There have been a lot of fanfare (drama, if you will) about the Golden Age of Infrastructure, but going into the midpoint of his presidency, “Build, Build, Build” has yet to materialize.
Even his drug war is built on the assumption of a competent and honest police force. However, as he found out after the killing of a Korean businessman right in the headquarters of the PNP in Camp Crame, this isn’t so. There are a lot of scalawags in the PNP whom he has to root out first and he must reform the institution before he can pursue his drug war in earnest.
And then there’s the PCOO or the Presidential Communications Operations Office, which is, to say the least, an embarrassment.
Moreover, the National Food Authority, with whom, President Duterte sided in the dispute with Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., has mismanaged the rice situation, leading to rising rice and food inflation.
President Duterte is a pragmatic person. He likes to solve problems on the spot, without regard to ideology or high-level concepts like human rights. Maybe, this is why he has no use for a God. Again, this was probably shaped by his term as mayor. I think this guides his approach to China. He can’t do anything about China’s military might anyway so he might as well give in and extract concessions, such as getting loans, the influx of tourists, and more trade from China.
To him, abstract principles like human rights, rule of law, morality, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity are more of a hindrance in solving the nation’s problems. However, ignoring these principles altogether will have real life consequences in the long run.
President Duterte showed a lot of drama in firing government officials, saying that he will not tolerate a whiff of corruption. However, he has also recycled many officials he has fired, possibly sending mixed signals to the bureaucracy. On one hand, he has said he will fire scalawags in the police force, and yet on the other hand, he publicly declared the innocence of PNP Supt. Marvin Marcos, who was implicated in the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa by no less than the Department of Justice.
I’m pointing out the deficiencies in President Duterte’s leadership style because I believe he can be better. He has shown that he’s capable of learning and evolving. He has reached out from his small circle of campaign supporters and Davao friends in appointing government officials. He has walked back from some of his populist promises, such as ending the ENDO (labor contractualization) practice. He’s no longer as naïve anymore in dealing with the CPP-NPA and the Left, some of whose representatives he initially appointed to his Cabinet. He’s no longer the fawning former student of CPP Founder Jose Ma. Sison, who was once his professor.
He’s also no longer mouthing the unrealistic rice self-sufficiency mantra of Agricultural Secretary Manny Piñol.
The latest example of his evolution is his appointment of Bernadette Romulo-Puyat as Secretary of Tourism and Menardo Guevarra as Secretary of Justice. He appointed Puyat after firing Wanda Teo, the sister of the Tulfo brothers, media personalities who were outspoken supporters during his campaign. He gave Puyat a free hand in running the department, even moving his friend and campaign social media director, Pompee La Viña, from the Department of Tourism to the Department of Agriculture.
However, it’s his appointment and support for Menardo Guevarra that deserves commendation.
His previous work in the office of the Executive Secretary under President Noynoy Aquino could have been toxic for Guevarra, but Duterte appointed this well-respected professional anyway. Gueverra lived up to his reputation as a standup legal eagle by nullifying the Bureau of Immigration’s order deporting Australian missionary Patricia Fox, stating that he has to follow the “rule of law.” To his credit, President Duterte chose to respect Gueverra’s decision even if Fox had earned the former’s ire.
My message to President Duterte is this: You can become better. You have shown a capacity to evolve. You need to become a better leader for the sake of the Filipino people. We need less drama but more real achievements on the ground. Maintain your activist, can-do mentality but always assume that the government is inefficient and incompetent.
Use a scalpel when a scalpel will do. Not noise, not drama, but lower inflation, more affordable food, faster work on infrastructure, and more jobs are what Filipinos care about.
But that is not all that they care about. They also value nationalism, sense of independence, human and national dignity. Please consider these in our foreign relations.
We accept that you can’t be a philosopher-King, but you can be the King of the People you promised to be.
Calixto V. Chikiamco is a board director of the Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis.