Numbers Don’t Lie

The latest survey conducted by the Social Weather Station showed that support for President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration have progressed from “very good” to “excellent.” This is unusual, especially midway in a presidential term.

Of the sample group, 81 percent said they were satisfied, 10 percent were undecided, while 9 percent said they were dissatisfied. This yielded a +72 net approval rating, 6 points higher than the +66 it achieved in the previous quarter.

What is interesting is that the upsurge in public approval was realized not only in certain pockets of the country but across all provinces. Satisfaction ratings increased by 11 points in the Visayas, by 6 points in Mindanao and by 3 points in Luzon. Surprisingly, the usually critical Metro Manila also registered an increase of 5 points.

The astonishingly high ratings of this administration prompted a long discussion between property developer and good friend, Peter Angliongto, and I. We asked, how could the Duterte government’s popularity peak at a time when serious accusations were hurled against it? Why is it defying trends?

It will be recalled that the survey was conducted during the height of the “Bikoy” exposé where President Duterte and his family were implicated in the narcotics trade. It was also held in the midst of public outrage over the influx and red carpet treatment of Chinese immigrant workers at the expense of Filipino jobs.

We agreed that at the heart of the President’s ratings are two factors — first, a confluence of many minor accomplishments, which, when taken together, gives the impression that this government has its act together. The second is the traction gained by government’s infrastructure program.

On the minor accomplishments, such include the resolution of the tanim-bala (bullet planting) scam at NAIA; addressing once and for all the frequent breakdowns of MRT 3 by reappointing Sumitomo as its maintenance contractor; making available 1.7 million license plates (now proudly made in the Philippines) and releasing 10.3 million drivers licenses which were held up for three years. The extension of passports and drivers license validities were seen as practical decisions too.

The government also did well by resolving long pending legal cases including the row with Philippine Airlines over its P6 billion past due account; clamping down on big time tax evaders like Mighty Tobacco; settling the PIATCO legal fracas (thereby saving government P2 million in interest payments a day); and settling the Northrail-Sinomach case.

It acted swiftly to tame inflation and break down the rice cartel through rice tariffication. Add to this the fact that unemployment has dropped to 5.2%, the lowest unemployment rate since 2009.

Populist policies helped boost the administration’s ratings too. Among them are the universal healthcare program, free public education up to college level and the extension of maternity leaves.

All these have made people feel that government is working and that their lives are improving. It trumps all negative accusations hurled against the President, his family and his men.

Build.Build.Build by Numbers

The real boost, however, came from the visible progress of government’s infrastructure program. This is the second and more notable reason for President Duterte’s popularity.

Although fraught with delays and legal complications at first, it has now gained traction and is moving forward in good pace. This is where it stands today.

On the part of the DPWH, more than 328 kilometers of bypass and diversion roads were built, 1,908 kilometers of roads were widened, 393 kilometers of missing gaps in national roads were filled and 1,316 kilometers of access roads constructed. It also widened 511 bridges, replaced 204 of them, strengthened 642 and built 127 new ones.

Interestingly, most of these projects were done in far flung regions like the Cagayan Valley, SOCCSKSARGEN, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao and CARAGA — regions hardly touched by development in past administrations. One can imagine how having cemented roads to and from schools, markets, farms and ports have impacted the lives of local communities.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) has also delivered.

After decades of neglect, Sec. Tugade committed to build and/or rehabilitate 15 international airports and 25 domestic airports across the country.

So far, completed are the international airports of Lal-lo Cagayan, Bohol, Mactan and Puerto Princesa. Rehabilitation is ongoing at Clark, Aklan, Gen. Santos, Bicol, Iloilo, Davao, Laoag and Zamboanga.

On the domestic side, completed are airports in Tuguigarao, Marinduque, Virac, Catarman, Tacloban, Ormoc, Maasin, Mati, Siargao, Ipil, Camiguin, San Vicente and Busuanga. Still ongoing are those in Cauayan, Naga, Catbalogan, Calbayog, Surigao, Laguindingan, Bukidnon, Sanga-Sanga, M’lang, Ozamis, Dumaguete and Bacolod.

Twenty one out of 42 airports have already been night rated.

As I mentioned in this corner last week, the overstressed NAIA will have to absorb 20% more volume until the new Clark terminal comes online to absorb a portion of Manila’s air traffic. As I write this, the new Clark terminal is 60% complete and expected to be operational by 2020.

The majority of the national airport network should be complete by 2022. When all become operational, the effect on commerce and tourism will be enormous.

In railways, the DOTr plans to expand the country’s inventory from 77 kilometers of rails today to a whopping 1,900 kilometers by 2022. It is an audacious plan. Where does it stand today?

PNR’s Caloocan to De la Rosa line was opened after 10 years of closure. It has since been extended to FTI-Taguig to the south and Malabon to the north.

The 37.6 kilometer PNR line from Tutuban to Malolos broke ground last February and is expected to be completed by 2022. The 53-kilometer extension from Malolos to Clark and the 56-kilometer line from Tutuban to Calamba are still undergoing right of way acquisitions with the former 90% complete. The DOTr is working to get shovels on the ground this year so as to complete them by 2022.

The 639-kilometer line that will connect Manila to Legazpi via Batangas is still under conceptual design. However the terms of financing have already been signed between the governments of the Philippines and China.

The 36 kilometer Metro Manila Subway also broke ground last February. Three stations will be opened by 2022, the rest by 2025. Meanwhile, MRT 7 is 45% complete and will be operational by 2020. LRT 2 extension to Masinag is 80% complete and will be operational also in 2020. LRT 1 extension from Baclaran to Niog-Cavite began construction last month and is targeted for completion by 2023.

The 71-kilometer Subic-Clark cargo railway has obtained NEDA approval and is in the advanced stage of preliminary works. The DOTr is hoping to commence construction next year.

Down south, the colossal 830 kilometer Mindanao Railway System is still undergoing right of way and station site acquisitions. This project will take more time.

With the help of the Japanese government, the Philippine Railway Institute will be established and become operational in 2021. It will be the training ground for railway engineers while acting as the policymaking, planning and implementing body of government’s railways programs.

In the maritime sector, 191 ports have been modernized including the Sasa Port in Davao, the General Santos Port and the Tubigon Port in Bohol. 137 are still in the process of modernization including the Cagayan de Oro Port which is 96% complete and the massive Cebu International Container Port whose documents are still being prepared for the procurement of consultancy services.

With the promise of an infrastructure renaissance slowly becoming a reality, it could be said that Secretaries Mark Villar of the DPWH and Art Tugade of the DOTr contributed the most towards the President’s high ratings. Credit too must be given to Secretary Mon Lopez for taming inflation and generating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

There may be a lot of political noise going around — be it in the form of the “bikoy” exposè, federalism, the return of the Marcoses in power, the absolution of convicted plunderers, the war on drugs and many more. One thing we can’t deny, however, is that perennial problems are being solved, badly needed infrastructure are being built and the economy is soaring. The numbers prove it and the numbers don’t lie.

Peter and I agree that this is why the government’s approval ratings are at +72%.


Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.