As final preparations are being made for the inauguration of Rodrigo Duterte as the 16th President of the Republic, we sense that the public’s expectations are running high – so much that we may be setting up ourselves for disappointment. In some modern economies, including the Philippines, people have developed an image of the President as something akin to a superhero, rather than that of a mortal with all the normal flaws that we attribute to human beings.
Indeed, President-elect Duterte has reason to be confident. As we have said in this space before, the next President will inherit a fast-growing economy that is being fueled by remittances from overseas workers and the business process outsourcing sector – each accounting for about 10 percent of the GDP. There are also so-called low-hanging fruits, such as the promising tourism industry, which can be developed to contribute another 10 percent to GDP and become the third pillar of the economy. Of course, a robust economy offers our next leader more capabilities and policy options in addressing the needs of the Philippines.
Also, the Philippines is lucky that it faces no real external threat. The issue with the disputed territories with China and other countries may be difficult, but it is not without peaceful alternatives. Besides, we believe that the world realizes that the Philippines and other stakeholders in the region have more to gain from peace than from rattling swords that may disrupt growth in the region.
And so with peace at the borders, the President-elect can turn his attention to more domestic issues, such as crime and internal threats.
Still, that is not to say that the Philippines is not facing serious challenges, particularly rising crime and a broken bureacracy. Many seem poised to see whether Mr. Duterte can walk the talk. But that may be the wrong perspective, to pit one tough-talking leader with the criminals lording over our streets. In fighting crime, we hope that the President-elect also exerts much effort in strengthening law enforcement institutions and enhancing the capabilities of the Judiciary.
For one, we urge Mr. Duterte to look at further improving the equipment and salaries of policemen. Second, we hope that his new Justice secretary will work to improve the quality and capabilities of prosecutors. That should be close to Mr. Duterte’s heart, being once a public prosecutor himself. Surely, there are many other things that can be done to improve the crime-fighting and prosecutorial capabilities of the government. The point is, President-elect Duterte does not have to face the criminal forces alone – nor should we expect him to.
On a related point, organized crime is borderless. The incoming government can enjoy the goodwill of all the past Presidents in reaching out to our neighbors in forming a united front against illicit drugs, human trafficking, terrorism and other criminal activities.
Again, we should not expect Mr. Duterte to do all the work. Yes, let’s support him in the fight against crime and in restoring peace in our country. But let’s also remind his government that the way to make a lasting impact is to build stronger institutions. We should ask ourselves, after six years of President Duterte, what then? And if he falls short, will that make him a failure? Not necessarily.
Crime and all the other problems that this country faces, cannot be fully resolved in six years. Yes, expectations are high, perhaps because many of us see the situation as dire. But we also have to be realistic and accept the fact that the issues we face have been with us before the election of our 16th President, and that they will most likely be with us long after he is gone. What is important is that we give Mr. Duterte a chance, hope for the best, and remind him often about long-term solutions today.