The first 100 days of PRRD have been a whirlwind. In street lingo, Duterte is like a spinning top (torompo), hitting everything and almost everyone is trying to decipher what he is doing. He has upped the ante. And can anything be worse than his narrative?
PRRD has set the stage for a honeymoon period similar to nothing in presidential history. Hard act to follow since there have been a total of 52 documented accomplishments as early as his 50th day in office. Crucial to the reframing of a strong national vision are the peace process with the Left and the Muslims that he has effected unilaterally; the campaign against illegal drugs which the previous administration failed to carry out (illegal drugs have always been one of the top issues in any local survey, but not much focus was given to it); improving frontline services; pursuing an independent foreign policy, among others.
Traditionally, Filipino voters, disengage after voting on EDay. They don’t care. They go back to their daily grinds and from time-to-time react depending on the issues of the day. After May 2016, we have today a very engaged citizenry. They take a stand, they voice their stand. They fight for their President, they defend their beliefs. They question conventional wisdom. They are front and center on issues. Is our democracy overheating? Or are voters finally learning after five presidencies, post-Marcos, about age-old problems hampering our nation but which we have not addressed?
PRRD has been shaking everything since Day 1. He has been throwing all cards on the table but seemingly keeping the trump cards close to his chest. He is pushing the envelope and testing the metes and bounds of the system. He sneers, yells, cusses, gives the finger and what-have-you. These devices ensure very visual and emotional engagements. Because of these, PRRD is now known globally. In Germany for a federal study tour courtesy of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, we face a common question asked of us – all about the Philippine President. He is today what the Asean Economic Community is looking for to fill the void left by strong leaders of yesteryears. The newbie has gravitas and he has captured the attention of the Asean.
The oldest President in our history and the first from Mindanao has also attempted what has not been done in the past: pursue an independent foreign policy. But his way of doing so is “crude,” as some quarters would describe it. He minces no words, he rambles through and hit old partners and new. Words like vassal, mendicant, colony, iniquitous, subjugated, oppressed have been articulated to characterize relationships with nations, such as “United States” and “interference,” “don’t tell me what to do” and the “European Union.” One mentions “human rights” and that hits him to his core, but he gets back by stating the obvious when it comes to the human rights records of the same countries that judge him. And oh, France, qu’avez vous fait? You call the President of the Philippines a “serial killer?” What do you make of Hollande? A “marshmallow?” When Duterte raises the ante against the Americans, will we succumb when they pull out? Or is he repositioning in negotiating for something much better? Just take a look at the financial and military aid the US has given other countries. The Philippines has not given the US much headache unlike the Top 10 countries (Israel, Vietnam, Egypt, Afghanistan, Turkey, South Korea, France, Greece, China and Iraq) it has given military assistance from 1946 to 2012. The Philippines is not even in the Top 10 countries receiving economic assistance from 1946 to 2012: India, Israel, United Kingdom, Egypt, Pakistan, Vietnam, Iraq, South Korea, Germany and France. Should we remain a loyal friend or do we flex our muscles and be independent and neutral? Shouldn’t we pursue our interests more than being agent of someone who has not valued our shared past?
And the revolution continues. This is not a status quo government. The next 2,000 days will be structural. That is not easy governance. That is not incremental. And 2017 may just be the year when we finally understand Duterte. Federalism will be on the plate and we need to stay focused because we cannot be talking about federalism without fixing our politics. Political reform (political parties, campaign finance and fixing Cemelec) is important and we cannot just take lock, stock and barrel the proposed Federal Philippines because by doing so we will make federalism fail as launched. We cannot even talk of parliamentary without strong political parties. And political parties are the linchpin of our democracy and not of bots and trolls. The noise online is different from the situation on the ground. Ground matters and online is an echo chamber.
There is no perfect democracy or a perfect leader. And in the first 100 days, not much has been reported on the good things happening in three key departments that touch the 26 percent of the population living below the poverty line: agriculture, agrarian reform and social welfare, which are moving toward targets with laser attention to details that have direct impact on rural Philippines. The three departments are focusing on support, distribution and safety nets in a cohesive manner. And the Cabinet is reaching out to key patriots in crafting a vision for the country, integrating the same with Ambisyon Natin 2040.
And some would want to talk and plan for removal of a President who is just 100 days in office and doing well by the results of the surveys? Could the oligarchs be throwing tantrums because they can’t control the guy from Mindanao? You hit Duterte, you destroy the country, and it ain’t the other way around when it comes to Duterte’s mouth that you say is destroying the country. The PSE and the forex are not roller coasters because of the mouth. The global economy is such that a movement in one market results in movements in the rest. And then you have the unnerving US presidential elections.
A strong Philippines is good for Filipinos and for the region. A strong Philippines is good for balance and peace in the West Philippine Sea. A strong Philippines is good for the United States’ pivot in Asia. A strong Philippines is free of drugs, has won the fight against corruption, has much better frontline services for Filipinos, has won the war on poverty and has made the oligarchs of the country care more for the country and the Filipinos than their pockets all the time. It is to the oligarch’s interests that there are less poor people and a bigger middle class midway. And yes, the fact that one can rant under Duterte is proof that the crazy democracy of the Filipinos allows dissent. And yes, that Duterte can apologize is not a mark of a weakling but of a responsible leader.
As Elie Wiesel said, “we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”