A GREAT part of a leader’s job is to build a nation. Consensus has to be made for a shared vision and mission. But consensus is hard to come by since for the past six months of the Duterte administration, the country continues to adjust to the new norm of talk and action. Talk that is direct, very crass, in-your-face, and action that is fast, dizzying and immediate. To other countries, these may be most welcome but for the Philippines, it puts into question old norms, styles and the way things should be.
Rodrigo Roa Duterte is an aberration to some. For others, he is the best deal in town. Frontline is moving, peace and order is not tokenism, and things we have been used to like the long delays in government service are now #puedepala. And those who keep asking how will a mayor from Mindanao wield power would have to just study how Davao became Davao, and the rest, as they’d say, is history. But can Davao be scaled up? Would it not be too unwieldy? Would the Davao formula work?
Part of building a nation is respecting leadership. One may have a contrarian view but a people’s mandate should never be set aside, as we should have learned from history by now. From 1986 to 2016, it has always been the same oligarchs running the nation. Save for the two years of Erap, all of the leaders post Martial Law came and were supported by the same ruling class. FVR would not have been president had it not been for EDSA. Even that acronym was used as a political reminder of his role in the so-called People’s Uprising, Ed Sa ‘92, while Erap was ousted by the same EDSA plotters and economic supporters. And GMA was installed to power by the same group. So, from Aquino 1, FVR, GMA and Aquino 2, or a total of 28 years, the same ruling elites, economic and political, were in power. And we asked why was country always the first to suffer? Why is the poor becoming poorer and the rich, richer? And so, the ironies of EDSA came to fore when what it was supposed to replace remained in the nation’s psyche.
For them, to build the nation is to build their businesses. Culminating in a situation where more than a quarter, or 26 percent, of all Filipinos live in poverty against a 10 percent poverty rate in Asia is shocking to say the least. And the 40 richest families in the Philippines continued growing, accounting for 76 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Remember these data and let it be the benchmark to measure whether we have molded and willed a better future.
There are two approaches that can be made to fight poverty: One is via a private-led initiative where blue-chip companies invest in the poorest provinces of the country. Build the local infrastructure, build the industries and turn what used to be poorest into a blue-chip province. The other way is government-led, such as giving more focus to agriculture. We develop agriculture, we touch rural Philippines, we respond to poverty. In both options, we would need a stable peace and order situation. For when there is peace, the economy could grow much better.
The broad strokes of a development-led path have been made with the signing of Executive Order No. 5, approving and adopting the 25-year long-term vision known as Ambisyon Natin 2040 as guide for development planning. This act augurs well for the country since we are not setting aside early efforts but are continuing and improving plans as we plod on with the work of nation-building.
Though Duterte has pursued various paths of ensuring peace, a one-way track with everyone just watching is not the way to go. Shouldn’t the local governments now come into the picture and start cleaning their ranks? Start declaring their localities drug-free and begin with a clean slate? Shouldn’t the community start partnering with local government units and the local police so a territory can be declared drug-free? Duterte cannot singlehandedly do battle against drug lords. He cannot on his own rehabilitate Filipinos hooked on drugs. He needs other stakeholders to assist him and the sooner he realizes this, a more improved national dialogue can be made in the campaign against illegal drugs, sans the “I will kill you” mantra.
Some people have also asked the most telling question. Has he actually killed others to save the rest? Was killing a hostage-taker a justifiable act? To some, there is no option, but for others, the hostage-taker has rights. When a crime is happening before you, should not a person who took the oath to uphold the law have a right to protect citizens? Is the exercise of police power by the State limited?
So when Duterte says, “I will kill you, if you destroy my country…” would it be the same as a mother saying, “I will kill you, if you harm my kids?” But then again, when a Duterte says it, the words assume a different and dangerous hue. And people nail him for that. And that is where the danger lies. He instills fear in the hearts of men and women by fermenting a message that strikes at the chore. Is that the best approach? Or would nuance per audience be the best? For there are so many ways to skin a cat, as they say.
From the war against illegal drugs to pursuing peace with the Left and the Muslims, much of the foundations are shaping up. The police and military are attended too personally by their commander-in-chief (yes, contrary to what has been said, there is command responsibility!). He is taking the cudgels for the entire organization of the PNP in the hope that the bad eggs can be extracted in coordinated fashion (how, is something we are waiting for). He has visited 14 military camps and determined for himself how the frontline beats. The infrastructure plan (Build. Build. Build.) has been publicly released. The first law that he will sign has been approved by both houses of Congress and the proposed General Appropriations Act has lined up not incremental changes but a redefinition on the role of the State viz basic services. These services cover free tertiary education, free universal health, increased senior citizens’ benefits, rice allowance for beneficiaries of CCT, free irrigation, grant of combat and incentive pay for the police and the military, loans at almost no interest to micro enterprises, among others.
The fight against corruption started with the Executive Order No. 2 establishing an FOI at the executive level. Partners in this advocacy are testing the limits and bounds of the order. Still, Congress and the judiciary need to step up if indeed they are to be partners of PRRD in accountability and transparency. Talk is also rife that certain appointed officials will be replaced soon due to allegations of trying to “earn early while the sun is shining.” Duterte has made examples of his fraternity brod mates at the BID. More changes are coming as we hit the one-year mark from May 2016.
Brick by brick we lay the foundations of our nation. Sad that 28 years were incremental. We look forward to Duterte’s definition of our foreign policy and our national security, two important and evolving tones in a stage so unfamiliar because of how our president sees things. That he has strongly articulated opposition to the United States leads to a new chapter, hopefully, among equals. That we are more connected today with Asia augurs well. That we are exploring other nations has brought extra glare to the Philippines and yet, Filipinos have been everywhere.
Six months is not enough for judgment to be rendered especially when six months has made government closer to the people. A bit troubling for others but stable hands are on the table. There will always be differences but with zeal for Filipinos, no one should waver but only the weak of heart. Only the heart of and for Filipinos would find reason to move on and not focus on what divides us.