IT WAS a “roller-coaster” first year in office, but the public can expect President Rodrigo Duterte to do better to fulfill his campaign vow of bringing prosperity to Filipinos, Malacañang said on Thursday.
The description of the President’s first year in office comes from Duterte himself, who perceives his presidency as a “roller-coaster” ride after a year of combating illegal drugs, corruption and terrorism.
Duterte, who initially did not want to be President, took power at the end of June last year vowing to halt illegal drugs and lawlessness that he saw as “symptoms of a virulent social disease.”
“It’s a roller-coaster [ride]actually. It should be at the end of the ride, if I get to live then, I’d tell you. If I don’t exist anymore by that time, then you make your own assessment. Just be fair,” said Duterte, whose recent absence from the public eye had sparked speculation about his health, on Wednesday in Pampanga.
The 72-year-old chief executive is the first Mindanaoan and the oldest to become President.
His spokesman Ernesto Abella claimed the Duterte government has accomplished much in its first year in office.
“It has only been a year and yet the Duterte administration has already made several milestones in serving the interests of the Filipino people. He has been a working President since Day 1,” Abella told The Manila Times.
“The Duterte presidency is based on looking after the nation’s interest, not his (Duterte’s) own or his class’ special interest; and his priority is laying the foundation for a comfortable life for all,” he added.
Abella however said the President would do better and fulfill his socioeconomic agenda within his six-year term.
“The public can expect that the Duterte administration will continue to work hard in providing prosperity for all, law and order, and lasting peace to achieve his overarching goal of comfortable lives for all Filipinos,” the Palace spokesman said.
Since assuming office, Duterte has made international headlines with his fiery rhetoric and controversial anti-narcotics campaign.
On his first day in office, Duterte installed tough-talking Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa as the head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and promised zero tolerance of abuses committed by law enforcers.
He accused five former and active directors of the PNP of coddling drug lords and ordered them investigated and the active officers relieved of their posts.
He identified 159 incumbent and former government officials, among them court judges, allegedly responsible for making the drug problem a “pandemic” in Philippine society.
In one of his first speeches in Malacañang, Duterte showed his audience a 10-centimeter-thick pile of documents containing the “validated list” of about 5,000 public officials allegedly behind the illegal drug trade. Most of those benefiting from the illicit business were village officials earning “easy money,” which he said was the reason he acceded to the postponement of the barangay (village) elections.
Days after his name-and-shame campaign, Duterte threatened to declare martial law if Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno thwarted the war on drugs. He also lambasted human rights advocates, the US State department, and international organizations, telling them that drug users were not humans.
Amid criticism of his drug war, Duterte announced a foreign-policy pivot away from military and economic dependence on the US, and toward greater ties with China and Russia.
The President’s decision to push for an independent foreign policy has so far produced good results, according to political analyst Ramon Casiple, because the Philippines is now “friends” with many countries.
Casiple however said he wants to see the impact of the independent foreign policy of the government in resolving the issue in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In a speech in Davao City last January, the President said he would declare martial law if the drug problem became “very virulent.”
A week after, Duterte came to the defense of an embattled de la Rosa, rejecting calls for the PNP chief to step down over the brazen killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick-Joo by policemen right inside Camp Crame late last year.
At 3 a.m. of January 30, Duterte suspended the war on drugs, after a series of scandals in which officers, later dubbed “ninja cops,” were caught committing murder, extortion and robbery while using the anti-narcotics operation as cover, like in the killing of the Korean businessman inside the PNP headquarters.
But for Malacañang, Duterte’s drug war was a success despite the President’s failure to make good on his promise to eradicate the drug menace in six months.
From July 1, 2016 to June 6, 2017, 1,304,795 drug dependents surrendered to authorities.
The government seized 2,340.74 kilos of shabu with a street value of P12.10 billion, and confiscated drug-related laboratory equipment worth P18.01 billion.
The success of the campaign was evident in the sharp decline in index crimes, or crimes against property, as reported by the PNP, the Palace said.
“These unprecedented actions taken by our law enforcement agencies led to the decrease in index crimes in Metro Manila and the people’s sense of safety because of the intensified drive against illegal drugs,” Abella said.
To help drug surrenderers, two rehabilitation facilities were constructed, one in Nueva Ecija and another at Samal Island in Davao Del Norte.
Eight more drug rehabilitation facilities will be constructed in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City; Pilar, Bataan; Cavite; Bohol; Malaybalay, Bukidnon; Sarangani; Agusan del Sur; and Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
“In the end, we leave it to the Filipino people to render their judgment on the success or failure of PRRD’s [President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s] anti-drug and anti-crime campaign,” Abella said.
As he marked his first year, Duterte faces perhaps his biggest test as commander-in-chief, crushing Islamic State (IS)-linked terrorists who have laid siege on Marawi City for more than a month already.
Duterte declared martial law over Mindanao on May 23 when clashes between government troops and the Maute terror group erupted in the Muslim-majority city, making good on his threat following an earlier Maute raid on Butig town in Lanao del Sur.
Amid the Marawi conflict, the Palace claimed the Duterte government had made “significant progress” in the fight against terrorism.
“There may be threats from lawless elements, both foreign and domestic creating internal armed conflicts and spreading terror, but the government has made significant progress in terms of containing the areas in which there is ongoing violence,” Abella said.
Fight vs corruption
The President also waged a fierce anti-corruption drive, firing several officials accused of wrongdoing.
Duterte fired in March at least 92 government employees for graft. These included employees from the Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Land Transportation Office.
The President fired Ismael “Mike” Sueno from his post as Interior secretary at the end of a Cabinet meeting on April 3, 2017 “due to loss of trust and confidence” following allegations of corruption.
Peter Laviña, Duterte’s campaign spokesman, was sacked from his post as National Irrigation Administration head in February 2017. The Palace said Laviña’s tenure at NIA was “ tainted with allegations of wrongdoing…[running]against the very core of this administration’s values.”
Duterte also fired immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles upon the recommendation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd, for allegedly extorting money from gaming tycoon Jack Lam.
On July, 23, 2016, Duterte signed an executive order allowing public access to documents and information in all government agencies under the Office of the President.
“This provides the Filipinos with full public disclosure and transparency in the executive branch,” Abella said.
As of May 2017, 101 agencies have been included in the electronic Freedom of Information (FOI) platform.
The Office of the Cabinet Secretary, with the Civil Service Commission, launched hotline 8888 on August 1, 2016. It serves as a feedback mechanism where citizens can report red tape and corruption in the government.
The 8888 Citizen’s Complaint Hotline received 1,580,114 calls from August 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. Of these, 106,237 calls were attended and 1,263,773 calls were done in interactive voice response, Abella said.
The graft-ridden Bureau of Customs separately launched the online video streaming of security footage in and out of the main Customs building on August 31, 2016.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue, meanwhile, began to simplify and facilitate the processing of tax clearances and certificates.
“This resulted in a decrease in processing time from several weeks or months to only three to five working days,” Abella said.
Moreover, the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Department of Information and Communications Technology signed on August 30, 2016 Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 that shortens the processing of business permits and licenses to a maximum of three days.
Last January, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 12, directing government agencies to ensure free access to contraceptives for six million women.
He also approved an across-the-board increase in the monthly pension of Social Security System retirees in what Malacañang described as a realization of his “social contract with the Filipino people.”
Duterte also signed last March the Paris Agreement on Climate Change restricting greenhouse gas emissions.
And in March, the Labor department signed an order outlawing certain forms of labor-only contracting, a signature Duterte campaign promise, although legal forms of contractualization were upheld.
Duterte gets 7 out of 10
Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, gave Duterte a positive grade on drugs, terrorism and corruption, but cited some areas that needed to be improved.
“I give good grades on these three areas. Basically, seven out of 10,” Casiple told The Times.
“Refinements should be done in areas such as giving effective stress on [drug]rehabilitation, preemptive intelligence, and systematic elimination of big syndicates in various agencies, respectively,” he added.
Overall, the results of Duterte’s first year are mixed, he said.
“On balance what I can say is the President’s promise of change is clear,” Casiple said.
For Bobby Tuazon, director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, many efforts made by Duterte in fulfilling his campaign promises came short because of the lack of decisive political support and wrong approaches.
While others see Duterte as a leader with political will, Tuason said the President’s failure to keep former Environment and Natural Resources secretary Regina Paz Lopez, showed otherwise.
“Proof of the president’s lack of political will is his failure to rein in his pro-mining allies in Congress to support then-secretary Gina Lopez’s appointment which ultimately favored the big mining business and pro-mining neo-liberals in the cabinet,” Tuazon pointed out.
He however said the President made the right move in making his Cabinet pluralistic and representative of diverse social forces by appointing progressives.
He was referring to Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, and National Anti-Poverty Commission chief Liza Maza among others.
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the Duterte administration, on its first year in office “acted on the fundamentals regarding the war against illegal drugs, corruption and criminality.”
“We will continue to buckle down to work in order to achieve the short-term and long-term goals of the President,” Andanar said.
with JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA