What Duterte is doing better than Aquino

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RICARDO SALUDO

First of 2 parts
IT may grab headlines and sell newspapers, but don’t pay attention to all this talk about the people rising up against President Rodrigo Duterte, and backing detractors and destabilizers led by his predecessorBenigno Aquino 3rd’s camp.

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‘Get real’ is the message to the yellows and the communist reds from the 80-something percent of Filipinos backing Duterte in survey after survey by Pulse Asia, Social Weather Stations (SWS), EON Philippine Trust Index, and last week, the Pew Research Center, a leading United States pollster.

It’s not hard to see why 86 percent of Filipinos back Duterte in the Pew survey, with 41 percent very favorable toward him, and huge majorities approving his handling of the economy (80 percent), illegal drugs (78 percent), crime (68 percent), corruption (66 percent), and terrorism (64 percent).

Quite simply, the numbers show that President Rodrigo Duterte is doing better than his predecessor on the big concerns of ordinary people: law and order, corruption, the economy, public services and facilities, and foreign affairs.

On the law and order issue that got Duterte elected, the Philippine National Police reports that crime is down by about one-third overall. The latest SWS crime survey done two months ago found that record-low levels of property crime (3.1 percent of families affected), physical violence (0.6 percent), and all kinds of crime (3.7 percent).

Compare that to the tripling of lawless incidents under Aquino, from 324,083 in 2010 to more than 1 million a year in 2013 and 2014, as reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Duterte’s war on drugs makes Aquino’s effort look like a non-campaign, with first-year achievements exceeding those for several years in the past government: 86,984 arrests, 152 drug dens closed, nine methamphetamine labs dismantled, 64,397 police operations conducted, on top of 1.3 million surrenderers and P82 billion worth of narcotics seizures reported.

For sure, many Filipinos, not to mention foreign governments and world organizations, are disturbed by more than 3,000 suspects killed in police operations, and thousands of other killings believed to be drug-related.

But after the recent youth killings in Caloocan, the narco-carnage is over, with new suspect deaths sure to face massive state and media scrutiny and zero presidential backing. And with the body count dropping, nationwide killings of all kinds would fall well below the 11,000 to 16,000 a year recorded in past regimes.

The race to spend and build
Turning to economic programs, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno is pushing hard to avoid Aquino-era underspending. After stepping down in June 2016, Aquino boasted that he left Duterte some P1 trillion in budget funds unspent.

Diokno takes no pride in failing to fully utilize state resources. From about 13 percent of annual budgets in 2014 and 2015, he slashed underspending to 3.6 percent last year, and just 0.4 percent in the first half of this year.

This drive to implement programs and projects is crucial to President Duterte’s Build, Build, Build public works plan, which aims to double infrastructure spending from the longtime average of 3 percent of gross domestic product, to 5 to 7 percent by 2022.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said this week that the government should finish about half of the 75 flagship projects to be started under President Duterte. Among them: the country’s new main international gateway in Clark, its rail link to Manila, and the first segment of the Mindanao railway in the Davao region.

Plus: the long-overdue repair and upgrading of the Metro Rapid Transit 3 system, which fell into woeful disrepair due to mismanagement and anomalous contracts in the Aquino years. The Duterte administration is now considering an MRT3 takeover and investment proposal from a consortium led by PLDT chairman Manuel Pangilinan.

Bottom line: After years of underspending and slow infrastructure, Filipinos are now seeing their taxes not just collected, but spent. And even more will be harnessed for development under the five-tranche tax reform program to rationalize and boost revenue collection.

With more vigorous government and private sector spending, poverty and hunger are falling. Self-rated poverty measured by SWS has averaged 44 percent under Duterte so far, down from about 48 percent in Aquino’s last year.

Self-rated hunger in the second quarter of 2017 dropped below 10 percent for the first time since 2004, when SWS changed its survey process, leading to double-digit ratios. And the hunger fell particularly among the self-rated poor households and in all regions of the country.

We’ll look at the security and corruption front on Thursday. Then one can decide if Filipinos have any reason to oust Duterte and bring back the yellow regime they voted out last year.

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