THERE is a tradition in presidential administration, wherein the presidency is viewed by the officeholder as an instrument to bring out the best in civic life. It’s called “the bully pulpit”, which means the active use of the presidency’s prestige and high visibility to inspire or moralize.
To complement the analysis and commentary that proliferated yesterday in print and broadcast media, I will utilize this keyhole in reviewing President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s first year in office.
Theodore Roosevelt, a president of expansive character and a leader who pushed the United States into imperialism, which in turn led to US annexation of the Philippines in 1898, originated the term. TR never hesitated to take his case directly to the people.
Two types of presidents
According to bully-pulpit tradition-, presidents are either of two types:
1. Active presidents, those who take the largest possible view of their office and its powers. They push the envelope, to use a contemporary political idiom.
2. Restrained chief executives, those who take a more cautious view of the presidency, and exercise presidential power with great care. They rely on their ability to persuade, as Richard Neustadt has described the key power of the modern presidency.
You get a feel of the meaning of the bully pulpit, from the way Jimmy Carter used the office for moral suasion. He told the members of his staff from the get-go: “Those of you who are living in sin, I hope you get married. Those of you who have left your spouses, come back home. Those of you who don’t know your children’s names, get to know them.” No wonder, he’s the guy who started all the fuss about “human rights.”
John F. Kennedy was the activist kind. He was so active, he almost thrust the world into thermo-nuclear war, a failing which has been finely documented in the film, “Thirteen Days.” JFK was such a devastating ladies’ man; one author has called him “a sexual outlaw.”
Shock and change
Duterte clearly belongs to the activist type of president. He started to work as president, immediately after he delivered his inaugural address, by calling for his first Cabinet meeting.
DU30 has etched a stark contrast to the image and style of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino 3rd, whom the militant youth have accused of “noynoying”, which means pretending to be busy even when idle.
After he launched his war on drugs, and pledged himself to a bloody record of killing, I thought DU30 was aiming for something similar to the US military strategy and tactics of “shock and awe” during the war in Iraq.
After a year of the Duterte presidency and its varied initiatives, I think the record is better described as “shock and change.” The nation has perceptively changed under DU30.
Many of us are in shock; but the country has also changed, be it ever so slightly.
Perhaps the best way to review DU30’s first year in office is to look at it from the perspective of his major initiatives, and assess what the record looks like in each of them.
These initiatives and programs are:
1.The war on drugs – This will always be first in any listing of policy initiatives because DU30 had a tunnel vision about the drug menace. He maintained for a whole year that illegal drugs are the biggest problem and the biggest threat to the nation.
2. Philippine foreign policy – Duterte literally turned the republic’s post-war foreign policy on its head. From traditional dependence and alignment to US foreign policy, DU30 proclaimed a new and independent foreign policy for the Philippines. He literally bucked Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia, and helped to bring it down. He sought understanding and partnership with China, and went out of his way to make Vladimir Putin welcome to the dynamic world of Asia-Pacific affairs.
3. Elimination of red tape – This reform has been much felt by both businessmen and ordinary citizens, because they can see and feel the change in the quickness and efficiency with which government agencies can now process papers under the new government. There has been a quickening of government action on problems all around.
4. Disaster with manila traffic – There has not been the tiniest bit of quickening of Manila traffic under President Duterte. Cursing Pope Francis has not helped. The public cannot feel any change after one year. The rules have only become more onerous. The traffic still does not move.
5. First Mindanao presidency – The belief of many was that the election of a Mindanaon as president was an idea whose time has come. It played well during the election campaign. Upon his accession to office, the idea turned into a deluge. Suddenly, Mindanaons seemed to be needed everywhere. Mindanaons became Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. But so far, they have been no help in pushing a purposive and imaginative legislative agenda. The output of laws has been insignificant.
People from the South also joined DU30 in his Cabinet, and soon occupied top positions in government. The massive flood has also meant that the first people dismissed in the new administration are Mindanaons.
6. Marawi crisis and martial law in Mindanao – It was thought that President Duterte would inaugurate a period of dramatic reform and development in Mindanao. Instead, Marawi City has been plunged into war by the IS-affiliated Maute rebel group. And Mindanao has been placed under martial law.
The grand plan for Mindanao must wait when the guns are silent.
6. Economic reform and development— Economic change and growth could be the most tangible achievement of Duterte during his first year in office. The economy has continued to perform well under him, even hitting the rate of 7 percent growth in one quarter. The prospects of maintaining high growth for the rest of the presidential term is good, according to the World Bank. DU30 has firmly committed his government to the transformation of Philippine infrastructure. His entire economic team is fully on the ball. They know what they are doing. Sweeping tax reform is in the works. And the remittance economy is as strong as ever.
Physical and psychic transformation
Dutertenomics has substance. All the talk about “the golden age of infrastructure” is grounded on real projects and real funding. This government can do the job. The physical and psychic transformation may happen faster than the full disappearance of Maute, Abu Syyaf, the Muslim insurgency, the communist insurgency, and the drug menace.
But if,in God’s good time and given an army of good managers, President Duterte is granted the full run of his term, he could propel the Philippines into a level of transformation and development to match the early Asian miracles.
True change, tunay na pagbabago, was his most ambitious promise during the 2016 elections.
When the guns are finally silent in Marawi, and martial law is lifted in Mindanao, President Duterte will be in position to deliver infinitely more – a reason for his country and his people to be proud.