Since “the first hundred days” became a criterion for rating a new presidency, the practical program for every new administration is to “hit the ground running.”
Political scientist James P. Pfiffner says that presidents must hit the ground running after they take the oath of office because:
• First, they want to take advantage of the mandate of the voters and a honeymoon period with Congress;
• Second, they need to get off the mark quickly with their program. Early victories may provide momentum for further gains. This desire to move fast is driven by the awareness that power is fleeting;
• And third, the transition period provides a narrow window of opportunity that will not occur again. It is a time of opportunity and change. The President’s popular approval is high; Congress is open to new leadership; and tough choices that will alienate some have not yet been made.
President Fidel Valdez Ramos (FVR) took the counsel to heart upon induction to office in June 1992. He burst out from the gate running. He had no time to waste. A country crippled by blackouts and brownouts literally awaited his program to dispel the darkness.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has striven to get off the mark just as quickly. But it has been a battle between running and killing these past three months, as the President fixated on killing some three million Filipino drug suspects as his primary objective.
Roosevelt’s first hundred days
The practice of rating a President on the basis of his first one hundred days in office originated with Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).
When FDR was sworn in during the Great Depression in 1933, some wondered if the American nation would survive. The stock market had collapsed, banks had failed, unemployment had reached 25 percent, confidence was shattered.
In the face of all this, Roosevelt embraced optimism, called for action, and rallied the spirit of the American people.
He called Congress to a special emergency session and promised to recommend “the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require.” The special session lasted three months and people referred to it as the “hundred days.”
Those hundred days produced an unprecedented number of important legislation: 15 major bills that greatly expanded the size of government through the creation of, among other things, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to protect bank accounts, the Public Works Administration to provide jobs and the National Recovery Administration to regulate industry, and stimulate the economy. Social security would follow later.
Since then, incoming Presidents have been judged, perhaps unfairly, by the arbitrary benchmark of the first hundred days.
An editorial and policy statement
As if to help in evaluating the first hundred days of President Duterte, two first-time events took place this week.
1. The New York Times, after contenting itself initially with routine reports from Manila, published on October 4 its first editorial on President Duterte and his impact on his country and the international community. It entitled the editorial: “President Duterte, the Wild Card in US-Filipino Relations.”
2. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. issued his first full- bodied statement on Philippine foreign policy under Duterte, and explained why it signals a veering away or even breakup with Washington. He entitled his statement, “America has failed us.”
Tunnel vision of the drug menace
The thrust of the NYT editorial and the Yasay statement suggests that Duterte’s first hundred days were pretty much consumed by the effort to comprehend and manage Philippine relations with the US, as it relates to both security and foreign policy.
As NYT commented “Hardly a day goes by that President Rodrigo Duterte fails to come up with some new way to poison the relationship between the Philippines and the United States.”
But the truth is that President Duterte has been even more obsessed with another priority – stopping the drug menace.
As if in parody of the counsel “to hit the ground running,” the President has hit the ground killing as many as possible of his estimated 3 million drug users and pushers in the country.
He has put the administration on the clock of wiping out to the last man or woman all 3 million within the first six months of his presidency.
Worse than being on the clock, the administration has straitjacketed itself in a “drug-related” vision of the nation.
In leadership studies, it is consistently prescribed that there is one thing that every leader must possess: a guiding purpose and an overarching vision.
Instead of a vision of the future from Duterte, what we have gotten is a tunnel vision consisting of drugs, drugs and drugs.
Many friends and colleagues of mine have been forced to conclude that:
1. President Duterte believes that the biggest problem of the Philippines is illegal drugs.
2. Although 3 million drug users are less than 3 percent of our entire population, he believes they will engulf all of us.
3. Although law and order is just one of the main tasks of government, he considers it supreme over other tasks like the maintenance of national security, the conquest of mass poverty, the education and health of our millions, and growth of the economy.
Needed: Emotional sobriety
I rate the first hundred days of President Duterte as only fair because of this substitution of a tunnel vision for the reality of our national life.
His otherwise commendable program of change is warped by a distortion of reality, and rendered bizarre by a murderous goal.
Ingrid Mathieu, a doctor of philosophy and psychotherapist, says that vision can become tunnel vision when a person lacks or loses “emotional sobriety.”
Having a vision, she says, is a powerful tool, but sometimes our vision for ourselves subtly turns into tunnel vision. We can’t see anything that contradicts our intentions and desires. We get selective perception, which limits our ability to remain open and to see things clearly. Instead of being present to our reality, we put the blinders on and barrel ahead toward our hopes and dreams.
Moving out of the tunnel is about finding clarity, even if it feels terrifying. Reality begets more reality. We have to face what is actually going on instead of living in a fantasy. We must pursue the life we are envisioning, but we must start from where we actually are.