THE state of our nation is strong, vibrant and very promising. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!
These words will certainly cap the first year in office of the maverick, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. He who moves around without much hype; dresses and eats like the ordinary Juan; dislikes being introduced as “president”, “honorable” and “his excellency”. A year after, he remains a mayor in style and temperament. In one moment, impatient, mad at things and sometimes doing herculean tasks on his own. In another, a caring Tatay Digong, saying “mahal ko kayo” to the soldiers in the battle zones.
A year after, cussing is now the symbol of disgust with the years of “puede na.” Expletives is a way of protesting the years, decades, of “panloloko ng mga nahalal.” Cussing is a personal liberation for people who will never let themselves be duped again by a leader who promises the moon and leaves them in squalor.
Remember our national narrative is one of poverty, unemployment and inequality: “40 richest Filipino families accounted for 76 percent of the GDP. This is truly a tiny circle of ultra-rich given the fact that in 2010 the total number of households in the country was estimated to be 20 million. The 20 million share the 24 percent of the GDP, while only 40 families bag the 76 percent.” Poverty, unemployment and inequality are pronounced in rural Philippines. Eight of the top 10 poor provinces in the country are in Mindanao. The 150 days of martial law extension is important for molding a new Mindanao.
Duterte is today known worldwide for what he has tried to do in the first year: bring government closer to the people through improved frontline services; launched a war on illegal drugs; pursued an independent foreign policy; promulgated and approved the national development plan anchored on AmBisyon Natin 2040, in tandem with the enhanced National Security Policy, 2017-2022; launched a trillion-peso infrastructure program, #BuildBuildBuild; reform the tax system (TRAIN), and much, much more.
Duterte is the first President to gain back trust and approval ratings to approximate or match his ratings at the starting line. Duterte won with 39 percent of the votes. His trust rating was at 91 percent, dropping to 74 percent and bouncing back to 81percent, while his approval rating went from 86 percent to 78 percent to 82 percent. The presidential trajectory of the first year in office has always been on a downtrend.
The whirlwind governance style executed in a backbreaking 24/7 work ethic has glaringly put light to a bureaucracy so used to delay, red tape and slow crawl. Duterte has relied more and more on individuals with military backgrounds, who take a presidential order as mission-critical directive and execute the same like there is no tomorrow. If Duterte wills it, the bureaucracy would undergo a total shake-up to make sure that it moves at the speed of change that the leader wants. Imagine if it moves in pace with the leader. How to get the bureaucracy to move is the biggest challenge for Duterte.
The dividends of an independent foreign policy is being felt today, both from traditional allies, new ones and Asean. While the dividends from peace are still far from being felt, save probably with the MILF during the Marawi siege (the peace corridor), and the rehabilitation of the city, post-military offensive. The 48-year-old conflict with the CPP-NPA-NDF is back to square one—after 40 rounds of negotiations by five government panels—because of the recent ambushes perpetrated by their local units.
The same drivers of the economy are still there: OFW remittances at $30 billion to date and the BPO sector at $25 billion as of 2016. They make the country resilient and accord it the elbow room to pursue strategies that have not been done before. But we remain a consumption-led economy, still focused on privatization, market liberalism, CCT and PPP. “GDP growth for 2016 was 6.8 percent, sustaining the high growth rate for 2010-2015 on the average of 6.2 percent and placing the Philippines at par with dynamic economies like China, India and Vietnam. In contrast, the average GDP growth for the decade 1999-2009 was 4.3 percent and nearly flat in the decades earlier. For 2017, the growth forecast of the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other institutions ranges between 6.5 to 7 percent.”
We have learned that our macro-economic policies are unable to arrest poverty, unemployment and inequality in rural Philippines. Can Duterte make millionaires of farmers and fisher folk? We are a maritime nation. Imagine aqua zones that proliferate on our borders. Build it first in the poorest provinces and sixth-class municipalities. The intervention has to be on poverty, unemployment and inequality. The cities can very well take care of themselves. Get mayors to work and not just to watch and wait if the dragnet on illegal drugs will fall on them.
Using the 80:20 principle, if Duterte can get 20 percent of the 145 cities, or 29 city mayors, to be his cadre of support nationwide, the domestic economy will move and they can attend to those who need a lot of help. Using 80:20, if Duterte can get 20 percent of the 81 provinces, or 16 provincial governors, to “burn the land” and move things in their jurisdiction, the effort of one Duterte can be multiplied.
There are various ways to fund infra development. Tapping 10 percent of OFW remittances is a ready $3 billion. Doing internal bond buying is another monetary policy option; issue a ProPH bond and get it to fund priorities: AFP, agriculture and universal basic income. When ordinary Juan and Juanas walk the talk, we shame the greedy oligarchs of this country.
Let us get ready in the next 365 days. Load up. “Passion is needed for any great work, and for the revolution, passion and audacity are required in big doses.”