With his flamboyant flair for drama, President Rodrigo Duterte caused hearts to flutter on Monday when he declared that he is about to cross a “point of no return” in the Philippines’ long relationship with the United States.
It was his way of explaining a cryptic remark he made to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the sidelines of the Asean summit in Vientiane earlier this month. He had told the Russian: “I’m about to cross the Rubicon between me and the United States. I would need your help and everything: trade, commerce and I will open up.”
Poor Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. had to rush to the breach to prevent a fire. He tamped it down with his usual double talk: “I do not think personally that he meant it in the context of veering away from our commitments to the United States. Maybe he was again saying that to dramatize the areas that need further strengthening in our relationship with the US.”
Duterte himself walked back his remarks by saying he is not ready to “really break ties with the US,” but he “will open alliances with China and Russia.”
The President has made a habit of dispensing shoot-now-and-explain later statements, that journalists covering him routinely anticipate a denial or clarification to follow every time the President fires one of his brash statements.
Duterte litany of tough talk
Associated Press, the world’s largest news agency, has come up with a feature cataloging DU30’s tough talk, along with the multiple denials and clarifications executed by members of his Cabinet and staff.
Topping the list naturally is DU30’s cursing of President Barack Obama as “a son of a whore,” which remark impelled the US President to cancel bilateral talks with Duterte in Laos.
The latest additions to the list, including the remark to Medvedev, are equally noteworthy, and they suggest that this presidential proclivity is not likely to disappear soon.
In a major about-face, President Duterte on Tuesday apologized for the inclusion of some political personalities in his controversial drug matrix, which purported to list officials involved in the illegal drug trade.
He said former Pangasinan governor and now Rep. Amado Espino, dismissed Pangasinan provincial administrator Rafael Baraan, and Pangasinan board member Raul Sison should not have been included in the matrix.
“I think somehow we were negligent in counter-checking the first report,” he sheepishly admitted.
When economic analysts and businessmen averred that Duterte’s mouth was affecting the economy and investor sentiment, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno took charge of damage control. He tried to explain that the plunge of the peso to a seven-year low vis-à-vis the dollar is not caused by the President’s statements.
Statement of national purpose and interest
It strikes me that all this talk-and-deny spectacle could be completely avoided if the Duterte administration – the President together with his Cabinet and staff – devote more time to serious policy-making instead of generating insults and putdowns
Since the President’s pet issues reflect his policy preferences, there would be less misunderstanding if the issues are fully analyzed and developed first, before DU30 sends them flying.
Take the would-be tack of independence in foreign policy, with the idea of shedding Philippine dependence on American power and largesse. Instead of treating it as the subject of incessant bragging and posturing, why not hammer it down to an explicit statement of national purpose and interest in foreign relations, as broadly set by the Constitution?
Or take the assertion by President Duterte of Philippine sovereignty in the conduct of the drug war and the protection of human rights. There is a cogent and constitutional basis for such a policy. There is no warrant for the United Nations and other nations to interfere with national sovereignty on this matter.
Finally, the Duterte governent has to be clear about our obligations to treaties with other countries and conventions of the United Nations to which we are signatory. President Duterte on his own cannot abrogate these agreements and turn his back on them.
With national interest clearly embodied by public policy, our government can talk turkey with other nations.
Rigors of policymaking
Shortcomings in policy-making are handicapping the Duterte administration because it has not undertaken the basic and necessary process of developing its policies.
It has depended mainly on presidential personality and prediliction to shape its posture in the national, regional and global arenas.
Public policy, simply defined, is a government plan of action to solve a problem that people share collectively and cannot solve on their own. Such a course of action must be manifested in laws, public statements and official regulations. Public policy is rooted in law and the authority and coercion associated with law.
To adopt specific policies in whatever realm, a government must go through the rigors of policy analysis and policy advocacy.
Policy analysis is principally concerned with describing and investigating how and why particular policies are proposed, adopted and implemented. It searches scientifically for the causes and consequences of policy.
Policy advocacy, on the other hand, is primarily devoted to examining policies, along with alternative policy options and proposals, with a view to discovering the best course of action.
Policy advocacy without the findings of analysis is blind. A policy option must be evaluated in the light of what studies have revealed about its chances of being adopted, its probable effectiveness, and its difficulties of implementation.
Policy analysis without awareness of ethical and ideological perspectives is lame. Ethical principles must be brought to bear on the discovery of the good and bad effects of policy.
After analysis and advocacy follow policy adoption and implementation.
These in a nutshell are the stages of policy development, when policies are made properly, not off the cuff or on the fly.
And this, I submit, is what the 90- day-old Duterte presidency must take to heart, if it is to be effective and respected in the family of nations.
It’s good to know that President Duterte has a worldview, which encompasses nations other than the US. It’s just as important for the statesman to know how the world works.