In 2016, I thought the way elite politics and the global financial world was working (or was not working) had made a lot of p eople in the Philippines and in the US bitter, scared or desperate. This is still true in the Philippines, where we produce more billionaires while poverty remains above 20 percent on average and above 60 percent in some provinces. Alienated people tend to look for quick solutions and tough-talking, my-country-first politicians who promise to get things done often fit the bill.
So, here we are a year later, having just witnessed two of the world’s most interesting (however you want to interpret that) national leaders – Presidents Duterte and Trump—do the traditional cross-body handshake during the Asean summit. Sadly, the personalities of these two leaders have often become the singular focus of attention, more than the alienation and unfair social structures that helped propel them to power, aided further by opinion influencers on the internet. Mainstream media, perhaps unwittingly, helped this along because personalities make better copy than talking about problematic social realities.
I don’t like the president’s insensitive, often divisive, public remarks on many issues, but he seems intent on addressing these unfair structures. In a speech before CEOs at the recent APEC conference in Vietnam, he stressed that “… APEC will only be relevant if prosperity is shared by all. Inclusivity requires more developing economies providing greater market access to less developed ones, the same way we encourage businesses to allow MSMEs to be part of their inclusive business model.”
Consistent with this, President Duterte has initiated an P8 trillion-plus infrastructure drive that will let more Filipinos enjoy development all over the country than they did under previous presidents combined. Labor laws have been improved to address many oppressive practices at the workplace. Rural electrification is being accelerated. The list goes on.
Now, if only he could protect people (especially the young and poor) from unfair harm during his anti-drug drive, I would be more satisfied. He has recently stepped back from his disproportionate attention to the drug problem above other matters of national interest. He has asked the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to take a more central role over the Philippine National Police (PNP). I think this is a wise move.
Rushing to fix the drug problem because of a campaign promise was a bad idea. Taking shortcuts to solve systemic problems often results in worse problems. But asking the PNP to spearhead the anti-drug campaign was an even worse idea. Before embarking on an aggressive anti-drug campaign, the PNP should have undergone years of serious reform first to ensure that its leaders and members would be capable of implementing the anti-drug law to its true spirit – and, yes, as guided by the human rights principles. Only then could the PNP truly carry out its motto to “serve and protect” the people.
Meanwhile, I hope that President Duterte would follow through on his promise of more inclusive structures in the country. I also hope that he will move away from divisive rhetoric and concentrate on uniting the country around a common vision of “an improved quality of life for all” as called for by the Constitution.
Dr. Ben Teehankee is full professor of management and organization at De La Salle University. Email: email@example.com.