First of Three Parts
The problem with the first-50, first-100 and even first-year assessments of any presidency is the oft-repeated warning, given routinely to stock investors, that past performance is no guarantee of future gains. So it must be cautioned about the rash of articles now appearing on the first 50 days of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
Still, the first weeks of any presidency roll out paramount initiatives that set the tone and direction for the next six years. It is those big-picture priorities that deserve close scrutiny and thoughtful analysis.
So, what are Duterte’s mega-moves, and where are they likely to take the nation?
The top thrust is, of course, the anti-drug campaign, with its spate of suspect killings and the resulting mass surrender of offenders, plus the plunge in crime. The latest crime data presented in the Senate showed declines of 30-50 percent in index crimes and selected offenses, including murder and homicide, rape, robbery and physical injury.
Also closely watched is the conciliatory stance toward China, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. reversing the past government’s anti-Beijing agitation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and former President Fidel Ramos’ efforts at laying the foundation for bilateral talks.
Three other Duterte thrusts deserve mention: charter change, now set to take the constituent assembly route; peace talks, moving on both the Muslim and the communist insurgencies; and the economy, particularly the investment budget and the tough line against allegedly exploitative big business.
In this very preliminary assessment of the Duterte regime, we look at what’s right and wrong so far in the key thrusts, what they portend for the future, and what adjustments should be done to enhance future performance.
Part 1 will look at the anti-crime campaign; Part 2, foreign policy and the peace process; and Part 3, the economy and charter change. And all these areas show both rights and wrongs — and plenty of work to be done.
‘A necessary evil’
Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia isn’t expected to comment on crime and drugs. But he lauded the anti-narcotics drive for restoring peace and order as a necessary foundation for increased investment.
“A necessary evil to achieve a greater good” was how Sec. Pernia described the hundreds of suspect killings, which are deemed far less harmful than the crime and drugs explosion, which trebled reported offenses during the Aquino administration to more than 1 million a year since 2013.
Take murders and homicides. From more than 30 a day under then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd, they are now down to 20, said Duterte’s defeated running mate Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano in the Senate hearing.
That drop in lawless deaths would not happen, along with the surrender of more than 600,000 drug offenders, under the cumbersome process of investigating and prosecuting suspects. Crime syndicates would have bailed out suspects, and blocked police and prosecutors through court, legislative and local government cohorts.
Hence, Duterte supporters argue, it’s a lesser evil to see hundreds of suspects killed than the near-10,000 murders a year continuing unabated, along with 12,000 rapes, 60,000 armed robberies, and a quarter of a million incidents of physical injury.
Meanwhile, President Duterte’s name-and-shame campaign against syndicate allies in the three branches of government, have immobilized dozens of hoodlum-helping hoods. That stripped syndicates of political and judicial protection from the exposed officials, as well as those yet unnamed, but now skirting sleaze to avoid presidential finger-pointing.
Again, if Duterte went through due process to stop these crooks in the corridors of power, would he get so many to end their shenanigans in his six years in office, let alone his promised six months to eradicate crime? Not a chance.
After shock and awe
That’s not to say there’s nothing gravely wrong in the anti-crime campaign.
For one thing, there are inadequate safeguards against abuse. It is too easy for drug-dealing police to eliminate users and pushers who can implicate them, especially if Philippine National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa accepts without question the incredible claim that every one of the 750-plus suspects killed in PNP operations had violently resisted arrest.
Amnesty International has rightly called for an independent commission to investigate suspect killings, especially those involving police. But even before deaths happen, arrest targets should be cleared with station heads, who would vet the suspects list and organize raids with enough police to deter both resistance and abuse. These higher-up should be investigated along with arresting officers if there are alleged rubouts.
Even more crucial to winning against syndicates, the campaign must move beyond the shock-and-awe mass arrests. As discussed in our April 14 column, “Strategies to slash crime in six months” < http://www.manilatimes.net/ >, this first stage should lead to structures funding and protecting criminal syndicates.
On this score, the government must redouble efforts to eradicate smuggling, which brings in drugs and guns; to crack down on illegal gambling, which corrupts the police; and to reform the criminal justice system, so criminals can be neutralized without resorting to extrajudicial measures.
Zero in on smuggling
In this next stage, the crucial strategy is stopping smuggling, which enriches lawless groups, floods the country with narcotics and guns, and enables international drug traffickers to make the Philippines a leading global narco hub.
So far, however, the anti-smuggling drive of Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon has yet to impress, with one corruption case and a few seized shipments amid the gargantuan BoC sleaze and smuggling.
Already, Faeldon says the bureau cannot meet its 2016 revenue target. Yet with contraband exceeding $25 billion a year, based on International Monetary Fund data, if the BoC can trim that illegal trade by just 20 percent or $5 billion, the additional value-added tax alone would top P27 billion — a decent chunk of the P498-billion target.
And both the Palace and the BoC have yet to probe the worst spate of smuggling in the country ever: more than 2,000 cargo containers lost in 2011, where officials who kept releasing shipments despite hundreds vanishing, are documented. More important: Has the scheme’s resurgence in President Benigno Aquino’s last year stopped?
Plainly, if Commissioner Faeldon can slash smuggling as PNP Chief dela Rosa has stanched crime, BoC’s target would be met, and syndicates would lose their biggest source of drugs, guns and money.
Then narcotics will dry up with much less bloodletting.