THE transition of command from President Benigno BS Aquino 3rd to President Rodrigo Duterte is not the only transition that is critical for the country and the new administration.
As important and crucial is the transition of a victorious President from the mode of campaigning to the mode of governing the nation.
Governing is controlling government by organizing and providing leadership to the legislative and executive branches of government.
To take advantage of his electoral mandate and create a sense of momentum, the President must hit the ground running after taking the oath of office. Mr. Duterte started running on the very afternoon of his inauguration, by convening his first meeting with his Cabinet.
Honeymoon with Congress
The theory is that the quick start creates a honeymoon with Congress, which is mandated to convene on the fourth Monday of July for its regular session. For some reason, the media is thought of as joining this honeymoon in a desired period of good feeling and amity (which is fine by the media if they are not banned from the bridal suite).
The new President must also start to prepare immediately his first address to the opening of Congress, which, in our tradition, is construed as a state-of-the nation address (SONA) but is designed as a vehicle to present the President’s legislative agenda and his vision and program to the nation.
Roosevelt and the hundred days
The pace is hectic; the problems will not wait; there is no time for “Noynoying.”
The man to blame for the hurried pace and high expectations is the presidential dynamo, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who turned his first hundred days in office into a measure for success in the presidency
FDR was inducted in the midst of the Great Depression in America, when many were wondering whether that nation would survive. The stock market had collapsed; banks had failed; unemployment had reached 25 percent; confidence was shattered; and the fear of public unrest impelled that machine guns guard government buildings.
The situation was so grave that Roosevelt spoke in his inaugural address of the possibility of imposing emergency powers that would temporarily suspend the normal legislative process. FDR called for action, and rallied the spirit of a downtrodden people. He declared: “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
He then 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 Corp. to protect bank accounts, the Public Works Administration to provide jobs, and the National Industrial Recovery Administration to regulate industry and stimulate the economy. Other reforms like the Social Security Act would follow.
Since then, incoming US Presidents have been judged by the benchmark of FDR’s first hundred days.
By about his 60th day in office in 2010, BS Aquino was confronting his first big crisis as President: the hostage-taking incident at Rizal Park, which would take the lives of eight Hong Kong tourists. He flunked the test.
House and Senate cooperation
Duterte is assured of a honeymoon with Congress because clear majorities have swiftly evolved in both the House and Senate, which would elect leaderships that support the Duterte agenda.
In the House, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao has emerged as the consensus choice for Speaker.
In the Senate, another Mindanaoan, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, has become the choice for Senate President.
The Liberal Party, which has nominally the most number of members in both Houses, has sheepishly receded to the background. Former Senate President Franklin Drilon and former Speaker Feliciano Belmonte will take subordinate roles. By the time Congress convenes on July 25, many legislators will be wearing the colors of PDP-Laban, Duterte’s party vehicle in the election.
High on the agenda of Congress will be the passage of certain measures that the President considers as urgent. Among these is the emergency powers act to empower the President to resolve the traffic crisis in the metropolitan capital and clear away the bottlenecks to vital infrastructures.
The larger vision of governance will be spelled out by the President in his first SONA.
Relentless war on drugs
Without ceremony, the new government has already launched an all-out campaign against crime, and especially the illegal drugs trade.
Since the elections on May 9, and as of Sunday, 69 drug suspects (drug lords and pushers) have been killed by the police in Manila and various parts of the country. A number have also been killed by citizen vigilantes out to collect a reward.
Duterte’s threat to kill drug users and dealers has prompted thousands (including drug addicts) to surrender en masse.
But the President himself has created thorny complications to the anti-crime campaign. At a meeting with Tondo residents after his inauguration, he practically deputized the public to kill drug dealers and pushers, and promised them protection.
He similarly deputized members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) to join the killing spree
This raises hard questions about the spread of a culture of impunity across the land. Paradoxically, impunity will grow as the anti-crime campaign moves along.
The writer Oscar Wilde, in a classic paradoxical statement, declared, “I can resist anything except temptation.”
President Duterte is saying something analogous: “I will wipe out criminality, except impunity.”
Media gets a break
Amid the upsurge of bullets and dead bodies, the media got a break over the weekend.
A broadcast journalist and his son survived a daytime ambush in Surigao City. Saturnino Estanio, Jr., 41, anchorman for dxRS Radio Mindanao Network, can report his tale. But his 12-year-old son was wounded and is in critical condition at a local hospital. Estanio is known for his tirades against the illegal drug trade and illegal gambling in Surigao City.
One hopes this means that the luck of journalists in this country will change under President Duterte.
The government is readying measures to improve media access to government, and solve the hundreds of unsolved murders of journalists.
Malacañang hopes to fix relations with the media by issuing within two weeks two executive orders: one on freedom of information, and a second designed to speed up the cases on media killings. A task force on the killings will be formed.
This is a sea change from the earlier Duterte policy to ban media interviews and news conferences throughout his term. The President can also change his mind.