The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has implemented policies and programs that have had an impact on the lives of Filipinos.

On the whole, Duterte can be said to have focused on implementing populist policies, political analyst and Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies chief Victor Andres "Dindo" Manhit said.

These range from higher salaries for the military and police, a controversial anti-illegal drugs drive and the Malasakit Centers being established nationwide by staunch Duterte ally Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go.

The passage of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, which made education free for those studying in state universities and colleges, is another example, Manhit said.

But while good intentions may have driven approval of the free college education law, he said the government could have done better by focusing on selected state universities and strengthening post-secondary education institutions such as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

"My fear is when you give everything for free, people take it for granted. We can afford [free college education by] spreading our resources, but the quality will suffer," Manhit said.

He gave the administration credit for building on the economic gains made by its predecessor, pushing an ambitious infrastructure program that, if followed, will only be completed well beyond Duterte's term.

"The Duterte government inherited strong economic fundamentals because we were on an upward trend in the six years of the Aquino administration and it's good the Duterte government built on it under the leadership of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd and former National Economic and Development Authority director general Ernesto Pernia," Manhit said.

"We have to give them credit they built on what we were strong [in] already and they became aggressive in spending and investment to generate more and sustain it in the long term," he added.

Populist policies, however, can only go so far, Manhit said.

"The problem with populism is when you hit a crisis, it challenges the fundamentals and suddenly we realize, do we have enough resources or have we institutionalized programs that can address the social, health, and economic consequences of the pandemic," he said.

Still, the government was able to provide some relief through the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and other social amelioration initiatives, he admitted, but criticized the massive lending resorted to that has led to the country accumulating debt.

"We could have done better by placing more emphasis on science in dealing with the pandemic. The testing, tracing, and treating (3T) initiative was good but we should have [even] more testing beyond the 3T, we could have done the vaccination faster," Manhit added.

An accelerated vaccination program rollout means more vaccinated people who can help restore the economy, he pointed out.

Ateneo de Manila University economics professor Philip Arnold Tuano, meanwhile, stressed the need for a more comprehensive strategy to address the pandemic.

"The government's response seems to be one-off, which was not properly sustained and meant as just a short-term solution. In my opinion, the government has relied on the quarantine restriction and the financial assistance," he said.

Echoing Manhit, Tuano claimed the government had failed to fully utilize the 3T approach even as he acknowledged the hard choice between keeping the economy afloat and safeguarding public health.

Ratings stay high

Despite the seeming pandemic missteps, Duterte's populist strategy has paid off in that his approval ratings have remained consistently high over the last five years.

Pulse Asia Research Director Ana Maria Tabunda noted Duterte's approval rating ranged from 75-91 percent while his trust rating ranged from 70-91 percent, essentially the same as prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.

"In our most recent survey conducted during the pandemic, we asked the respondents why they trust the president. We have a high percentage of 39 percent saying it was because he was able to reduce the drug problem and reduce criminality while around 19 percent said it's because of the social amelioration the government has extended," Tabunda said.

"Nine percent are saying it's because he is pro-poor and five percent said it's because he fights graft and corruption," she added.

The 2018 passage of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law, which led to higher prices for some commodities and a surge in inflation, put a bit of a crimp on Duterte's ratings but these remained within the 75 to 91 percent bandwidth, Tabunda noted.

"He has been hit with many issues but they hardly affected his ratings. For example, his using foul language has not become an issue. His drug war program and the number of deaths did not take a toll on his performance and trust ratings. What's happening in the West Philippine Sea is not affecting his ratings," she said.