My regular readers and those who follow me on social media know that I have swung from an ambivalent observer/supporter of the Duterte administration to one who resists it. I have been quite vocal about my discontent lately and hundreds have messaged me asking why I lost confidence in Mr. Duterte’s leadership. Let me explain my reasons and the context to it.
My change of heart happened sometime in the middle of last year. It was then that I realized two things – that the President’s position on China’s territorial grab has caused irreversible damage to us. And that due to the mismanagement of the pandemic, the country was to be the region’s biggest loser in terms of COVID casualties and economic ramifications.
Let me expound further on the West Philippine Sea issue. While I acknowledge that we must exhaust all options to avoid armed conflict or a trade retaliation, the President’s decision not to invoke our victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) has only empowered China to advance its territorial grab without consequence. It enabled China’s malicious scheme while weakening the Philippine’s position.
I also think that President Duterte’s policy of Appeasement and Accommodation towards China was a big miscalculation. Instead of yielding billions of dollars in investments and development assistance (as China promised), years of undignified kowtowing only caused China to write-off the Philippines as a “given.” We secured a few bridges and the PNR line, which is a pittance compared to what our neighbors bagged. In contrast, Indonesia and Vietnam, countries that refused to be intimidated by China, secured the lion’s share of investments and development assistance. President Duterte’s policy failed to protect our sovereignty and also in securing investments.
On the economy, statistics show that the country’s growth momentum peaked in 2017. It has been decelerating since then until it finally fell off the cliff last year. I lament that the Duterte economic policy relied on spending to propel growth, not on production. I regret how animosity towards the West and peace and order concerns due to the war on drugs have a negative effect on attracting investments. I bemoan how corruption is making a comeback. All these have weakened the economy.
The way by which the pandemic was handled was my tipping point. As if it weren’t enough that we had the region’s most number of COVID cases per million and the most deaths as a percentage of the population, our economy was also the most ravaged. The worst possible outcome became our reality. From a nation that lead ASEAN’s development race, the Philippines is its sick man all over again.
My disagreement lies in Malacañang’s style of leadership, its values, its preconceptions and its biases. But by no means does my disagreement discount the good work delivered by some of the departments in the Cabinet. Certain Cabinet secretaries have delivered more than we hoped for and for that, I am grateful.
Worthy of mention is DFA Secretary Teddyboy Locsin and DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who continue to fight the good fight against China despite the odds; DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez for supporting MSMEs and protecting our cash cow industries; Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat for upholding sustainable tourism; DOF Secretary Sonny Dominguez for realizing tax reforms; BSP Governor Ben Diokno for expertly managing monetary policies in a time of crisis; and Exec. Secretary Bingbong Medialdea for keeping the nation on an even keel.
I must concede, however, that the real game-changer of this administration is the Department of Transportation under Secretary Art Tugade.
With time working against him, Secretary Tugade has been able to realize more infrastructure projects than any other time in our history. The political will that we banked on from the Duterte administration was best manifested and most evident in the DOTr.
The projects realized by the DOTr are too many enumerate, suffice it to say that in just five years, 143 projects have been completed in the aviation sector with 94 more in the pipeline; 1,132 kilometers of railways are in various stages of roll-out; and in the maritime sector, 428 projects have been completed with 118 projects more ongoing.
Even more note worthy is that contentious projects that were in limbo for years have finally been sorted out. Among them is the EDSA common station, the issuance of car plates and driver’s licenses, realizing the EDSA busway and rehabilitating MRT3 and NAIA.
All these have eased the suffering of our people and increased the capacity of the economy. Infrastructure development will be the most enduring accomplishment of the Duterte administration, thanks to the gladiators at the DOTr.
Notwithstanding the good that has been accomplished, I still believe that we need a change in leadership come 2022. We need change because our circumstances have changed. It is worlds away from what it was in 2016. This is our reality today: China’s territorial grab has escalated and will continue to do so until the Philippines pushes-back; the economy continues to slide in competitiveness; we are now among the least attractive countries for foreign investments in ASEAN; we import all our needs including basic food; education standards have sank to the lowest in Asia; the rule of law has weakened; peace and order remains an issue; corruption has made a comeback; income inequality is at alarming levels; and national morale is down.
New circumstances call for a new leadership. Thus, aspiring presidents who subscribe to or are comfortable with the status quo simply won’t do. We need a leader who is a pro-active patriot and an expert in foreign policy; a leader who recognizes that the economy needs to be re-structured towards manufacturing, a leader committed to break down our arcane educational system and rebuild it according to higher standards; a leader committed to social and political reform; a leader who is committed to restore decency, integrity and honesty in public governance; a leader who inspires confidence, unity and national pride. In short, a leader who will put the country in fighting form again.
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