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An urgent presidency

opinion / Columnists
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An urgent presidency

12:16 AM July 08, 2016

During the elections, it was often mentioned that our choices of candidates reflected our value system. Nothing could be more true.

All who voted did so for different reasons; some, for diametrically opposite reasons. For the most part, the rhetoric of the campaign teacher heated and hateful levels from the most partisan. Thank goodness that the noisiest and most belligerent are also a very small minority. I accept their influence is many times their number but that same influence dissipates a lot after elections.

President Rodrigo Duterte won with about 39 percent of the votes. It does not mean that the majority did not like him. It only meant the majority had other preferences. Today, as the newly installed President, a clear majority is supportive and hopeful. If a poll is conducted today, I would not be surprised that he has garnered an overwhelming popularity. And this is despite the strong opposition and apprehension he evoked among many during the campaign.

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I am sure that President Duterte is now enjoying the proverbial honeymoon, not maybe with media, but definitely with most of the Filipino people. When P-Noy announced the “no wang-wang” policy, he was cheered. Now, the first salvo against the illegal drug trade is creating more than a stir. Even before naming five police generals as suspected to be protectors or friendly to drug lords, thousands of drug addicts and small-time pushers surrendered without any legal pressure, like warrants or cases against them.

It is unfortunate that dead bodies of suspected drug dealers and pushers also piled up. Some are believed to have been killed in encounters while others are suspected to have been executed by the police themselves. But what many have forgotten, glossed over, or never knew is the horrible number of deaths that were drug-related over the many decades. What used to be only a practice that was present in night clubs in the ’60s, the use or abuse of drugs and marijuana, is now a national scourge with millions of drug addicts. The billions involved in smuggling, manufacturing, distribution and use of illegal drugs and substances cannot be underestimated.

It may surprise many of us that the impact of the illegal drug trade and the misery it inflicts on Filipinos can be worse that the communist insurgency or the Muslim secessionists. For sure, more barangays are affected by the illegal drug trade and abuse that armed rebellions. Definitely, huge money is involved. I know that Filipinos voted for Duterte not because of drugs alone. However, if people really understand just how destructive the drug situation has become, Duterte will get more than just 39 percent to vote for him—again.

The first week of Duterte as President is off to a rousing start for many reasons, and his determination to confront the drug scourge is only one of them, albeit a big part. Pronouncements and instructions to key agencies serving the public directly are making many believe that it is possible to cut red tape, that it is possible to whip the bureaucracy to serve citizens better and faster, that it is even possible to get major streets back from vendors and hawkers.

I know that major pronouncements and instructions are not new when administrations change. But this time, it seems that the bureaucracy is intimidated more by the character of Duterte than with previous presidents. Veterans in the bureaucracy have seen presidents come and go while the career people outlasted them. The same bureaucrats are not so confident this time. They entertain the real possibility that Duterte can actually terminate their services if he wants to, civil service rules notwithstanding.

Indeed, change is coming. Many even say that change has come. Yes, change has come and more change is coming. There is in the air the sense that a once-in-a-lifetime moment has come for our people and nation. I do not equate it at all with Congress or a possible shift to federalism. In fact, Congress itself will be affected by change. If not, there will be no change at all.

While many are cheering from the sidelines at how President Duterte is forcing change to happen, there are those that have great reservations. Let me clarify that—both apprehensions and reservations. I have my own too. But great or meaningful change upsets the applecart. It has to in order to push reform beyond words and plans into action and sustainability. That means the status quo, including that which we have long accepted and gotten used to, will have to get disrupted. That means we, including those who have been asking for change, will feel disrupted as well to varying degrees.

There is no perfect change, even if it is the most needed. Some things will go wrong. There will be collateral damage, some innocent sideswiped as the guilty are chased by a rushing force. The pendulum is swinging. Justice long denied will experience justice that is swift, maybe too swift and inaccurate at times. The old pace, though, was more injustice than justice, when cases can take ten or twenty years (or more) to find final resolution. The executive is separate from the judiciary, but in the area of justice, the demarcation lines are blurred. A President with urgency, or a Chief Justice with urgency, can trigger unimaginable change.

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So much is laid squarely on the shoulders of President Rodrigo Duterte. I believe he will try his best and that he is willing to be radical, innovative, and determined. At his age and with no discernible attachment to either dynasty building or cronyism, he can give it all for people or the common good, and nation building. That makes him a dangerous man to traditionalists and long-time beneficiaries of the old ways.

Do we have a hero in the making? If we, the people, are willing to be heroic for the change that is needed, then President Duterte will surely occupy a special place in Philippine history.

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TAGS: change, drugs, Elections 2016, Rodrigo Duterte
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