Approval translates to expectation
The yearend surveys gave President Duterte “excellent” job approval ratings. Although all the top government officials shed points—an understandable adjustment from the phenomenally high postelection ratings—the President shed the least. This happens despite his stirring up a storm of controversy at every turn and being the focal point of criticism.
Survey numbers show the people strongly approving of the campaign against illegal drugs and corruption that the President has waged with passion since he took office. That campaign brought down the volume of index crimes dramatically in just six months. People now feel safer in the streets and in their homes, although much more has to be done.
It might seem ages since Rodrigo Duterte took office, although he has been there only six months. When it comes to the energy he brings to his post, little comparison may be drawn with his predecessor. There is no real yearning for the previous administration and its laid-back style of public management—although a small army of trolls has been kept in the vain hope of chipping away at the President’s popularity.
In his first six months, Mr. Duterte undertook initiatives that might otherwise be deeply divisive. In foreign affairs, he created space with our ally of long standing to chart a truly independent course. On the peace process, he bent over backwards to accommodate what might seem to be excessive demands on the part of the communists to keep the peace negotiations moving. He met with all the Moro leaders personally to keep peace prospects bright. He has, of course, been unremitting in the war on drugs, adverse commentaries notwithstanding.
On all these initiatives, the President had to expend political capital. The surveys, however, show that his immense political capital has hardly been diminished. That means he has enough political capital to fuel change in other areas of governance.
The President reacted rather nonchalantly when presented with the latest survey results. More than any of us, he must have realized instantly that the high approval ratings translate to even higher expectations from his administration. That, in turn, means we have to work even harder in the coming period to sustain the searing pace set during the past six months.
Last June, weeks before the inauguration, we knew the Duterte team would hit the ground running. We hardly expected hitting the ground sprinting. Working for the President is a test of endurance as well as inventiveness.
This year, expect the Duterte administration to focus on a number of new initiatives. These other initiatives tended to be overshadowed in the past few months by the color and intensity of the war on drugs. Although the campaign against illegal drugs will be sustained, there are other aspects of the reform program that will be highlighted.
Constitutional reform will likely headline the next few months. The mechanism for framing a new constitution that will move us from unitary to federal government will no doubt entail much public debate and even controversy. But in the President’s mind, this is something that needs to be done now.
A measure to reinstate the death penalty has moved at the House of Representatives. This, too, will entail passionate debate. If the President truly feels this is a necessary measure, he will invest his political capital in getting this done.
Then there is the comprehensive tax reform package that will, on one hand, bring down our income tax rates to match regional averages and, on the other hand, introduce new revenue measures to avert a massive budget deficit. There will hardly be debate on reducing income tax rates. But there surely be much resistance to the introduction of new tax measures. Again, political capital will have to be invested here.
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