The year of institutional pushback
The resignation of the vice mayor of Davao City played out in a kind of strange slow motion, but what was missing throughout was context. All sorts of reasons have been suggested, ranging from deeply personal ones to suggestions that the controversies of the past year have taken their toll; yet the circumstances, as hinted at, can’t quite explain why the vice mayor would relinquish his post at this particular point.
There are few things (all quite severe) that would make it politically desirable to resign from public office. The dangled hope of a comeback (returning to serve, somehow, at some future date) is the clearest indication that quitting provides a future that might otherwise have been permanently closed off. Not least because the most available reason—assuming some kind of responsibility for a series of unfortunate events—doesn’t seem to be on the table.
The whole thing played out in the background as the city and the country were focused on the aftermath of Tropical Storm “Vinta” and the tragedy involving scores dead in the NCCC Mall fire. While the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption was quiet, President Duterte pledged a thorough investigation, a process which will be aided by the horrifying first-person accounts of survivors that have been posted on social media. The tragedy has taken on not only a national but also an international dimension. Not just an entire industry, but also the many who constitute that industry’s domestic workforce, are watching.
Here lies the best description of 2017. It can be boiled down to a fairly simple dilemma faced by the President, his family (official or otherwise), and his people: Even as they’re living out the principle that the best defense is a good offense, the problem of the past year is that there has been more pushback than expected. This has raised the stakes for all concerned.
The President for his part has to contend with a foreign policy that is big on headline-causing rhetoric, but which has yet to pay the dividends to justify it. He still has to deliver on changes to the law to permit the big-ticket entry of, say, Chinese telcos. Trial balloons to see if the public will accept the kind of infrastructure-related deals which the President needs, and which China likes, haven’t quite prospered. The public does not seem to be prepared to accept the mass entry of Chinese labor to undertake infrastructure projects the way China looks to implement them in African countries. Russia seems primarily interested in the Philippines as a market for oil, but that has less to do with the
government than the private sector. And while Washington has pleased Manila by abandoning human rights as a consideration for aid, there is enough US congressional interest in the topic to remain a headache. Japan has given the most, perhaps understanding the President the best, considering that country’s long association with Davao, but this relationship has been somewhat tempered by the President’s indiscreet comments from time to time, such as his blurting out Tokyo’s offer of missiles.
The President’s craving to be accorded obedience and respect, his insistence on his way or the highway, has produced mixed results. His partner has been accorded more official recognition abroad than locally, as efforts to roll her out as an advocate have proven (there may simply be too much of a bias against domestic partners not sanctioned by a formal marriage). His daughter may be a force to reckon with in the family bailiwick but has been less successful nationally, while his son has only caused headaches. The House and the Speaker have delivered, and aggressively so, but the Senate remains, by its very existence, a problem; efforts to cut through institutional obstacles—whether the vice presidency or the Supreme Court, constitutional commissions, the bureaucracy, and the military—are proving to require a lot more time, resources, and tactical retreats, particularly concerning the police, than originally expected. Timetables have been upset because of public opinion, foreign and domestic, and the media acting as a foil to the shock and awe of social media friendly to the government.
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