A balanced view
There’s been some strong criticism of my column last week. That I’ve been too lenient on the failures and shortcomings they see in President Duterte’s leadership. But as an engineer, I look for results. So let’s try and look at his performance in a balanced way.
On the negative side, the President’s war on drugs is certainly at the top of the list of failures. It has been almost criminally undertaken, with cases of police brutality and far too many unexplained deaths. His too friendly approach to China, which only 22 percent of Filipinos support according to a Social Weather Stations survey, has had little to show for it. In 2016, China promised $9 billion in soft loans and $15 billion in investment. But only $1 billion of loans and grants and $3.1 billion of investments have been received. Japan poured in $20 billion in official development assistance.
And China continues to invade our seas. Mr. Duterte’s handling of the West Philippine Sea issue has understandably drawn strong criticism, with few Filipinos supporting his position.
Among the worst things he has done is his attacks on the press. The closure of ABS-CBN, as well as the court cases filed against Rappler, were serious threats to the freedom of the press.
The government’s handling of the pandemic has seen a number of errors in judgment that the President has to assume responsibility for. But much of that is hindsight, easy to fault after the event. Many other countries have mishandled their response, too, as I enumerated in my column last week (“Make the Comparison”).
His profane language and cursing offend many.
All of these are justified accusations. But then I look at the record of achievements. Let’s start with “Build, build, build,” criticized for the list having been revised, with many targets discarded and replaced by easier ones. Construction is also behind schedule in many. But those were only forecasts not met. The reality achieved is that Mr. Duterte has done far more than previous presidents. Forty big-ticket projects worth P365 billion are set to be completed by the end of 2022. The Duterte administration has spent P4.63 trillion on infrastructure from 2017 to 2021. President Aquino spent less than half that at P1.98 trillion from 2011 to 2016. Infrastructure spending under the Duterte administration has reached 4.9 percent of GDP annually, compared to Aquino’s 2.5 percent, Arroyo’s 1.5 percent, and Estrada’s 1.6 percent.
Then there are the taxes that previous presidents were scared to touch, except for former President Benigno Aquino’s introduction of a sin tax. We now enjoy the reduced personal income and corporate income taxes, and a much fairer system. Secretary Carlos Dominguez and now economic chief Karl Chua, when he was in charge of this at the Department of Finance, did a sterling job of shepherding new tax measures through, often despite intense opposition to some features.
Mr. Duterte achieved the creation of a Bangsamoro government that the last couple of presidents tried unsuccessfully to achieve. He hasn’t defeated the New People’s Army (NPA), but that’s an economic problem, not a military one. Out-of-work youth have to be given meaningful jobs to deny the NPA leadership of cannon fodder. Until COVID-19 is resolved, that won’t happen.
The creation of the Anti-Red Tape Authority, together with the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry, has led to considerable progress on digitizing government services. Mr. Duterte also delivered on his promise to bring in a third telecommunications player. And towers are being built by independent entities.
The free tertiary education law is an important step toward bringing the downtrodden up to a meaningful life. Mr. Duterte also signed the Universal Health Care law (which the previous PhilHealth management corrupted).
The hugely indebted (at P160 billion), grossly and dishonestly mismanaged the National Food Authority is gone, and consumers now enjoy lower-cost rice due to the passage of the rice tariffication law.
The conditional cash transfer scheme, for all its faults, has been institutionalized through the passage of a law. Some 4.3 million households are now enrolled.
You may be relieved when he’s gone, but President Duterte will be leaving a legacy of a number of commendable achievements. Every administration has its faults that must be weighed against its achievements. It seems to me that this President’s achievements compare favorably with those of his predecessors. And we will be holding a free, democratic election, where who we choose is up to us. Many countries can’t do that.
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