Small-city President exits Malacañang
Rodrigo Duterte entered Malacañang six years ago, hardly ready to take on the reins of national leadership. He said so himself: He was not a statesman and would not apologize for it.
He refused prepared speeches defining in unambiguous terms the policy direction of his government, opting instead for repetitive anecdotes on his bloody war on drugs, his lackluster academic record, and his flavor-of-the-season enemies, such as jailed former senator Leila de Lima and the Left. His entire government was always in a frenzy by refusing to take responsibility for national policy.
In his early days as president, Duterte had made it seem that the nation’s worst enemy was the United States, for past hurts during the American occupation. But in latter days, the Americans were our best friends, for providing vaccines to millions of Filipinos. As such, after fearlessly threatening to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement, he relented and eventually reinstated the treaty.
Early on, the nation was promised a golden age of infrastructure, with more than 100 flagship projects in the pipeline. Instead, by his last days, no more than 20 percent had been completed.
In most days, Duterte spoke against corruption in government, promising to jail even high officials if the evidence is strong. And yet, in the Pharmally deal, where the evidence on defective and grossly overpriced supplies was strong, no high official nor their cohorts were sanctioned by Duterte. In fact, in this specific incident involving almost P10 billion in misspent coronavirus funding, Duterte himself defended the transactions.
In small towns and cities, contradictory policies made by leaders have little impact because what truly matters in local leadership is providing services and aid to constituents.
Providing services and aid to the public was a strong aspect of the Duterte presidency.
In the early days, Duterte made the historic decision to implement free college education, a policy rejected by other past presidents over concerns on limited fiscal resources.
Duterte also instituted “no demolition without relocation” as a main credo in his social agenda, which gave hope to urban poor communities amid the government’s infrastructure push. Cash aid to the country’s marginalized families was also expanded, and at the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns, around 18 million households were given emergency subsidies.
But leading a nation requires more than dole-outs and giveaways. It requires stable leadership and policy. It requires the word of the president that is worth its weight in gold, because the fate of a nation depends on every single word and, unfortunately for us, on his every expletive.
History will judge Rodrigo Duterte on his rightful place in the pantheon of presidents. But with the new development in the International Criminal Court, there will be other judges who might get to decide first.
Terry Ridon,[email protected]
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