The Duterte administration will complete its first 100 days two weeks from now, but even now has made it undeniably clear that change has come—and how! Perhaps many would view these first 100 days as unprecedentedly replete with fundamental changes in elements of governance. Some changes are both stark and startling, dislodging some from their comfort zones and challenging preconceived notions simultaneously on several fronts.
Some individuals focus on President Duterte’s penchant for street language and expletives, bewail his departure from traditional presidential modes of expression and behavior, and proceed from there to publicly spread, subtly or otherwise, their view that he is embarrassingly crude. I believe him to be instinctively plain speaking and would eventually moderate his flowery language, but I likewise believe that the time has come for excessive focus on form to be balanced by a more incisive realization and analysis of the many substantive changes that have been introduced in a relatively short time.
These changes are in the areas of law and order, peace processes, delivery of public services, economic strategy, political structure, and international relations. Each of these appear to be based on underlying principles of governance that go beyond the usual political battle cry of ending graft and corruption. The principle underlying the law and order campaign is the government’s basic duty to protect citizens from lawless elements that aim to profit from a systematic destruction of the very fabric of society—its youth and values in particular. We could choose to parse this principle with debates on due process and potential threats to democracy while the fabric of society continues to be shredded to the point of making both due process and democracy a mockery rather than a lived reality. Or we could lend our support to this war on drug lords and their ilk while simultaneously helping the government police its own ranks. Some studies that conclude all drug wars to be failures notwithstanding, this war can possibly be won with substantial cooperation between the government and the greater majority of society. The same attitude of intolerance extends to those who would engage in graft and corruption. Woe to those who don’t get the message.
The underlying principle of this administration’s peace process appears to be inclusiveness, which assumes that all Filipinos—regardless of ideology, tribal roots, or political persuasion—are Filipinos first and foremost and unwavering combative ideologues only secondarily. Thus, the inclusion of leftists in the Cabinet, the peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front, the recasting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to, among others, include Moro minorities left out of the peace process, and the related restoration of Nur Misuari that recently helped achieve the recent release of hostages. But the Abu Sayyaf is made up of demonstrably murderous terrorists with neither concern nor respect for Filipinos, nor human life itself. The President’s order to have them eradicated is well deserved and should be hailed by the international community without reservation or human rights scruples.
Moves to improve the delivery of public services arise from the observation that the abuse of the common folks’ forbearance in the face of nearly total neglect of basic comforts—i.e., endless queuing, labyrinthine bureaucratic processes, and almost deliberate inefficiency—just has to end. Thus, improvements are being made regarding documentation for overseas Filipino workers and the Land Transportation Office processes. Similar streamlining is promised for National Bureau of Investigation clearances, passport applications, firearm licensing, business permits, etc.
The economic strategy’s main pillars are tax reform and increased spending for long delayed infrastructure and priority projects that would untangle the sordid transport mess, provide modern connectivity for our archipelagic geography, and thus stimulate investment toward inclusive economic wellbeing. The operational word for this is implementation, not indecision. Tax reform aims to expand the tax base rather than rely on squeezing the existing narrow one. Both should result in the desired continued high growth rate of the Philippine economy.
The major proposed change in political structure is federalism. It’s still early days to consider it a done deal, but at no other time has it been tabled for serious discussion toward realization. This significant game-changer needs to be carefully thought out and requires as many of us as possible to understand what it’s really all about rather than be caught unawares.
Finally, the palpable change in international relations involves mainly the new approaches concerning relations with China and the United States. Our victory in The Hague notwithstanding, there appears no other peaceful settlement option but a negotiated, and not a confrontational, one. As for relations with America, a more mature (not “independent”) policy requires dispassionate mutual education and calm acceptance of historical realities. Some of these were revealed by the President, to the surprise even of possibly a majority of Filipinos who were unaware of such horrific incidents, or who were educated in their formative years to know more about, say, Abraham Lincoln than our own history and heroes.
The seeds of change have been planted. Their taking root will depend on the President’s success in delivering on promises and meeting expectations through an “action speaks louder than words” modality. In any case, we have undoubtedly entered “Daang Duterte.”
Roberto F. de Ocampo, OBE, is a former finance secretary. He was Finance Minister of the Year in 1995, 1996 and 1997.
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