The Difference that is President Duterte
Two years after he assumed office, we cannot help but ask: is President Duterte making a difference?
The traditional politicians who came after the authoritarian ruler – who held power for too long – was removed, did not do much in improving the life of the ordinary Filipino. From sentimental favorites to popular stars to powerful officials to sympathy candidates – none was able to uplift the common tao. They were either too nice; or too corrupt; or just plain incompetent. The one thing they had in common was that they were all from Manila’s elite.
It was therefore no surprise that election of a probinsiyano to take over the reins of the Philippine government was welcomed with such jubilation. And the Filipino dared to hope.
President Duterte has shown little regard to the customary niceties that the Manila elite has honed to perfection. He revels in his maverick ways to their utmost consternation, knowing full well that there is really nothing they can do. In fact, he shows them nothing but pure contempt. Never have they been so powerless in the face of conduct they find so offensive! And the more they protest, the more he behaves against their liking. Worst of all, and to them this is the biggest insult of all, President Duterte is a “probinsiyano”. The Manila elite – in all of its superiority complex – can only look helplessly at each other and sneer “…once a promdi, always a promdi.”
If nothing else, this is the one difference that President Duterte brings. The Manila elite no longer lords it over the rest of the country, and has been relegated to being grumpy whiners. The Philippines now has people from other parts of the country in positions of power. They certainly can do no worst.
He has already proven that Manila is no longer in charge. Everybody in the Philippines knows this now. There should be no longer any need for further display of the power he wields – be it against ordinary criminals, powerful crime lords, political insurgents, or even venerable institutions.
Now President Duterte can start to make a difference.
The President is in a unique position where he has 4 more years to do whatever is best for the Philippines.
He has convened a constitutional commission to propose changes that would decentralize the national government. This can be his legacy. He can give more power and autonomy to provinces and villages, whose local governments have first-hand knowledge of local conditions. Let them have control of the revenue they make, as they will know how best to use it. Manila simply enriches itself. He can ensure a more representative national government by providing for regional representation, rather than holding elections at a national level. He can even find ways to prevent the perpetuation of political dynasties so that others who are just as qualified are given a chance to lead.
He has embarked on an ambitious program of infrastructure projects. This can lead to more jobs… jobs that can help the poor earn wages. And any improvement on the country’s infrastructure can only help the farmers and fishermen bring their produce to market.
He has re-assessed foreign policy to give the Philippines equal footing with traditional allies. Our interests must always be protected. In the case of military agreements on mutual defense, there is no need to waive jurisdiction over foreign soldiers who are charged with crimes committed in the Philippines. He has established relationships with other foreign powers as well. He knows that the Philippines should not squander limited resources and spend millions of dollars in grandiose plans like hiring foreign biglaw firms for the self-esteem of choice diplomats. Yet this should not be at a cost of ceding sovereignty over, or worse, losing Philippine territory.
He can make sure that only Filipino citizens who have never turned their backs on their motherland by becoming a naturalized citizen of another country should ever serve in the Philippine government. Loyalty should never be in question for those who serve in government.
All of these are the least that President Duterte can do for the remainder of his term. If he is able to do them, then he would have put the Philippines on the road to recovery.
Even if he still subscribes to the Filipino trait of “ utang na loob”, surely by now he realizes that he is in truth unbeholden to anyone. He can actually start requiring integrity and competence of all government officials. He has given his paisanos, barkadas, classmates, fraternity brothers and other friends a chance. Now he has to let go of those who are neither capable nor honest. He owes that much to those who voted for him. He should only hold himself accountable to the Filipino people.
Only then will he make a difference.