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He does listen

My readers who still have their grandpas around, or at least remember what they were like, will know what the phrase “grumpy old man” means.

If you were the first or second grandchild, you were probably fussed over to no end by a lolo who saw in you both intimations of his mortality and reassurance that his bloodline would carry on. As you grew older, though, you began to realize what an imposing and immovable person your lolo was.

What kind of person could so easily command deference from your parents, who were the personification of absolute authority and wisdom to you? As the anchor that held in place not only your parents, but also various uncles, aunts and cousins, he was rooted in his opinions both by the sheer weight of years and the immutability of experience.

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Clearly, the well-meaning opposition figures who want to destabilize the President because they can’t budge him from positions they consider to be anathema, either never had grandfathers or have forgotten what they were like. These old men are like supertankers who simply cannot turn on a dime, no matter how fast you turn the wheel.

“Tatay Digong,” as he’s come to be called by his fans—although “Lolo Digong” would be more appropriate from this country’s youthful majority—has earned his reputation for stubbornness. It’s a virtue that served him well throughout his colorful career in the hinterlands of Davao, harried from every end by rebels, corrupt politicos, drug pushers, mediamen for sale, and all other sorts of rabble.

The onset of age has put a biological imprimatur on Duterte’s stubbornness. And his unexpected victory in last year’s elections must only have confirmed in his mind what he always knew in his heart: At least in this country, it’s better to be wrong doing something, than to be right doing nothing.

Of course, the moment you settle into what you think is comfortable wisdom, that’s precisely when life throws you a curve ball to wake you up, often very rudely. This must have been how the President felt when he woke up to the morning headlines announcing an 18-point drop in his net satisfaction ratings, together with a 15-point drop in his net trust ratings.

Luckily for him, and for us, it’s not Duterte’s style to fall asleep at the bat, or to keep swinging wildly wherever the ball ain’t coming from. Change has been coming very quickly indeed, as he promised during his campaign, and it looks like change indeed will be a major theme on his watch, no matter how grumpy and stubborn a grandfather he may be.

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For starters, the President kicked the PNP out of the driver’s seat in the war on drugs and entrusted it instead to the civilian Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, or PDEA, just months into the term of new PDEA head Aaron Aquino, a former PNP chief superintendent.

This was of course in response to the growing outcry against so-called “extrajudicial killings” (a term that should be taken to refer to all killings committed by state actors outside the legal process, whether or not to silence political dissent). The mounting death toll in the war against drugs was cited by SWS chief Mahar Mangahas as perhaps the biggest reason for the drop in Duterte’s ratings.

From now on, PDEA will take over all drug operations from other agencies—AFP, PNP, NBI, Customs, etc—as well as any ad hoc task forces also created for that purpose. The role of the police will be limited to securing areas where PDEA may be conducting anti-drug operations. This frees the PNP to focus on all the other crimes in the statute books, as well as on the equally formidable task of cleaning up their own act.

We’re assuming that PDEA, in its new leadership role, will also take the initiative in setting up a broad anti-drug coalition that could include local as well as national government officials, civil society, the Church, business, academe, even the media. These sectors could focus on pushing public education on drugs and rehabilitating drug offenders—tasks which are just as indispensable to the anti-drug campaign as the violent chores of law enforcement.

At the same time, Duterte dismissed two police generals who had been included in his list of narco-politicians and narco-generals. People will be eagerly expecting more heads to roll, figuratively if not (yet) literally.

* * *

Over at Customs, the new chief Isidro Lapena—who used to head PDEA—has sacked eight district collectors and 30 section chiefs, the biggest number since he took office. Based on his estimate that up to 90 percent of Customs examiners and other senior personnel should be dismissed, Lapena still has a long way to go, although this is a very good start.

Elsewhere,  there are other portents of major change brewing:

• The Supreme Court allowed the case against alleged drug protector Senator Leila de Lima to continue, which means that she’ll get to experience her first-ever Christmas behind bars.

• Embattled Comelec chairman Andy Bautista threw in the towel by resigning his position just hours before Congress voted to impeach him.

• The House judiciary committee hearing the impeachment complaint brought against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno by crusading lawyer Larry Gadon has allowed the impeachment process to move to its next stage: determination of probable cause.

• The Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and her deputy, Arturo Carandang, are now feeling the heat for lying about receiving information from the anti-money laundering folks about Duterte’s bank accounts.

All this frenzy of activity leaves me with just one item on my wish list for the President to wade into by the year-end: To rescue TRAIN, the first of five tax reform bills, from the clutches of the senators and thereby preserve the funding needed for infrastructure and growth.

If the President keeps his eye on the ball and swings straight and true on this last item, that would be a great holiday gift indeed.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Gary Olivar , He does listen
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