This is the final column of my series on President Duterte’s first 100 days. The first column highlighted the strengths of this presidency. The second shared my concerns about it, which I followed with a column last Saturday on human rights, which could be its defining legacy. Today, I write about the scenarios facing the country and my suggestions on how we could respond to this audacious leader.
First, it should be obvious that the country is in for a stormy six years, full of uncertainty for sure.
Some issues the Duterte government has prioritized—with the peace processes and constitutional change as prime examples—are by their nature destabilizing. In both cases, radical economic, social, political and governance reforms are critical for positive outcomes.
Duterte’s approach to governance, including his language and the decision-making that seems to be the norm in this presidency (lack of staff work with the President making decisions based on instincts, informed mainly by emotions), also guarantees uncertainty. I do not rule out the possibility for example of a rupture in relations with the United States nor the declaration of martial law as a result of the Duterte approach to governance.
How then should we respond to the challenges posed by the Duterte administration?
First, we should reject all talk about extra-legal regime change. A military takeover will be disastrous for this country, resulting in a bloodbath. Unlike the supporters of President Estrada in 2001, who were not organized, Duterte’s followers will fight back. The consequences of a coup for Mindanao, where Duterte has an 85-percent satisfactory rating based on the latest SWS poll, will be far-reaching. The 1986 People Power revolution was necessary and good, but once is enough. The ouster of Estrada in 2001, in hindsight, resulted in perceptions of illegitimacy and bad governance for the next 10 years. We should not repeat that experience.
Second, we have options in how to respond to the Duterte presidency. One can be in total opposition or one can also be totally supportive. For the first group, nothing Duterte does is good. For the latter group, Duterte is their hero.
For my readers and audiences, I suggest a principled engagement approach. One can be a principled partner to several initiatives of the Duterte government while opposed to those that are contrary to one’s values and against the national interest. The concept behind this approach is that it is not based on a personal attraction or dislike of the President. It is, rather, based on a set of moral and governance values. Upholding and promoting human rights, social justice, national interest, and democracy are those that I care about deeply.
We must be all principled partners in the peace process. I have praised many of the government officials involved in that process. I should add the names of Nani Braganza and Efren Moncupa, both veteran negotiators, as crucial in the success of the NDFP process.
We should all be principled partners in the anti-poverty and social justice programs of the Duterte government. Let’s support Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., Vice President Leni Robredo and other department secretaries who have assembled excellent teams to make their agencies effective in delivering services and just outcomes to the basic sectors.
Let’s collaborate with the government in addressing the transportation crisis. Citizens must participate actively in the planning and implementation of inclusive mobility programs that would move people better. Heavy traffic will remain given the unstoppable increase in volume of cars in our roads but over the short term, providing walking, biking, and a variety of transportation options should ease the paralysis in our metropolitan areas.
We should be principled partners with the Duterte administration as it implements economic reforms that focus on inclusive development, and not just on improving our credit ratings. In this regard, the emphasis of Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez on entrepreneurship is welcome. I am happy that my UP Law classmate Rowel Barba will be helping Lopez scale up this effort.
It is good that the education reforms started in the Aquino years are being continued under the leadership of Secretary Leonor Briones. I am pleased that freedom of information advocate Nepomuceno Malaluan has joined Deped as Assistant Secretary and that Undersecretaries Dina Ocampo, Albert Muyot, and Jess Mateo have stayed on to help in the transition.
We must be principled partners with the government in protecting the environment and in making sure that the poor benefit from the wealth of nature. Secretary Gina Lopez has assembled together a first-class team in the DENR. They must work well with the veteran bureaucrats and professionals in the department to achieve sustainable development for this country.
We should continue to oppose the Duterte approach to human rights in the war against illegal drugs. It is good that the president is prioritizing this problem but the killing of the poor and especially of drug users must be stopped. If the massacre of the poor is not stopped, it will contaminate and drown out the good initiatives of the administration.
As for foreign policy, I call for prudence and intelligent discussion and deliberation in crafting a new strategy that would make for more independence. We should build on the past while moving forward to face new challenges. It is a very dangerous world out there now. I expect the president and his foreign policy team to tread carefully for the sake of national interest.
Finally, we must all be vigilant about our democracy. We must fight efforts to eliminate the opposition and shut down critics. The treatment of Senator Leila de Lima is deplorable and must be condemned. As I am doing in my own social media platforms, we must fight and hold accountable trolls and those who behave like trolls. Otherwise, our democracy is doomed.
I wish President Duterte and his officials well for the rest of his term. As of now, as former President Fidel V. Ramos has observed in his Manila Bulletin column, Team Philippines is currently losing after 100 days under Duterte. Archbishop Fernando Capalla, speaking for many Duterte friends and invoking even the mother of the president, says in a Mindanews interview that he is worried for his long-time friend. According to the bishop who served the Davao City together with Digong for many years:
“I think he has a problem and we need to help him. He is in the course of self-destruction, without even knowing that he is ruining himself. I don’t know that he knows that but because he is already there, we need to help him. How? That’s a big question.
If he can only listen… listen to other people, and not talk too much, earn friends instead of enemies, Duterte can become the greatest President of the Philippines.”
Leadership, strong will, and empathy, this President has in abundance. My prayer is that he is granted wisdom, prudence, compassion for his enemies and yes even for criminals, and gentleness of language. Inshallah, the next 100 and more days will be so much better for the country.
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