When people ask me how I would describe 2017 from the perspective of history and biography, I have a clear and direct answer: It has been a challenging year for the Philippines and the world, and for myself personally. But like most Filipinos, I continue to be hopeful.
For President Duterte and his administration, the biggest challenge was the Marawi siege. The takeover of that iconic Islamic city by the Maute terrorists came as a surprise. That it took the government nearly six months to liberate Marawi was even more surprising. Most Marawi residents thought that the fighting was going to last a few days, at most a couple of weeks, similar to what happened in the Zamboanga siege of 2013.
There were many casualties of what happened in Marawi, and not just the dead terrorists, soldiers, and civilians. Above all, if reconstruction is not done properly, the beautiful city by the lake will never be able to recover. That is not an acceptable outcome.
One clear takeaway from Marawi is the urgency of completing the peace processes with the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Congress must enact the Bangsamoro Basic Law soon, according to what was agreed with the MILF and accommodating also the concerns of the MNLF regarding the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. If not, young Moros will flock to ISIS-influenced groups and the Marawi siege will be repeated in many parts of Mindanao.
2017 ends with the peace process with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in shambles. It’s a pity because progress was being made and the spirit of compromise was clearly there among the negotiation panels. Unfortunately, events on the ground, intended or not, conspired to derail what could have been a singular achievement by the Duterte government. But maybe there is still a possibility that the peace talks would resume. If not, peace has to wait for the next administration.
The war against drugs continue. Malacañang boasts of its successes. But to me, what I will remember of this period is that poor people were targeted and killed with impunity. There will be a reckoning for this in the future, I am sure.
For sure, the Duterte economic managers have done a good job. Its hard to fault Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, National Economic and Development Authority Director General Ernesto Pernia, and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and their teams for their stewardship of the economy. My two expectations is that, this time, the poor benefit from the economic development and that the environment is not sacrificed for ephemeral short-term growth.
I have big expectations of the Departments of Public Works and Highways, Transportation, and Information and Communications Technology.
I have heard many good things about Secretary Mark Villar and am impressed by his team, including DPWH Legal Undersecretary Karen Jimeno who has brought in quite a number of good lawyers into the department.
I still have faith in Secretary Art Tugade, LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra, and others in the DOTr team, but time is running out on them to implement radical changes that would increase mobility for all.
As for DICT, I am hoping that they will manage the entry of a third telco provider fairly and decisively, following the law while standing up to the duopoly.
One big disappointment in 2017 is the rejection by the Commission on Appointments of progressive department secretaries. Gina Lopez, Judy Taguiwalo, Rafael Mariano, and Pauline Ubial were good additions to the Duterte administration. It’s sad that the President did not make extraordinary efforts to have them confirmed.
Fortunately, in the case of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Secretary Roy Cimatu has been focused, professional, and balanced in his decisions. I am glad that he has brought to the DENR as his chief of staff, retired General Rudy Garcia who, in my personal experience, is not only a strategic thinker and disciplined implementor, but is also a true officer and gentleman of unquestionable integrity. Secretary Cimatu have good people working in that department; I know in particular the lawyers quite well—Undersecretary Ana The, Undersecretary Ipat Luna, and Assistant Secretary Kris Baleva. They are the most brilliant, committed, and honest environmental lawyers I know and have worked with.
The Department of Health also got a great replacement for Secretary Ubial with the return of Secretary Francisco Duque after the latter’s stint in the Civil Service Commission. It is very reassuring for our country’s public health system that they have such a seasoned and visionary medical professional at its helm.
As for the DSWD, it has been reported that Senator Loren Legarda will be appointed to that post at some point as this is her last term as senator. I would endorse her for any position as I have personal knowledge on how intelligent, hard working, and passionate Legarda is on every thing that matters to this country.
For many of our democratic and accountability mechanisms and the people that lead them, 2017 has been a challenging year. The judiciary in particular has been pummeled by the political branches. Both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have not been spared, with contempt being threatened on the former and impeachment proceedings now being conducted against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Even judges of the lower courts have not been spared, as some of them have been implicated, without evidence, as coddling drug pushers and addicts.
The country will regret this episode of our history; if the attacks against the judiciary continues and worsens, it will take many years for us to recover and for the rule of law, already precarious in our country, to reestablish itself.
The silver lining is the strength and formidable will of Chief Justice Sereno. They have insulted her, charged her with baseless accusations, humiliate and mock her, even pit her colleagues against her, but still she remains calm, not angry and bitter, and continues to work for judicial reform.
Ombudsman Carpio-Morales has also been criticized and threatened with impeachment. But like Sereno, she has responded with an iron will tempered with good humor.
The prosecution and detention of Senator Leila de Lima is an ongoing horror story; but thankfully she remains unbowed. She will be vindicated I am sure. That is certainly the case with Vice President Leni Robredo who has shown resilience and perseverance in the face of persistent criticism.
Closer to home, I have decided to retire early from Ateneo de Manila University to focus on legal education as my next mission. The events of the last two years, here and worldwide, have convinced me that much work has to be done to build a just society and training a new generation of lawyers to do that work is my personal priority. I truly believe, like our national hero Jose Rizal, whose martyrdom we celebrate today that: “The youth is the hope of our future.”
Although challenged, I am full of hope because of my Christian faith, which to borrow the words of Pope Francis from his Christmas eve homily, “makes us see God present in all those situations where we think he is absent:”. Indeed, “Faith impels us to make space for a new social imagination, and not to be afraid of experiencing new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this earth.”
Pope Francis reminds us: “Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity, into power for a new imagination of charity. The charity that does not grow accustomed to injustice, as if it were something natural, but that has the courage, amid tensions and conflicts, to make itself a “house of bread”, a land of hospitality.”
That’s the house, country and world I would like to have. And I believe we will get there.
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