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How time flies

And just like that, it’s been a year since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte. Put another way, in five years, we shall elect his replacement.

What’s my point? Well, I’d like to see a sense of urgency from the Duterte administration, to light a fire under it so that it doesn’t get distracted from the work of uplifting the lives of the Filipinos who voted for the President in such great numbers last year.

For instance, I’d like to see the immediate start of work on much-needed public infrastructure that was never built in the six years of Noynoy Aquino. The Duterte administration has promised a “golden age of infrastructure” and vowed to spend P8 trillion during the President’s term so we can catch up with our neighbors in the Southeast Asian region—but I’ve yet to see actual spadework begun on any major new highway, train system, pier or airport.

I know that it’s been less than half a year since Duterte got approval for his first national budget, which is important because he intends to spend public money on his #BuildBuildBuild program. But if the funds intended to pay for the infrastructure projects are not immediately released to the agencies that will build them, then more time will be lost waiting for actual work to start.

And Duterte must know that you can’t build an airport, a highway or a pier just like that. The studies required and the permits needed will already take up a lot of time that is not even going to be used for actual construction.

New roads, bridges and train systems in Metro Manila, for example, will ease the horrendous traffic jams that Duterte’s predecessor tried to explain away as a welcome phenomenon because they were signs of economic development. And solving the traffic mess happens to be one of the promises of Duterte.

The funding for all these projects is still up in the air, as well. Congress has not acted with dispatch on the comprehensive tax reform program proposed by the Duterte administration, which not only seeks to update our two-decade-old tax system but also to raise funds for the massive projects that the government wants to underwrite.

I know the Duterte administration has made a lot of headway in many problematic areas where only logic and common sense are required. For instance, Duterte was able to quickly end the scandalous laglag-bala racket at the airport by just confiscating the bullets found in passengers’ luggage and waving them off—a solution that apparently never occurred to the brilliant people of the previous administration.

But more complex stuff that requires immediate, focused attention still needs to be done. The Land Transportation Office still cannot issue license plates or even plastic drivers’ licenses, because of the various court cases filed; the MRT is still hobbled by the onerous and strange contracts that prevent even such a simple matter as improving the physical train line.

* * *

The utter failure of Duterte’s predecessor has often been traced, and rightly so, to the lack of empathy of the man on top. The “bahala kayo sa buhay niyo” attitude of Aquino, especially for the poor, doomed him in the eyes of the Filipino masses, who exacted their revenge on his chosen successor last year.

Duterte has tons of empathy, which he displayed yet again when he took the unprecedented action of going to the picket line of a bunch of displaced farmers at the foot of the Mendiola Bridge this week. But I fear he may be getting too distracted by the small but noisy minority of the remnants of Aquino’s once-vaunted following, who keep trying to throw roadblocks in his path.

Nobody asked me, but I suggest that Duterte not waste his time on the Yellows and their foreign confederates anymore. He should realize that there is only so much time for him to fulfill his promises to a people still smarting from being scammed for six years by Aquino, who loved nothing more than playing politics and pretending like he was always doing something really important when he did.

A year has already passed since the people gave Duterte his clear and unequivocal mandate. An overwhelming number of them still adore and support him a year later, according to the opinion surveys.

But this should not lull Duterte and his men into complacency and a false sense of accomplishment. There’s still a lot of work to be done just to make up for the six years of nothing that Aquino gave to the Filipinos whom he said were his “bosses.”

I know Duterte has the country’s best interests at heart and that he works like a dog to improve the lives of his beloved countrymen. What I’d like to see is him leveraging all of that broad-based support in order to deliver on the promises he made, perhaps by working smarter and by not getting distracted by the toxic politics practiced by his enemies here and the incessant carping of his critics abroad.

The last thing I want is for Duterte to fail, not because he didn’t work hard enough (he does) but because he expends his energies on things that do not redound to the people’s good.

It took Duterte more than two decades to transform Davao from a violent southern backwater town into the thriving city that its residents are so justly proud of today. But he now has five years to do the same thing for the entire country—and the clock keeps ticking.

Topics: Jojo Robles , President Rodrigo Duterte , public infrastructure , national budget
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