The year 2017 should, more or less, show the policy directions of the Duterte administration. After all, the first six months of the presidency could be considered a period of adjustment.
Looking back, Rodrigo Roa Duterte was a dark horse for the presidency when he first sounded off then formally announced his candidacy. But almost instantly, his campaign gained traction. The hope for the winds of change to blow this side of the world was very strong.
Resolving the drug problem; curbing corruption; peace talks; an independent foreign policy; and concern for the plight of the poor and the ordinary masa fired up the imagination and hope of the electorate.
But now, in what direction does the wind blow?
On resolving the drug problem
The Duterte administration has been most consistent on this issue. In fact, President Duterte has been adamant and bellicose on his war on illegal drugs that he has dismissed all concerns regarding the spike in extrajudicial killings and violations of human rights. Not only that, he has even showered expletives on rights advocates and critics of the deadly way his war on illegal drugs is being conducted. And he has assured the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, for that matter, that he would defend them against complaints against human rights violations.
Has it solved the illegal drug problem? Even Duterte administration could not claim that it is close to breaking the illegal drug trade and use.
On curbing corruption
President Duterte has been dismissing government officials, even those who supported him during the campaign for the presidency, whom he has accused of corruption, wasting people’s money, and/or extravagance.
He admitted that he could not monitor corrupt activities of government officials and employees up to the lowest ranks of government but he said he would not tolerate corruption from among his appointees at the Cabinet, Undersecretary, and Assistant Secretary levels. Recently, he ordered the dismissal of commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Urban Poor Commission.
However, the 2017 and approved 2018 budgets reveal that still, the corrupt pork barrel system is still in place.
On the peace talks
President Duterte has declared that the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is a top priority because it is essential for peace in Mindanao. In late November, President Duterte has even announced that he is contemplating on calling for a special session of Congress specifically to fast-track the passage into law of the BBL. However, in a speech, December 19, he expressed his opinion that it would be difficult to hurdle the “constitutional barriers” to the BBL.
The peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines have been blowing hot and cold. At the start of the Duterte administration, it appeared as if the substantial peace agreements would be signed in a year’s time. But recently, President Duterte has designated the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist organizations. He threatened to run after not only the CPP and NPA but also what he branded as “front organizations.” President Duterte also declared that there would be no Christmas ceasefire, only to backtrack days later and declared the suspension of military operations, calling on the CPP and the NPA to do the same.
President Duterte declared a Mindanao-wide martial law when the Marawi fighting broke out. Now, he has extended it, with the approval of Congress, this time to intensify military operations against the NPA.
On an independent foreign policy
During his campaign and at the start of the administration, President Duterte has declared an independent foreign policy, specifically telling the US that he would cut ties with it and that he had been contemplating on putting a stop to the Balikatan joint military exercises and sending US troops stationed in the country home. He also warmed up to Russia and China.
However, when the fighting in Marawi broke out, President Duterte allowed US troops to play an active part in the military operations. He has met with and warmed up to controversial US President Donald Trump. While opening up with the Russian and Chinese governments, President Duterte has now maintained the traditional relations of the Philippine and US governments.
On concern for the plight of the poor
President Duterte has once railed against the long queues that ordinary Filipinos, especially those wanting to land jobs abroad, have to hurdle to get a passport. Thus, he called for the extension of the validity not only of passports but driver’s licenses as well. Longer-validity passports and driver’s license are gradually being issued.
When urban poor residents affiliated with Kadamay occupied idle low-cost housing units for soldiers and policemen, President Duterte allowed these units to be awarded to the urban poor, promising to build better housing units for soldiers and policemen and warning Kadamay against doing another occupation of government housing units.
President Duterte also warned jeepney drivers, especially those affiliated with PISTON that he would run after them after the latter conducted nationwide strikes against the jeepney modernization program, which would phase out old jeepneys, require drivers and operators to replace these with higher-priced hybrid jeepneys and limit franchises to those who could afford fleets of jeepneys.
Recently, President Duterte signed a tax reform package that increased income tax exemptions but would result in higher prices as the value-added tax on fuel and other goods as well as excise taxes on oil, sweetened drinks, automobiles, among others would increase.
So are the winds of change finally forthcoming if we are to look at the policy directions of the Duterte administration?
Yes, how many times must a man look up,
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, how many ears must one man have,
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths must it take till he knows,
That too many people have died,
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind.
— Bob Dylan