Duterte on a roll as he starts his third year

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IF the Philippine presidents’ State of the Nation Address (SONA) is of any use to us, it is as a marker when we pause to assess: “How is this president doing?”

President Duterte’s aura in his SONA the other day was of supreme confidence, even as he uncharacteristically stuck to reading his prepared speech, in a few instances apparently resisting the temptation to move to his default attitude, which is to say what he feels at the moment, no matter who his audience is.

The Liberal Party and the Yellow Cult are in retreat, with its head, former President Benigno Aquino 3rd, so lacking in confidence he again refused to attend the event, yet saying nothing about it — probably deathly afraid that any criticism of Duterte from him now would accelerate the criminal charges being brought against him, foremost of which is the colossal Dengvaxia scam that has claimed more than 70 children’s lives so far.

The party’s president Sen. Francis Pangilinan was dressed up as some unwashed farmer among the demonstrators that included the Southern Tagalog mass base of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which the CPP in desperation had ordered fully mobilized for the anti-SONA rally. As with Pangilinan, the rallyists hardly paid any attention to the other anti-Duterte senator, Antonio Trillanes 4th, coming to join them, and simply tolerated these opportunistic politicians.

The media may have gotten tired of them and their silly tirades, but hardly anything was heard of the other Liberal Party stalwarts on what they thought of Duterte’s SONA.

The Supreme Court just a month ago affirmed the legality of the arrest and detention of the Aquino administration’s political assassin, detained Sen. Leila de Lima, whose Liberal Party-mates seem to have forgotten or simply didn’t bother to ask the courts to allow her to attend the SONA since after all she is still a senator.

Yellow vestige
Whether Duterte had a hand in it or not, the Supreme Court also removed just two months ago another vestige of the Yellow Cult’s rule, the fake Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno. Because of her eccentricity bordering on lunacy and political amateurishness, she is receding to political oblivion so fast she should worry now if she could even make a living as a notary public. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who by all indications acted as Aquino’s political assassin and protector, steps down today, with mostly good-riddance comments.

With in all probability a Duterte San Beda buddy, a very competent yet street-smart lawyer, likely to become Ombudsman starting tomorrow, the Yellows in the past government are having sleepless nights worrying if they had hidden their corruption well and thinking how to tell Duterte they are now in all-out support of his administration.

Bucking dire predictions that the Dirty Harry mayor from Davao is an ignoramus in terms of economic management, the economy under Duterte grew 6.7 percent in 2017 and is forecast to expand by between 7 to 8 percent this year. Foreign direct investments in Duterte’s first 21 months in office (July 2016 to March 2018), totaled $16 billion. This is four times the $4 billion investments during a similar period (July 2010 to March 2012) under Aquino.

Duterte even planned for the long term, pushing for the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law (widely known as Train Law) which, as has been true of nearly all tax-reform programs, is unpopular and disliked in the short term, but which in the long run will put the economy — as in the case of President Arroyo’s Expanded Vat Law passed in 2008 — on a more solid footing.

Many have realized as fake the reports that “tens of thousands of Filipinos were murdered by government” in its anti-drug war, regarding them as the handiwork of unpatriotic Filipinos working in foreign media, or of Yellow cultists like Chito Gascon.

There has been a sea change in perception. The shrill anti-Duterte broadsheet the Philippine Daily Inquirer, even with its owners unchanged, and even the website-only Rappler have ceased to be the strident, biased media outfits. The Yellows can now rely only on the New York Times, taken care of by a Filipino-American billionairess in that city, as their anti-Duterte media outlet.

Indeed, I was surprised when an eager-beaver kind of academic-turned-columnist critic, who wrote in his 100-page “book” that Aquino was “the best president this country ever had” and who was seemingly so mad at Duterte he disseminated lies disguised as government data, in a piece published in a broadsheet the other day, wriggled to explain why Duterte is on a roll. While I don’t entirely agree with his explanation, I am quoting it at length to show that I am not alone in my optimism about Duterte, as even his former vitriolic critics are in fact now of the same opinion, with the facts staring them in the face.

Excerpts from that piece:
“As he enters his third year in office, the question is: What has he got right? What explains his enduring charisma and popularity among Filipinos?

In my view, the President got at least four things right in his first two years in office.

The first was to place the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in charge of his war on drugs. From the very beginning, I and countless other experts have emphasized the necessity for a methodical, surgical and calibrated response to the drug menace in this country.

The Philippine National Police was not designed for a Duterte-style drug war. And, gladly, the Armed Forces of the Philippines kept a healthy distance form the whole affair, instead focusing on its primary duty of protecting our territorial integrity.

Once the PDEA took the lead in the drug war in late 2017, there was an immediate and massive decline in the number of reported extrajudicial killings. Crucially, the efficacy of the counter-narcotics operations seemingly improved under the less lethal approach….

Second, paradoxically, it took the Duterte administration to pass the historic Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the supposed signature national security accomplishment of the previous administration. The President rightly certified the bill as urgent, leveraging his political capital to hammer out differences and nudge Congress and the bill’s stakeholders toward a mutually satisfactory compromise.

Thanks to the BBL, there is now a roadmap toward lasting peace in Mindanao. For sure, it will take more than just a legal framework to address the profound grievances that have driven the decades-long conflict in the South. But, at least, Mr. Duterte oversaw the nation taking a leap of faith in the right direction.

Third, Mr. Duterte has come under fire, and rightly so, for his acquiescent posturing toward China… (But) as one senior Western military official told me, ‘We can’t want to fight for Scarborough Shoal more than your own president.’ This isn’t provincial politics anymore.

Yet, it was under this administration, and particularly thanks to patriots such as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, that we are finally upgrading our decrepit facilities in Pag-asa and other features in the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

Lastly, the Duterte administration should be credited for its ambitious infrastructure vision which, even if only partly successful, will redefine the country’s economic future. From the accelerated completion of Mactan-Cebu International Airport to the launch of other big-ticket projects in Clark (airport expansion) and Metro Manila (subway), there are reasons to be optimistic about the coming infrastructure landscape of the country.

Years from now, we may also thank Mr. Duterte for temporarily shutting down Boracay, though his timing and methods were definitely far from optimal. How I wish he would also pay attention to the impending environmental disaster in other places, including in my hometown of Baguio.”


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