Defining 2017: policy imperatives for Duterte admin

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies

President Duterte’s honeymoon period represents an adventurous timeline in Philippine politics. It has been animated by policy paradoxes, the war on drugs, and a shift in foreign policy, and accompanied by criticisms from different directions, political squabbling, and, most of all, his provocative witticisms.

The next six months will prove to be crucial for this administration as it gets a better grip of the social reality it faces and leads the country toward a more systematized path to development. The administration’s policies could be more clearly defined in three areas: political development, economic development, and law and order.

Political development. At the heart of political development is democratic governance. There is room for more discussion on the path toward federalism. A federal structure could democratize governance if the conditions perpetuating political dynasties are addressed or eradicated. Otherwise, a federal structure could further entrench local elites’ power. In this respect, it will be a challenge for the administration to convene the right forum for crafting a concrete transitional program toward a federal setup.

Another defining element of political development is institutional development. Political institutions are the foundations of government, but like iron posts they can be corroded by corruption. The reported dismissal of more than 90 corrupt government officials is a start, but it merely scratches the surface. The fight against corruption will entail a far more elaborate program of overhauling a system that breeds and strengthens corruption. The executive order on freedom of information was a commendable first step, and the transformation of this into law should be a priority alongside other policies that promote transparency and accountability.

Economic development. Economic growth can only contribute to economic development if it is spread across occupational and income groups. Economic development programs should target the issues of poverty, inequality and unemployment. By increasing capital investments that translate into employment and income for the majority of Filipinos, the country will be better able to reach its targets for overall growth. With greater income, people will possess the purchasing power needed to stimulate demand and propel growth.

Employment-led economic growth will be the main driver behind the continued popularity of the Duterte presidency. When investments translate to employment, it follows that growth will be more inclusive. Here, the Constitution could serve a pivotal role. If the administration goes ahead with relaxing the economic provisions, direct investments could exponentially increase.

Law and order and national security. The war on drugs is the cornerstone of the administration’s efforts. The 83-percent approval (Pulse Asia) shows that Filipinos appreciate the President’s performance in law and order. In addition to reminding the police about upholding human rights and the rule of law, the administration should keenly monitor and investigate alleged abuses in the war on drugs. It should update the public about the status of “deaths under investigation” and demonstrate that action is being taken to preserve our system’s safeguards.

Far more than in the previous administration, the Duterte presidency has made strides in the development of peace talks with the communist movement. While goodwill is a gesture of sincerity, it should be ascertained that both sides are not merely using ceasefire agreements and processual talks to gain tactical advantages in their politico-military campaigns. Otherwise, the present effort becomes mere lip service, and lasting peace in the countryside becomes more far-fetched.

The Duterte presidency has several opportunities ahead of it. Its policies for political development, economic development and national security will play a critical role in differentiating this administration from past ones. While goals are achieved through actions, actions are guided by policy.

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