Governance opportunities under Dutertismo

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

In his first State of the Nation Address in 2016, President Duterte and his team pronounced the new administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda, which in the next year was converted to a “Zero to 10-point” agenda. The President presented himself as a strongman populist, and enjoyed a supermajority hold on Congress.

Going into its sixth and final year, the Duterte administration is thus far caught between its campaign promises and Zero to 10-point agenda, and its actual performance and achievements. While we can also argue endlessly about the gaps and missteps in the administration’s track record, this will only be a counterproductive debate. Instead, the more valuable effort is to look into the governance prospects for the next administration based on key lessons derived from the past five years.

Political will and firmness are prime requisites for effective national leadership. But political integrity is just as important. Credibility will have to be anchored on performance, policies, and decisions that are evidence-based and grounded on the genuine national concerns and grievances of the population. Political integrity should cascade all the way down to the Cabinet level, as well as to advisers, presidential allies in Congress, and the First Family. If people feel that their government caters to their gut issues, especially in the face of the extraordinary hardships brought about by the pandemic, then they will believe that the government is one with the people.

Fifteen months of lockdown experience suggests the need to deemphasize social control and put more importance on the T3 approach (test, trace, treat), health care infrastructure, and a speedy vaccine rollout. The woes of unemployment, poverty, inflation, and a depressed economy currently confronted by the population demand a more strategic approach to the long-term and short-term effects of the pandemic. In this, social protection in the form of SAP (social amelioration program) is inevitable—but it should not be politicized to foster mendicancy and dependency among the populace or, worse, political patronage, especially with the coming elections in 2022.

What further differentiates this era is the existence of the online world and the drive toward digitalization. There is exponential value in the presence of both physical and digital infrastructure, and this is where the private sector could expend much-needed expertise and investments, thereby striking a balance between public-private partnership and official development assistance schemes. Additionally, the country also confronts disinformation and cybersecurity threats, which poses formidable challenges to any government intent developing a safe digital economy.

When it comes to regional and global affairs, a sensible foreign policy is proven to be vital for any administration. However, pronouncing and implementing an “independent” policy that is in reality bilaterally fixed and generates asymmetrical relations between the Philippines and another country can only prove detrimental, as shown under this administration and its pronounced pivot to China. An independent foreign policy must uphold national interests, peace, co-prosperity, and the rule of law.

In terms of addressing perennial national problems, especially in today’s pandemic context which has exacerbated many such problems, it has become all too clear that while an all-of-government approach is the first natural step, this should be complemented by an all-sectoral or multisectoral program of action. The private sector, civil society, academe, and media are also key ingredients in realizing the kind of inclusive and participatory governance that one hopes the next administration will pursue and put in place.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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