Urgent priorities for Duterte’s final year

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Borne by pandemic circumstances, the Duterte administration has become even more embattled as it struggles to mitigate the contingent and enduring consequences of the health crisis. The mounting sociopolitical and economic demands from the various sectors of society emanate from the need to revive a devastated economy, shore up health care, and provide social protection to the most vulnerable citizens. From these conditions, several leadership and governance imperatives can be deduced.

The first imperative is economic recovery and the rebuilding of our distressed livelihoods and communities. Joblessness, according to the First Quarter 2021 Social Weather Survey conducted between April 8-May 2, 2021, is 8.3 points above the pre-pandemic figures of December 2019. Although lower by 1.5 points from November 2020, this still translates to 12.7 million jobless adults in November 2020 and 12.2 million in May 2021.

Directly associated with adult joblessness is self-rated poverty. The same survey showed that only 17 percent of Filipino families rate themselves as “hindi mahirap” or not poor, while 49 percent or almost half of the population rate themselves as “mahirap” or poor, and 33 percent consider themselves on the borderline.Furthermore, hunger remained high in May 2021, with 16.8 percent of Filipino families or around 4.2 million families experiencing involuntary hunger, which means they did not have enough food to eat at least once in the past three months. The May 2021 data is 0.8 points higher than the 16 percent or 4 million families recorded as experiencing involuntary hunger in November 2020.

Philippine competitiveness likewise warrants urgent attention. On June 17, 2021, the World Competitiveness Ranking 2021 placed the Philippines at 52nd out of 64 countries, marking a five-year low from 2017 to 2021. The latest Fitch Ratings amended the Philippines’ credit rating outlook from “stable” to “negative” but kept its rating at “BBB.”

The most urgent COVID-19-related issue at this time is the vaccine rollout, which the government needs to accelerate. Social trust and the importance of vaccination must be fostered in the citizenry, given the persistent vaccine hesitancy among a significant number of Filipinos and the threat of a prolonged pandemic as more variants emerge.

As election noise begins to occupy public attention, the Stratbase-commissioned Pulse Asia survey of June 7-16, 2021 provides an idea of the kind of candidates’ platforms that will resonate with Filipino voters in the 2022 elections.

Sixty-three percent of the respondents said that “controlling inflation” should be the top national issue candidates must have a clear solution for. The other top issues were: “increasing the pay of workers” (53 percent); “creating more jobs” (45 percent); “fighting graft and corruption in government” (41 percent); and “reducing the poverty of many Filipinos” (30 percent).

The same survey was also indicative of the importance of leadership qualities. The respondents said they want a leader that “has concern for the poor, pro-poor” (48 percent), is “not corrupt” (47 percent), is “trustworthy and honest” (37 percent), and “has a good platform and can give solutions to problems of the country” (32 percent).

They also want leaders who “fight anomalies in government” (25 percent), has “untarnished name and reputation” (22 percent), “has good leadership skills” (22 percent), and who “fulfills promises” (21 percent). They want leaders who “can defend Philippine territory against China” (18 percent), has “strong political will” (15 percent), and who is “approachable” (13 percent). Of the 11 traits and characteristics mentioned, it was evident that integrity was the common denominator.

In less than four months, politicians will be filing their certificates of candidacy. The political circus will provide a distraction from the urgent need to address the protracted health and economic crisis that has disrupted the lives of millions of Filipinos.

When President Duterte delivers his last State of the Nation Address on Monday, he must give Filipinos an honest reality check, a factual accounting of his performance, and a clear direction toward economic recovery in his final year in office. Anything less will be a disservice to an already much-suffering people.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Image Source: Karl Alonzo/Presidential Photo.

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