Governance prospects for 2022 and beyond

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

After five years of the Duterte presidency, the administration’s governance and performance certainly merit scrutiny.

Stratbase ADR Institute’s recent virtual town hall discussion on the “State of Philippine Governance: A Five-Year Review of the Duterte Presidency” saw participants discussing a gamut of issues and concerns spanning the social, political, and economic landscape of the Duterte presidency, along with forward-looking analysis in light of the 2022 national elections.

In his keynote address, Raul Pangalangan, recently retired judge of the International Criminal Court and Stratbase ADRi trustee, said, “The 2021 Sona (State of the Nation Address) is special in three other ways. One, it is delivered under the shadow of an international investigation of the human cost of the war on drugs. The second difference is that this Sona comes at a time where many nations around the globe have recognized the Arbitral Award on the South China Sea. The third difference is that the speech comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the lives of all Filipinos from all walks of life.”

The Sona, said Pangalanan, was “the turn of the President to declare what he considered the state of the nation.” But, after that presidential report, it is “the turn of the Filipino nation to speak its many voices and to say what dreams and hopes that began in 2016 remain alive and kicking in 2021.”

Dr. Edilberto de Jesus, professor emeritus and former president of the Asian Institute of Management, highlighted in his presentation a peculiar mark of the Duterte brand of leadership: “underestimating and overestimating the problem.” For example, simply treating the drug problem as a law-and-order issue emanates from the parochial and myopic view of governance arising from a localistic perspective.

What about actual performance? “When you look at the Duterte administration, his most outstanding accomplishment is maintaining a high trust and approval rating in the five years of his administration,” said De Jesus. Over and above the President’s popularity is the well-organized and well-funded campaign machinery on his behalf that has spawned a pandemic of disinformation on social media.

From a fiscal perspective, Zy-Za Suzara, executive director of the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy, cited the importance of looking at the national budgets crafted by the Duterte administration to ascertain its priorities. From 2018 to 2021, she stressed, the national budgets were “disjointed” because they prioritized two things: the patronage-driven “Build, build, build” projects, and discretionary funds for the Office of the President, the police, and the military.

Dr. Ronald Holmes, president of Pulse Asia Research Inc., meanwhile emphasized the sadly unchanging matrix of “urgent national concerns.” These include “controlling inflation, increasing the pay of workers, and providing assistance to those who have lost their livelihood and jobs because of the pandemic.”

An interesting detail that Holmes pointed out: “The approval ratings of the national administration declined in terms of addressing inflation, where it went down from 51 percent approval in November 2020 to 45 percent approval in February 2021 and is down to 43 percent at present.”

On the state of our democracy, former ombudsman and Supreme Court justice Conchita Carpio Morales opined that the current landscape is anchored on the “policy of fear.” “Inaccuracy” is what best describes Mr. Duterte’s claims of achievements, she said.

Indeed, summing all these up, where is the promise of a “comfortable life” for Filipinos after five years? One cannot simply shrug one’s shoulders and blame the troubled times that have befallen the nation on the pandemic.

With less than a year left for the Duterte administration, governance reforms that would address our urgent national concerns would have to be borne by the next administration. For those aspiring to lead our country, they must convince, inspire, and unite the country toward a strategic vision of sustained prosperity and principled statesmanship. The Filipino people deserve no less.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Image Source: PCOO/Presidential photo.

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