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A first trimester assessment of the Duterte administration’s performance

President Duterte was elected with an overwhelming mandate as the majority pined for a leadership that was both strong and magnanimous. We hoped he would do for the Philippine what Lee Kwan Yew did for Singapore.

Different people have different views on President Duterte’s performance. This is my assessment as a businessman, living in Manila.

I consider the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) as this administration’s greatest triumph. Long overdue, the executive order on FOI mandates full transparency among agencies of the executive branch. It brings us one step closer towards curbing corruption in government.

Another milestone is the ratification of an indefinite ceasefire between government, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front.

A substantive accomplishment, too, is the launch of the 8888 portal to receive people’s complaints and the 911 emergency hotline. It is today’s equivalent to President Magsaysay’s Presidential Complaints and Action Committee, a highly effective program that brought government closer to the people.

We must also acknowledge the Duterte administration for other less-publicized accomplishments. Among them are the suspension of licenses for 20 companies engaged in destructive mining; dismantling of large fishing pens in Laguna lake (to give way to smaller fishermen); the karaoke ban; passport and drivers licenses validity extension; and the “no window” policy on the traffic number system.

On narcotics, we concede that President Duterte has succeeded in exposing the scale of the drug menace and purging drug manufacturers, pushers and users out of the woodwork. However, it is a failure since more than half of the 3,500 deaths were a result of vigilante-style killings. Sidestepping due process of law for expediency’s sake only weakens our institutions.

In terms of infrastructure, government’s intention to spend $150 billion over the next six years (approximately 6.2 percent of GDP) looks good in principle.

An outright failure of this administration is its inability to unite the nation, deeply divided by opposing political persuasions. Making matters worse is the surging culture of violence and intolerance among our people.

A cause for worry, too, is the economy. While growth remains robust on the back of strong fundamentals left by the past administration, many question whether it has the legs to sustain its present trajectory for the medium term.

We regret how the opportunity to use the “Duterte reform story” as a hook to attract more investments was squandered. It would have expedited the inflow of FDI’s to generate jobs and improve the lives of thousands.

The antagonism against western democracies and the preference for China is something many struggle with. While it is strategic to fully exploit the opportunities offered by the former communist state, one should not come at the cost of another. Like politics, economics is about addition. The President is treading a slippery slope and we hope his personal biases against western democracies will not backfire.

In sum, the Duterte administration’s first trimester is a mixed bag of triumphs, painful consequences and squandered opportunities. In the end, we must realize that the war on drugs is just one aspect of governance. The greater enemy is poverty. We hope that the same zeal this administration gives towards the war on drugs be applied to the economy. Only then will Duterte be considered comparable to Lee Kwan Yew.




Andrew is an economist, political analyst, and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.