"With all the campaigns and the issues the President has to face, what shall it be?"
With 20 months to go until he steps down, President Duterte’s rating is still sky high at 91 per cent. It is something unheard of in this country or anywhere else. He could basically walk on water and do whatever he wants. If he could still run for re-election, he would be staring at a sure second term. Since he cannot, he must nonetheless be feeling very confident that the legacy he will leave behind will be one of the best.
When the President was campaigning for the Presidency, he had a few definite things in mind. The anti-drug war was, of course, foremost. Peace and order was another. Signing a peace deal with the various dissident armed groups like the CPP-NPA and the other Muslim rebellious bands in Mindanao, as well as constitutional amendment to push for a federal form of government, plus the anti-corruption campaign, were also mentioned.
But nothing was mentioned about foreign affairs which is now a dominant part of his administration’s activities due to our problem in the West Philippine Sea with China. There was also no mention of bringing the country to the orbit of China, nor trying to leave our long-standing defense agreement with our treaty ally, the United States. After several months in office, his administration announced the huge Build Build Build program.
For the first time, we started hearing about the country adopting an independent foreign policy. This was probably partly influenced by the constant negative reactions by Western countries to some of his domestic programs, notably his anti-drug campaign. Little did we realize that this independent foreign policy was about taking the country into the orbit of China, a country that has claimed almost the entirety of the South China Sea, encroached on our exclusive economic zone and refused to recognize the Hague arbitral ruling we won in 2016.
The President, however, has chosen to ignore these Chinese actions and proceeded to bring us close to China. The Chinese are now all over the country and may perhaps be one legacy he will leave behind.
Let us try to peek into the crystal ball and see if there is anything that might indicate a single program of his that will define his presidency in the years to come. Prior to the pandemic, he had a chance of accomplishing a sizable number of his plans. With the pandemic, we are no longer so sure. We are now in the worst recession in our history. Since we are banking on a vaccine to bring us back to normalcy, even as this will only be available next year, the Duterte administration has about a year for economic recovery. Most economists believe this is not enough.
Still, his economic team is betting that recovery is possible because the economy is fundamentally sound. Also, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Build Build Build program was moving relatively well, although there were delays on some of the projects. The economic growth was respectable and among the highest in Asia. Mr. Duterte’s environmental initiatives have also elicited praises from many sectors, notably the Boracay and Manila Bay clean-up efforts. Majority of Filipinos in survey after survey approve of his anti-drug war regardless of the number of people that have been killed in the process.
So, what will define his presidency? Will it be his Build Build Build project? His Boracay and Manila Bay environmental clean-up efforts together with the closure of open-pit mines? His signing a peace pact with the MILF? His so-called independent foreign policy and pivot toward China? Maybe his brutal anti-drug war? There is also his much publicized anti-corruption campaign and the government response to the pandemic that is currently ravaging the country. This has the potential of derailing many of his accomplishments because we are not yet seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.
There are actually many to choose from to best describe the Duterte years. But if we have to choose just three, the ones that will probably stick out are first, his anti-drug campaign that resulted in the killing of thousands of people and has severely affected the international reputation of the country. The second would be our country’s open tilt towards China and his handling of the Chinese intrusion to our exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea. The third is a tossup between his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his Build Build Build program.
I could of course be wrong in choosing one or two of the three but I am certain that his war on drugs will be up there in the list. It is his flagship project. He loves to talk about it and never misses the opportunity to discuss it every chance he has regardless of the occasion.