One of the most refreshing aspects of the newly minted Duterte administration, in my view, is its total lack of interest in blaming its predecessor—or even any other government that went before it. After six years of blame-tossing as a national policy, it’s nice to hear government officials just buckling down to work after discovering what needs to be fixed.
Which is not to say, of course, that there is not a lot that needs to be done by President Rodrigo Duterte and the mostly well-received members of his Cabinet. Far from it.
There are many examples of the new government declaring what it wants done without mentioning that they are things that the now-defunct tuwid na daan administration failed to do. Let’s just look at some of the more prominent illustrations:
* The Freedom of Information executive order. True, the Duterte administration will issue only an order that directs agencies under the executive branch to disclose all transactions, instead of pushing for a law that will make all of government do the same.
But this is still better than what the Aquino administration did, which is to sit on legislative measures allowing FOI. It is telling that the previous administration did not push for the law in the House, where it enjoyed an overwhelming majority, allowing the approved Senate version to die on the vine.
Of course, everyone knows by now that Noynoy Aquino promised the passage of an FOI law even while he was still a candidate in the 2010 elections. But after being elected, Aquino and his officials began saying that such a law was not really necessary, because the government of Ninoy and Cory’s son was already transparent.
* The policy of antagonizing China in a bid to “shame” it and force it to back away from the dispute in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea, if you like). In his first-ever Cabinet meeting last week, Duterte made it clear that he was not going to go to war with our giant neighbor, even if the United Nations arbitration panel that is set to rule of the case filed by the Philippines decides in our favor.
In fact, Duterte has made no secret of his intentions to go into bilateral talks with China, despite the objections of the America-loving sector of Philippine society. Unlike Aquino, Duterte feels no need to engage the Chinese in a word war, like calling their leaders “Hitler-like” and vowing to “defend Recto Bank like it was Recto Avenue.”
“I have made it clear to [the Americans] that I will not allow [any outbreak of violence],” Duterte told his Cabinet. Of course, it remains to be seen how Duterte can go around the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that allows US military bases in the Philippines and which was mightily pushed by the Aquino administration.
* The renewed focus on agriculture as a major driver of the national economy. Finance Secretary-designate Carlos Dominguez has recently declared that the new government intends to spend P1 billion per region per year in order to boost agricultural production, another major policy shift.
The de-emphasis on and even outright abandoning of agriculture is one of the many unreported stories during the Aquino administration, which is really unforgivable given the roots of the Aquino family’s wealth in Hacienda Luisita and the fact that most Filipinos are still engaged in tilling the soil and harvesting the wealth of the sea for a living. Agriculture, as a sector, experienced overall average negative growth during Aquino’s six years, as agriculture officials wholeheartedly embraced a policy of importation that did not even result in lower food prices for most Filipinos.
* The plan to revise tax rates, to make them more responsive to the needs not only of individual taxpayers but also of corporations. This is another major plank of the Duterte administration that represents a major departure from the virtual no tax-reduction policy of the previous government.
Of course, the new government is also toying with proposals to raise the Value Added Tax to 15 percent, but this doesn’t seem to be a priority of Duterte or his economic team. The all-important consideration is that the government is now talking about reducing income tax rates—something that was anathema to its predecessor.
Indeed, if Duterte and his men manage to revise income tax rates that have not been changed since the Ramos years, it will already be hailed as ground-breaking by wage earners and corporate taxpayers. All of us are weary, after all, of the previous confiscatory regime that did not even improve infrastructure and services that the state should provide to the people whose taxes they collect.
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This is, of course, an incomplete list. There is also, among others, the new focus on eradicating crime and illegal drugs, problems that were hardly even acknowledged during all of Aquino’s six years.
And yes, all of this is being done with no recriminations, no self-serving comparisons and no blaming of a president who styled himself as “the best this country ever had.” If Duterte continues working for the people’s good without using his blame-worthy predecessor as a convenient scapegoat, change will have already come.