A sense of urgency – Manila Standard

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A segment of the intelligentsia never tire of twitting the President for not insisting on our “historic” and “glorious” victory before the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the West Philippine versus South China Sea issue.

In a forum last week to “celebrate” the “landmark decision” at Den Haag, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio rued that President Duterte had “dropped the ball,” losing it just when he already held it and would only need to shoot.

Duterte, as we realize after the fact, was just being practical.  A decision such as that which favored us “legally” cannot be enforced except by using force against force.  Force that we do not have; force that our so-called “allies” are not willing to expend to assist us.  That, unfortunately, is the political reality that a leader must face.

We can beat our breasts as much and as loudly as we want, but for what?

To engage the “enemy” with force we do not have will make the so-called victory merely pyrrhic.  How many lives must we expend for a foolhardy adventure to stake our claim?  Would the United States of America­—who a big segment of our population still looks up to as some kind of savior—come to our succor?

Hah! They forsook us in Corregidor, because Australia was more important to defend, even if we were their prized colony in Asia back in 1941. We lost so many lives during that war which was not of our making.  And when they finally “liberated” us, the American forces led by “Emperor” Douglas MacArthur destroyed Manila through thousands of aerially dropped bombs such that only Warsaw in Poland was more obliterated in the whole world.

Who, then, would enforce the decision?  The United Nations, which is more a debating club where “small” nations have little voice, and only the mighty permanent members of the Security Council matter?

Before an intransigent permanent member like China, likely to be supported by Russia, what can the UN do?  Send “peacekeeping” forces into the South China Sea?

The problem is simple: Duterte knows his people.

Those who carp about his “sellout” to the Chinese need to know the Filipino psyche and character better.

Without meaning to denigrate our fellows, just look at what happened to Andres Bonifacio in history.  He wanted to fight to the last, only to be deserted by the rest. The enemy was simply too big to be vanquished.  Mere valor and raw courage would not produce victory.

What eventually happened?  The Katipuneros deserted the Supremo, choosing the path of lesser resistance.

“Tigas-ulo” and that Tagalog expression called “tigas—’’ does not pay off.

Those who keep resurrecting the issue of the China “detente” and twit Duterte for being “less than macho” in various fora and in media, social as well as mainstream, do not quite know the Filipino.

They can flog the issue forever.  They can wave the flag forever.

But they will not dent his public approval on this issue.  Look at the latest survey results.

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The President will deliver the State of the Nation Address next Monday before the joint session of Congress and the people.

Secretary Ben Diokno recently said that for the first time in history, the President will submit his budget for 2018 for congressional deliberation as early as on the opening session of Congress, simultaneous with his Sona.

It’s a big one—P3.7 trillion.

Which is fine, as properly placed government spending is the biggest driver of economic growth in a developing nation such as ours which has been trying for the longest time to finally take off.

And I have no doubt that our economic managers know whereof they are coming, and where they want this nation to go.  We have been so left behind by our neighbors in public infrastructure that catching up is a monumental undertaking.  So many years have been laid to waste by inaction and indecision, and sure, we must cash in on the fact that we have a decisive, no-nonsense leader at last.

What I worry about is the absorptive capacity of our bureaucracy.

The Commission on Audit has recently taken some departments and agencies to task for their “under-spending,” their inability to use up the funds allocated to them by Congress.

Sure, CoA reports straddle the transition period between PNoy and Digong.  But judging from reports we get from the field and from many agencies, the first year of this presidency has been marked by too long a learning curve.

The President and his economic managers have “hit the ground running” but seriously, the bureaucracy and their new or retained managers have not been in step.

The President keeps warning his officials about being engaged in corruption, which aside from drugs and criminality, he abhors with a passion.  He has made examples among those perceived to be close to him, on the basis even of “just a whiff of corruption.”

But there does not seem to be an infectious sense of urgency in government.  People who should be working their butts off in feverish catch-up are stalling, still going about with lethargic pace.

They do a great disservice both to the President and to the public whose expectations have been quite high after electing a decisive leader overwhelmingly.

Five years is too short, and before you know it, the days and weeks will have given the term of the President short shrift.

I hope the Sona next Monday becomes a declaration of a real sense of urgency beyond the drug war, and gets the Build Build Build program taking off beyond mantra.

The President should use the whip, just as a cochero does to get the horse to go faster.

Public patience is not a permanent given.

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