Traditionally, the first year of a new president is spent on transitioning, characterized by the shift in style of running the affairs of government, appointing not only the members of the Cabinet but also the heads of many agencies, as well as crafting and announcing new policies.
Addressing the issues raised during the campaign, or implementing the new chief executive’s platform of government, usually does not begin until months into the first year. With a single term limited to six years, every month spent on transition is basically a month wasted.
This is not what happened when President Rodrigo Duterte came into office. He hit the ground running – starting on Day One.
He also took the bull by the horns – launching a massive campaign against illegal drugs and announcing his zero tolerance policy on corruption – both of which were among his major promises during the campaign.
President Duterte was already seen as an unconventional candidate during the campaign, whose bold rhetoric was well received by the people. During his first year in office, it became obvious that the new chief executive was not the traditional politician as his predecessors, although he had been mayor for many terms and a congressman prior to running for president.
He curried no favor from big businessmen or from powerful politicians; as he often said, he would stake his honor, the presidency and his life for the sake of the Filipino people. His ultimate goal is to improve their lives.
At the beginning of his term, Duterte’s critics predicted (and expected?) that he would fail, and he would lose the people’s favor. He proved them wrong. He remains popular. The latest survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed that 78 percent of the 1,200 adults surveyed were satisfied by the performance of the President, while 10 percent were undecided and 12 percent dissatisfied, for a personal record-high of +66 or “very good.”
Some people were expecting economic growth to slow down because of his statements that they said would drive away investors. On the contrary, foreign direct investments continued to come in, and the economy remains one of the most robust in Asia.
In a report published early this month, the US State Department said the Philippines has become a more attractive destination for foreign direct investments (FDI). The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) expects net FDI inflows to reach $8 billion this year, up from $7.9 billion last year.
In its latest update on the country’s economic prospects, the World Bank said the Philippines remains on the strong growth path in 2017-2018. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected at 6.8 percent for 2017, one of the highest in Southeast Asia, and 6.9 percent for 2018.
As I said earlier, the usual transition period did not happen at the start of the Duterte presidency. There was no pause in the government machinery – all of the programs, including infrastructure and public services, continued to move. After all, the changing of the guard does not mean suspending the delivery of services to the people.
As I said in a previous column, he showed his boldness and decisiveness in dealing with the Maute terrorist attack in Marawi City. Placing Mindanao under martial law helped to contain the attack and prevented the terrorists from spreading their activities in other parts of the country.
One area where I think the President really shone during his first year in office was in diplomacy. Because he did not hold a national office prior to his election as president, Duterte was not seen as belonging to the same level as other world leaders. However, his bold move to adopt an independent foreign policy, with the Filipinos’ interests as the priority guiding principle, earned him recognition as an emerging leader in Asia.
According to Euben Paracuelles, Nomura’s Southeast Asia chief economist, Duterte’s pivot to China suddenly looked prescient following the election of US President Donald Trump, who had announced plans to adopt protectionist policies.
According to Paracuelles, the Philippines (under Duterte) is helping Asean to achieve its long-sought goal of becoming a more unified and integrated bloc.
President Duterte has received phone calls from Trump and Chinese President Xi Jin Ping, and has met with the latter twice. He has also met with Japanese President Shinzo Abe, who also visited Duterte in his home in Davao City.
I’m not saying that he solved all of the country’s problems in the past 12 months – many of these are centuries-old – but nobody can deny that he confronted them squarely, while keeping the economy on the robust growth path.
For all of these, I would rate President Duterte’s performance in his first year in office as excellent.
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