Time to govern – Manila Standard


posted June 19, 2017 at 12:01 am

IN under two weeks, the Duterte administration will be a year old.

It has been a tumultuous year, given the recent events in Marawi, where terrorists, declaring allegiance to the Islamic State, have overrun the city in hopes of creating the base of a Southeast Asian province for an extreme Islamist caliphate. In response, President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law over the entire island of Mindanao and has ordered a full-scale military assault to wipe out the terrorists.

As the death toll mounts and the urban warfare drags on, it is clear that the situation in the South will take up much of this administration’s time and resources.

Early on, the President fulfilled a campaign promise to launch a relentless war on illegal drugs. The death of thousands of drug suspects, however, reaped widespread condemnation from the country’s traditional allies abroad, who saw in the grim statistics evidence of state-sanctioned summary executions. President Duterte’s response—a series of blistering, profanity-laced attacks on his critics overseas—has cast into doubt the fate of millions of dollars in foreign assistance that the administration now insists must be given with no strings attached.

The President’s “independent” foreign policy, which shifts the focus to China and Russia, may eventually bear fruit, but it is unclear whether this will be enough to offset what the country might lose by antagonizing the United States and the European Union.

Against the backdrop of these pressing concerns, the day-to-day task of governing seems to have taken a backseat during this first year.

This is unfortunate, since Mr. Duterte won the election, not just on his promise to rid the country of crime and illegal drugs, but on the understanding that life would somehow be better under his administration. That commuter trains would run safely, and on time. That the government would no longer collect money from the public without a corresponding good or service—as the previous administration had done with drivers licenses and license plates. That this administration would be different from the previous one, which was marked by inefficiency, callousness and arrogance. That public agencies would be run, not by friends, former classmates and allies of the President, but by civil servants who have proved themselves in a meritocracy.

When the President’s men speak of his popularity and his mandate, they ought to remember that many of the votes cast in his favor were in protest of the failures of the previous administration, and that one year later, these same supporters will want to see some measurable improvement on this score.

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