President Duterte marks his first year in office with Marawi City in ruins and under martial law, and the threat of Islamic State terrorism spilling over into other parts of the country, dampening tourism and investments. The peso was at its lowest in 10 years yesterday, and people are worried about proposed taxes that will surely push up fuel costs, transport fares, and even instant noodle prices. Drug-related killings continue unabated, with an average of nine deaths recorded daily.
Surveys, however, show the President still enjoying immense public support. Such ratings should allow him to implement difficult reforms and crack down on corruption and inefficiency in the delivery of government services. The President has not hesitated to fire his appointees accused of corruption, even without conducting an investigation, including several of his staunch supporters during his campaign. After a year in power, he should also not hesitate to let go of mediocre appointees. Public office is not a reward for campaign support. The people suffer – and he gets the blame – for lousy public service.
He has retained the sound economic policies of his predecessors, helping ensure continuity and stability for sustained economic growth. Despite criticisms of his human rights record and security problems particularly in Mindanao, credit rating agencies have retained the country’s investment grade. His promise to “Build, Build, Build” public infrastructure has been welcomed by the business community.
As part of his promised transparency, the President sidestepped Congress and issued an order for freedom of information in the executive branch. Implementation of this executive FOI is still being worked out. More work is also needed to curb corruption and cut red tape. The huge pile of shabu valued at billions seized last month in Valenzuela, which reportedly breezed through the Bureau of Customs without inspection, gives the nation an idea of the enormity of this problem.
The President is starting to temper his rhetoric against certain members of the international community; perhaps he is realizing that the country needs all the friends it can get. His so-called pivot to China has yet to deliver the results Filipinos expect: Beijing’s compliance with the ruling of the United Nations-backed Permanent Arbitration Court that favors the Philippines.
A year is not enough time to show solid accomplishments. But the groundwork can be laid, and a clear direction provided by the Chief Executive. As he enters his second year, President Duterte can draw on the public support he continues to enjoy and build on his gains since assuming power.