Thursday, June 30, 2016

Thoughts on President Duterte's inauguration

Photo taken from
by Gideon Lasco

What a momentous day for our country! With the inauguration of President Duterte, people can now begin to anticipate the changes he has promised - and hopefully work for change starting with our own selves. Moreover, every Filipinos is enjoined to support - even if critically - his administration.

My politics has always entailed finding common ground, and learning to dissect (what I consider to be) the good and the bad in people and institutions. I disagree with the Catholic Church on the Reproductive Health Law, but I fully support their charitable work all over the world. I disagree with the way former President Aquino defended his Cabinet officials and communicated himself to the public, but I am grateful for his anti-corruption initiatives and the relative stability of his administration that enabled our economy to grow (even as I hold that 'inclusive growth' is yet to come).

As far as President Duterte is concerned, there are five changes that I think we can all rally behind, our reservations on certain issues (i.e. the Marcoses) notwithstanding:

First: an efficient and service-oriented government. His first order - for departments and agencies to streamline their processes - is welcome news to every Filipino who has experienced falling in line for long hours - or waiting for a driver's license or a business permit for many weeks or months. Everyone wins with a faster bureaucracy.

Second, reduced crime and drugs. This may not be a pressing matter for those who are living comfortably, but they are a clear and present danger to many Filipinos, particularly in the provinces. Even in my hometown of San Pablo, Laguna, everyone knows who the drug lord is but everyone's too afraid to get in his way - the police included. Duterte's tough stance on drugs will embolden our law enforcement agencies to finally clamp down on drug lords, but we must also be mindful that there are many young people who must be saved from the vicious cycle of drug use - not punished or killed because of it.

Third, a focus on small things. A mayor's perspective cannot be dismissed as "small thinking" because it is the small things that lead to big outcomes; it is the small things that matter to many Filipinos in their everyday lives (i.e. noisy late-night karaoke), and these can help win their trust in the government. The fastest - and best - infrastructure project - is reclaiming the roads and sidewalks that are already there, by clearing out de-facto parking areas, makeshift basketball courts, vendors that are blocking the way, and Art Tugade was right to point this out just yesterday. We need more of these "small things" alongside the big ones.

Fourth, the need for make people feel that the government cares for them. President Duterte emphasized this in his speech by saying that we have to "listen to the murmurings of the people, feel their pulse, supply their needs and fortify their faith and trust in us whom they elected to public office." By being the first president from Mindanao, and by saying some lines in Cebuano, he has already taken steps towards making people feel "included" - but to be truly unifying, he needs to rise above politics, avoid unnecessary distractions and the perception of being biased towards certain groups.

Finally - and very importantly - peace with Communist and Muslim rebels. That the peace process with the CPP-NPA has already been rebooted is a welcome sign, and President Duterte's coming from Mindanao can hopefully give him a privileged perspective with which to make peace with the MILF and the MNLF, and deal with the resurgent threat of the Abu Sayyaf. With ISIS making a recent announcement about pivoting to the Philippines and Malaysia, and in light of the attacks on Istanbul, we need, now more than ever, to show the world that Christians and Muslims can build one country together.

There are, however, some things that should not change and these include the freedoms we currently enjoy. This very day - and its peaceful transition of power - is made possible by our strong democracy, which I hope we will not take for granted in the coming years.

June 30, 2016