Since coming into office on June 30 last year, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has remained a staple in news headlines. The latter half of 2016 has been filled with reports and analyses of Duterte’s words and actions. Although he maintains a high approval rating of 83 percent in the recently conducted Pulse Asia survey, Duterte continues to receive numerous criticisms from supporters and critics alike.
As a self-confessed “iron fist” leader, his tough-talking tactics have come under fire by numerous organizations such as the United Nations. At the same time, however, his burning passion to fight drugs has been praised by many. With the new year just beginning, The LaSallian takes a look into the administration’s plans and expected outcomes for the year.
Biggest budget so far
Last December 22, Duterte signed the P3.35 trillion budget for the government. It is the highest budget in Philippine history and should complement the administration’s plans for the year. It is 11.6 percent higher than the previous budget and composes roughly 21 percent of the expected 2017 gross domestic product. Duterte has described the budget as “pro-people, pro-investment, pro-growth, and pro-development,” with its focus on infrastructure, agriculture, rural development, and peace and order. The Department of Education, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of Interior and Local Government received the largest allocations with P544.1, P454.7, and P148 billion respectively.
However, many remain skeptical of certain aspects of the budget, such as the P20.3 billion budget for the Office of the President, a 600 percent increase. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno has explained that the increased budget is for the 50th founding anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as “intelligence information gathering and other surveillance activities.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson was especially vocal against pork barrel-like elements in the 2017 budget, referring to the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) which was removed in 2013. He also argued that certain policy makers received ‘pork’ from the budget at the expense of the Calamity Fund which received a P21.5 billion decrease.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Karlo Alexei Nograles was quick to point out that the PDAF is nowhere to be found in the budget and that the allocations have been clearly stated per project, leaving no room for ‘pork’ funds.
Developing foreign relations
Since assuming office, President Duterte has drastically changed the country’s landscape in the international scene. In his own words, he proclaimed that the country will pursue an independent foreign policy, sever ties with the United States of America, back out from the United Nations (UN), set aside the UN International Arbitral Court ruling on the West Philippine Sea, and foster stronger relationship with China and Russia, among others. The country is also expected to host the ASEAN Summit this year after Duterte assumed chairmanship.
In pivoting the direction of the country’s foreign policy, Duterte declared the pursuit of independence and cutting ties with the USA. However, these happened after the criticisms received by the President from both the USA and UN concerning his war on drugs campaign, to which Duterte retaliated by cursing the outgoing USA President Barack Obama and throwing expletives aimed at the UN. He also threatened to withdraw the country’s participation in the UN. However, the administration has clarified that the country will not leave the UN.
However, the relationship between the Philippines and US may remain unscathed as the upcoming President-elect Donald Trump expressed positive support for the administration’s anti-illegal drugs campaign. The two heads of the state had an “engaging” talk through telephone shortly after Trump won the USA presidency.
The chief executive said that Trump was “quite sensitive” to “worry about drugs.” Duterte also claimed that he could sense “good rapport” with the American President-elect. With Trump wishing him well with the anti-illegal drugs campaign, Duterte assured stronger ties with the USA, despite his earlier remarks belittling Obama and former USA Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg.
A redirection of foreign policy is also anticipated as the administration is acting on closer political alliances with China and Russia. This realignment with the two countries has brought in $24 billion worth of funding and investment pledges from Beijing, two Russian naval ships, and a country visit invitation from Moscow after bilateral talks with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, respectively.
Meanwhile, Duterte has set aside the UN Arbitral Tribunal ruling that favored the country’s claim on the disputed mineral-rich West Philippine Sea following the administration’s move to strengthen ties with China. However, in an interview with CNN Philippines the President stated possibility that he would change his position on the issue once China starts “siphoning out” mineral sources from the area.
Hastening of laws
Even before being elected as president in the 2016 local and national elections, Duterte has repeatedly expressed interest in the revival of death penalty, lowering the minimum age required for criminal liability, and radically changing the government system to federalism, among others.
Recently, Duterte has called for the reinstatement of death penalty in the country, which was earlier officially abolished in 2006. This is after his claim that the lack of fear and respect for the law is rooted from the growing atheism and agnosticism in the largely Catholic country. He has threatened to carry out daily executions should the death penalty be restored.
A reduction from 15 to 9 as the minimum age requirement for crime liability is also projected as a method to fight crime as lawmaker and Duterte-ally Pantaleon Alvarez filed House Bill 2 in the Congress. House Bill 2, titled “Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act,” aims for the amendment of Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 or Republic Act 9344, which set the minimum age for criminal liability at 15 years old.
According to statistics by the Philippine National Police (PNP), more than 6,000 people were assassinated by law enforcement, paramilitaries, and vigilantes since July 1, 2016. Out of the 40,371 anti-drug operations conducted by the PNP from July 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016 under Project Double Barrel Alpha, 43,114 were arrested while 2,167 were killed.
Meanwhile, a total of 5,911,306 houses have been visited in line with Oplan Tokhang, and over 1,003,118 people linked to drugs surrendered, according to the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Despite these alarming statistics, Duterte retained an “excellent” trust rating in the latest Social Weather Stations survey, with respondents in Mindanao giving him a +85 rating. The survey involved 1,500 adult respondents across the country, and found that 81 percent have “much trust” in Duterte. Likewise, a recent Pulse Asia survey revealed that 83 percent among 1,200 adults nationwide approved of Duterte’s performance.
These statistics were released in the same time frame as other recent controversies like the resignation of Vice President Leni Robredo from the Cabinet as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council and the burial of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Whether there is, indeed, a blind following in a big number of Filipinos or not, raises the question of how the country truly evaluates its leaders, or if they evaluate them at all. The challenge, therefore, is for Filipinos to internalize how the recent developments will practically affect the country in the long run.