The current administration has been turning heads over its decision-making for the past months since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office. From controversial statements made by the president, policies implemented which garnered much support, and cabinet appointees which critics find questionable, the first year of the current administration has essentially disrupted the country’s political landscape. Whether or not it is for the long-term benefit of the Filipinos is still uncertain.
At the beginning of the president’s term, Duterte shared his vision for the cabinet appointees. According to him, he is aiming for a gender-sensitive cabinet much like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s, and that the cabinet members should share the same vision as the president. Presidential Spokesperson Peter Laviña adds that the president sought to have the youth, ethnic groups, Overseas Filipino Workers, and other social sectors to be represented in his cabinet to maximize representation in the government.
Appointed military members
As of press time, several members of the current cabinet are composed of individuals from the Philippine military. Speculations of a “creeping militarization” arose from the public when the president additionally appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief General Eduardo Año and former AFP Chief of Staff Chief Roy Cimatu under the Department of Interior Local Government and Department of Environment and Natural Resources, respectively. Moreover, due to the recent proclamation of martial law in Marawi City, there have been increasing speculations in the public as to whether or not martial law will be reinstated on a national level.
Año was appointed as the new head of the DILG last May 17. Though he is competent in his line of work, some believe that serving as the new DILG head might be uncharted territory for him. Meanwhile, Cimatu admits his lack of experience and knowledge with regard to the environment sector. This raised questions as to why the Duterte administration would give the job to someone with little knowledge about the environment at a time when it is direly needed. Some point out that the only asset of Cimatu would be his loyalty to the president.
DLSU Political Science Department Professor Gerardo Eusebio, however, illustrates that the recently appointed members of the cabinet had exemplary records. “Most of them were achievers during their stints as police generals, as military generals. Therefore, most of these recent appointments are men with exemplary or sterling records,” he adds. According to him, whether or not they are deserving of the positions remain to be seen, and that the public should give them at least six months to assess their performance.
Other former military men in the cabinet include Ricardo Visaya, Hermogenes Esperon, Delfin Lorenzana, Ricardo Jalad, Nicanor Faeldon, Alexander Balutan, and Jason Aquino.
Considering that the Duterte administration also has a very strong stance against illegal drugs and corruption, the appointment of former military men was deemed necessary. “Former military officials or generals have a reputation to be tough, efficient, and hardworking, especially because of their training and special military background. Duterte has a lot of tough policies going on today, especially on the field of peace and order. These hard policies would be implemented by men that should have the necessary character or demeanor,” Eusebio explains.
Eusebio, however, also cites that the appointment of military men in the government is nothing new. During the time of former presidents Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Noynoy Aquino, there were also military men in the government. For critics, however, the issue with such appointments is that the president is known to be keen on establishing military rule in the country. When he arrived back from his Russia trip, the president even mentioned that he will not hesitate to declare martial law in the entire country when the Islamic State also reaches Luzon and Visayas.
As of press time, the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research states that there are now over 60 groups in Southeast Asia that have pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State. Analysts believe that “it is only a matter of time” before it establishes a state in the region, one of the major areas being considered is Mindanao. If matters escalate, there is a possibility that their reach would extend to Luzon and Visayas.
Other controversial appointees
Meanwhile, there have been other controversial appointments in the president’s cabinet, such as the appointment of Mocha Uson as assistant secretary under the Philippine Communications Operations Office (PCOO). The appointment received a number of criticisms, with several critics questioning her credibility and others asking why the president appointed her.
Eusebio explains that he somehow understands the pulse of the Filipinos on the appointment of Uson. “She was thought to be a controversial person because of her former job as a sexually liberated entertainer [who] gives advice. However, what is different from her that makes her controversial is [that] unlike most entertainers who just keep quiet, she is very vocal and is an active participant in the discourse [of national affairs],” he expresses.
According to Eusebio, Uson’s approach to national issues has also seen support especially among the D and E social classes. The former entertainer’s blog has also been popular among the masses. “The position of assistant secretary is higher than the director and she will be having parts or areas in presidential communications. With Martin Andanar under PCOO, this becomes equally controversial,” he highlights.
After the first year of the Duterte administration has passed, the current administration and its cabinet appointees still have a multitude of issues to highlight in their campaign. Whether or not the campaign against illegal drugs and other peace and order initiatives will result in a genuine and general positive growth also remain to be seen.