Until when is a “thank you” justifiable?
After closing in on six years as president, many social media users have expressed their gratitude for Rodrigo Roa Duterte, especially for the infrastructure and public spaces projects completed during his tenure.
On social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, and TikTok, netizens have highlighted projects such as the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport rehabilitation, the Boracay cleanup, and the dolomite beach.
Social media posts that I have seen on TikTok and Facebook show a montage of images featuring these, with many social media users calling them the “Duterte legacy.” Clearly, the Duterte administration has successfully ingrained into the minds of many Filipinos that good governance is all about visual progress—tackling the concern that society’s taxes are seen to be fully utilized through finished infrastructure.
But behind this facade comes empirical evidence that this administration failed in many areas that would actually make the country a better place.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the population’s poverty incidence increased to 23.7 percent during the first half of 2021 from 21.1 percent back in 2018—translating to 3.9 million more Filipinos living in poverty. Aside from this, the latest news from the Bureau of Treasury reveals that the government’s outstanding debt massively increased to a record-high P12.68 trillion as of end-March, up by 17.7 percent from last year’s P10.77 trillion.
Corruption also plagues his administration. In 2020, Department of Health Sec. Francisco Duque III was linked to an alleged “misuse” of at least P15 billion of PhilHealth funds as ex-officio. As health secretary, Duque is also responsible for the pandemic response—an infamous failure of this administration. Yet, he managed to retain his position due to Duterte’s trust and confidence in him.
Another controversial case in 2020 was that of Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials reportedly receiving weekly bribes amounting to P20,000 or P8,000. This allowed thousands of Chinese individuals to illegally enter the country to work for the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators. BI officials also allegedly provided “VIP treatment” to Chinese individuals for a P10,000 “service fee” each.
Duterte is also no stranger to defending questionable cases like Duque’s. When the country hosted the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, many citizens and lawmakers questioned the cauldron used for the torch lighting ceremony as it amounted to P50 million—stressing that the cost is too extravagant based on the cauldron’s simplistic appearance. The cauldron was commissioned from late national artist Bobby Mañosa—which Duterte used as his reasoning, stating that it can “never be corruption in that situation because you commissioned a national artist.” After the tournament, the Commission on Audit questioned the Bases Conversion and Development Authority for approving an P8.51-billion project for the tournament’s facilities, including the infamous cauldron—calling the act as “prejudicial to the interest of the government.”
On top of all these, the president’s supporters and loyalists choose to overlook the bloody drug war, which the government admits has killed over 6,000 Filipinos since 2016. However, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said during the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council that in fact, at least 8,663 were actually slain.
Personally, I am confused as to why my acquaintances on social media fall for the overhyping narrative that Duterte’s administration brought immense change to the regular Filipinos’ ways of life.
Others even feel that despite the Duterte administration’s sins, the outgoing president should still receive outstanding praise and thanks. But what if these people were the ones victimized by extrajudicial killings? I doubt that they would feel the same toward the president. What prompts these people to probably think that they need to express gratitude for Duterte as president is because that is the norm. Regardless of what the person had done, as long as one is indebted to them, a “thank you” is in order.
But did Duterte’s legacy pave the way for a better Philippines? Is it even better than what it was before his presidency? I would say that it is not quite.
Even if we support his presidency, we should not absolve ourselves from being critical as well. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Even if there are projects under the Build, Build, Build (BBB)—some of which were not even started by the current administration—these aren’t the end all be all. Many fail to realize that BBB does not directly address or even cater to Filipinos’ other essentials and needs such as having better healthcare, a working education system, and concrete plans for poverty alleviation.
It is a hard pill to swallow that I know people who continue to overglorify Duterte’s reign while failing to or barely recognizing his incompetency. After all the atrocities, saying “thank you for everything” is just something that I can’t wholeheartedly do. Neither should they.
While this administration is deemed to succeed in some areas, does this success outweigh its failures? If one’s answer is no, then there is work cut out for the outgoing administration and definitely, no words of gratitude are earned.