By Genalyn Kabiling
The year 2019 has been a mix of daring hits and shabby misses for President Duterte but he is still getting a performance score of perfect 10 from the Palace.
“If I were to rate the President’s performance, I’d give it a 10,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in an interview with the Manila Bulletin when asked to rate Duterte on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 as highest.
“2019 has been an exemplary year for the Philippines,” he said, citing “difficult” yet “game-changing” reforms implemented by the administration.
In the past 12 months, Duterte could be viewed as a fierce no-nonsense leader in dealing with the country’s problems, from slaying the country’s high inflation rate, reducing poverty incidence and crime rate to jumpstarting the peace talks with the communist rebels.
The tough-talking leader also did not back down from deploring the alleged onerous contracts with two Metro Manila concessionaires, threatening to sue and jail those behind the deals. He is likewise finishing 2019 with sustained high public trust and approval ratings.
The year 2019, however, has also been a bumpy ride for the President. He appeared battle-weary after facing several challenges arising from ninja cop controversy, criticisms on his dismissal of the Recto Bank incident as a small maritime accident, and speculations about his poor health.
He also had a falling out with Vice President Leni Robredo following her brief stint as anti-drug war czar.
But for the Palace, the President still performed well in various fronts, highlighting the bright spots in the past 12 months.
Faster poverty reduction After two quarters of slowdown, the local economy surged to 6.2 percent in the third quarter of 2019. The latest growth was faster compared to the 5.6 percent in the first quarter and 5.5 percent in the second quarter.
The Philippines also earned a “BBB+” rating upgrade from S&P Global Ratings amid the country’s strong economic growth trajectory, a notch away from the coveted “A” territory. A higher credit rating, or the country’s ability to manage and pay debts, is widely seen to improve the country’s attractiveness to investors.
According to Panelo, the improved credit rating is an expression of confidence on the leadership and administration of President Duterte. “The President has indeed invested in his political capital wisely with — upon the recommendation of his economic team — difficult but game-changing reforms such as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, the ‘Build, Build, Build’ Infrastructure Program, among others, which are important in achieving our goal of bringing a more comfortable life for all law-abiding Filipinos,” he said.
The country’s poverty incidence dropped to 16.6 percent in 2018 – from 23.3 percent in 2015 largely due to improved labor market conditions that raised salaries of workers. Around 5.9 million Filipinos have been lifted out of poverty last year.
“We are making headway in our poverty alleviation efforts,” Panelo said. “Even the President’s harshest critics would admit the number of poor Filipinos declined faster than expected in the last three years,” he said.
Investments approved by the Board of Investments (BOI) soared to ₱1.1 trillion, mainly in energy, telecommunications, and manufacturing.
“The independent foreign policy direction of the Chief Executive, making its doors open to more foreign direct investments creating plenty of livelihood and job opportunities for Filipinos, has made our economic growth robust, sustainable and inclusive,” Panelo said.
Peace in Mindanao
To further promote peace in Mindanao, Panelo said the government has inaugurated the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao last March. The normalization under the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro is also now on track. The program includes the gradual decommissioning of MILF forces and weapons, delivery of socio-economic development projects, and transitional justice and reconciliation program.
Duterte’s no-mercy campaign against corruption likewise continued to make headway in the past 12 months.
As of October, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission has completed 45 fact-finding investigations including the recommendation to file charges against 12 National Housing Authority officials over the alleged anomalous construction of housing project for typhoon Yolanda survivors.
Slaying high inflation
The administration also faced some challenges ranging from African swine flu, natural calamities, water crisis, and high inflation rate in the past 12 months.
“Although the country is still affected by the African swine fever (ASF), the Duterte administration had their hands on deck to prevent it from spreading throughout the country,” Panelo said.
Government agencies have been directed to coordinate and adopt policies and institute preventive measures to contain the outbreak of the swine flu.
The inflation rate soared to 6.7 percent last year but slowed down to 1.9 percent last November.
“Soaring inflation, which peaked at 6.7 percent last year, has been slain through the efforts of responsible agencies, and is now a thing of the past,” Panelo said, citing a “very tamed” inflation rate averaged at 2.5 percent.
“The Administration will maintain fiscal and monetary policies implemented by our economic managers to boost and further improve the country’s economy, while keeping inflation low for our local consumers, amidst emerging global threats,” he said.
government also sustained the war on drugs despite human rights concerns raised by some groups here and abroad. From July 2016 to November 2019, authorities conducted 151,601 anti-drug operations that resulted in the arrest of 220,728 drug personalities. At least 5,552 drug personalities were killed in the drug war.
At least 16,706 barangays have been declared drug-free while ₱31.25 billion worth of shabu have been seized by authorities.
The drug war however suffered a setback when no less than former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Oscar Albayalde was dragged into the ninja cop controversy. The President has not yet appointed Albayalde’s replacement at the helm of the PNP, and even raised the possibility of supervising the police force for the meantime.
No regrets on Robredo
Angered by Robredo’s criticisms on his drug war, Duterte offered her the job of the country’s drug czar, promising to give her the power of law enforcement in the next six months. A memorandum on the designation of Robredo to join the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) was eventually signed by the President last October 31.
The President, however, sacked Robredo less than three weeks after putting her in charge of the government’s anti-drug campaign. Duterte was not pleased with Robredo’s alleged missteps such as taunting him to fire her, consulting with foreigners, and seeking access to classified documents.
“The President has no regrets appointing the Vice Pesident as anti-drug war czar as the former gave the latter the rare opportunity to serve under his Administration,” Panelo said.
Water concession controversy
The water concession controversy also drew the ire of the President in recent weeks.
Duterte has threatened to charge the persons behind the alleged onerous and disadvantageous water contracts for economic plunder. He ruled forging out any compromise with the firms and even warned of a potential military takeover of the water operations.
Dealing with China
The President’s mettle continued to be tested by the lingering territorial dispute with China as well as the influx of Chinese workers and online gaming hubs in the country.
A political firestorm erupted after he admitted that China cannot be prevented from fishing in the country’s waters since they are in possession of the area. He mentioned a mutual agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping Xi that allows China to fish in the country’s waters after Beijing agreed not to block the access of Filipino fishermen to Panatag Shoal.
He also drew criticisms after describing the Recto Bank incident as a little maritime accident.
Twenty-fishermen were left stranded at sea when its boat was hit by a Chinese ship off Recto Bank last June 9. The local fishermen were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
Recently, the President disclosed that Xi pledged to give the Philippines a bigger share of the revenues from the exploration project as long as it sets aside the arbitral award that nullified China’s claims in the disputed area.
The government however refused to drop or abandon the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea dispute in favor of pursuing a joint oil project.
Instead, Manila would continue to address maritime conflict through peaceful negotiations with Beijing.
Before the end of the year, the President made a surprise announcement about the possibility of resuming the peace talks with the communist rebel group. The rebels however must lay down their arms and shun violence to show their sincerity in the revival of the peace talks, according to Panelo.
More needs to be done
In the coming year, the Palace recognized that more needs to be done to improve the conditions of Filipinos.
“The Chief Executive will continue to work harder for the remainder of his term to uplift more Filipino families out of poverty and hunger, and provide a more comfortable and prosperous life for all,” Panelo said