Final year: Duterte faces uphill battle vs drugs, corruption, pandemic

Published June 30, 2021, 9:38 AM

by Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte, catapulted to office on a campaign promise to eliminate illegal drugs and corruption in 2016, is on the final stretch of his presidency.

President Rodrigo Duterte (File photo/Malacañang)

And the President is first to admit that addressing the problem of illegal drugs and corruption remained an uphill battle despite some triumphs made by his administration. The President’s to-do-list has been compounded by the bruising challenges arising from the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, fresh tensions in the West Philippine Sea, and a potential inquiry of the International Criminal Court over the bloody war on drugs.

“Every administration will have its share of the problem of corruption. Do not ever think that if you will win as president, na wala ng corruption dito sa Pilipinas (there will be an end to corruption in the Philippines),” he said in a recent televised address.

The former Davao City mayor has expressed frustration over the endemic corruption in the bureaucracy, even offering to resign since he was getting fed up. He later conceded that eliminating corruption was an “impossible” task.

“Don’t expect me to entirely clean as a pristine clean bureaucracy. That is impossible and cannot really be achievable,” he said in a speech back in February.

Despite the difficulties in the anti-corruption drive, Duterte promised to use the remainder of his term to sustain the housecleaning in the bureaucracy. He started to read aloud names of officials either suspended or dismissed in office during his recent public addresses. More officials implicated in corruption will not be tolerated and will be next on the chopping block, he warned.

‘Never-ending drug problem’

When he campaigned for the presidency, the tough-talking leader promised to eradicate the drug problem in first three to six months in office. Duterte however was unable to keep his promise after facing the stark reality that the country’s illegal drug problem was massive.

“I said I can solve the problem in six months,” he said in another public address this month. “Little did I know that I will be fighting my own government. My critics were correct,” he said, citing the alleged involvement of some public officials in the illegal drug activity.

The government launched an aggressive war on drugs in 2016, that led to the death of thousands of drug suspects, many of them allegedly shot after resisting arrest. Human rights advocates here and abroad however have protested the alleged killings and other abuses in the drug war while a possible ICC inquiry on these alleged offenses is in the offing.

Duterte often issued his kill threat to those trying to destroy the nation with illegal drugs, insisting he has a duty to serve and protect the people. He found nothing wrong with his brazen threat to kill, adding he would defend cops performing their jobs but won’t condone abuses.

“You destroy the youth of the land, I will kill you. So what’s wrong with that? What law, what divine law or divine right will prevent me from saying, “P***** i** mo, papatayin kita?”” he said.

“I’m protecting my country. It is my duty as President to protect and serve the people of the Republic of the Philippines. So in obedience to that mandate, that is how I interpret it,” he said.

‘PH can’t afford a second wave of coronavirus’

Apart from the drug war and anti-corruption efforts, the coronavirus pandemic kept the President and his team busy in recent months as the virus affected lives and livelihood in the country.

The government focused on the response and recovery efforts, placing parts of the country in and out of strict lockdowns to curb the outbreak and setting aside funds for improvement in health care resources as well as vaccine procurement. Duterte claimed the government’s pandemic funds were dwindling but his economic team repeatedly assured that reserves were available.

The administration has drawn criticisms over the slow pandemic response but the Palace even took pride that pandemic response has been “excellent” before the onset of the new variants of the coronavirus. The public has often been reminded to follow health regulations to avoid infections. Duterte went as far as threatening to lock up those violating health protocols, particularly the rules on physical distancing and wearing of face mask and shield.

“We must triple our effort because I said, we do not know if it would require a new vaccine, which has to be invented first,” the President said during a televised address Monday, June 21.

“Second, we cannot afford a second wave because it might be far worse than the first, and then we will have a problem of our economy, and I said it would be a disaster for the country,” he added.

The government’s vaccination drive meantime was off to a slow start as the world’s vaccine supply was thin. Duterte went to blame the rich countries for cornering the bulk of the vaccine supplies. Nonetheless, the government moved to acquire more coronavirus vaccines and step up the inoculation drive.

At present, the country has 17.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, including the recent shipments of Sinovac and Moderna jabs. of the vaccination goal of 70 million adult Filipinos to attain herd immunity, more than 2.5 million people have been full vaccinated.

No compromise on West Philippine Sea

In recent months, the country also faced renewed tension with China over the West Philippine Sea dispute, after hundreds of foreign vessels were spotted in the local waters.

While the government filed a flurry of protests against the unlawful stay of the Chinese ships in the country’s waters, the President appeared reluctant to confront China and conceded the Asian neighbor remained a good friend and benefactor of the Philippines, citing its recent donation of COVID-19 vaccines. The government has chosen to pursue dialogue instead of use of force to manage the territorial conflict.

But as criticisms mounted over his alleged weak defense of the country’s territorial claims, Duterte assured Filipinos that he would not compromise the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea despite the friendly ties with China.

Priorities in final year

With a year left in office, the President felt that he has so far “complied” with his promises to the nation.

“Crime. Corruption. I only promise I will take care of criminality, drugs, corruption. And I will try to build infrastructure in the city that — those only that we can afford. Nandiyan naman lahat, nakita naman ‘yan. I have complied, actually,” he said.

The Palace said the President’s priorities in the final year in office would be sustaining the fight against drugs and corruption as well as battling the pandemic. “It hasn’t changed; it is still ensuring that every Filipino is vaccinated and his continuing campaign against corruption and prohibited drugs,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

But this early, Duterte already recognized that he still had some unfinished business, as he dropped hints of a possible vice presidential run in next year’s elections. He said running for vice president was not a bad idea, and a possible bid will depend if there will be a “space for me.”

Duterte, experiencing his share of highs and lows in the presidency, will bow out from office on June 30, 2022. The Constitution prohibits the President from seeking reelection. Duterte’s political party however has urged him to seek the vice presidency and choose the standard-bearer in the 2022 elections.