It was sad to see a Head of a State use a single and narrow lens to explain development—-it is a drug problem. It was sadder to realize how a national leader has managed to influence a nation to believe that we were fighting a war! The drug problem became the focus of government’s agenda including those of the local governments. Resources were devoted to “tokhang,” constructing rehabilitation centers, arming the police, and conducting drug raids. How we managed to convince the country to believe that it is fine to kill alleged drug addicts in exchange for respecting the value of life remains a mystery. It is saddest that he has a very limited view of the responsibilities and powers of the Presidency. Based on his speech, it is having the power to promote a Chief of Police to become a four star general. It is a simple process of scaling up the Davao experience. But I have news for him though. The whole country is not Davao. There are local governments, like Valenzuela City, where it only takes from 15 to 30 minutes to complete a transaction with government instead of the three days benchmark in Davao.
The SONA (state of the national address) enables us to understand how the President has simplified the solution to many problems. Stamping out corruption and inefficiencies of government personnel is a matter of throwing invectives at them. “Murahin ninyo” and the case becomes closed. He thinks disempowerment of citizens is caused by their lack of aggressiveness. They would obtain justice if they only had bravado. Violence against children would cease because the President says he will kill those who cause them harm.
People lap up these approaches because they want instant solution of problems. They view a leader as a swashbuckling warrior who will slay the dragon in one swoop. For almost six years, they saw the President as a mythical character like Superman and Spiderman.
But reality is far from the myth. Corruption can only be solved by instituting systems of transparency, checks and balance, and processes to instill accountability. These include implementing a system of incentives and disincentives where the corrupt and inefficient are sanctioned in accordance with the rule of law. Empowerment involves providing opportunities for ordinary citizens to be heard, to take part in decision -making, and building their capacity to understand issues and discuss them openly. The protection of children necessitates a system and holistic program starting from their conception to their schooling.
The SONA shows us the sad state of the nation and its citizens. How prone have we become to believing stories without validating if they were true and based on facts. He believes that the tax reforms that government has passed financed the infrastructure that government gloats about. The government brandished that the reforms would raise at least a trillion. A simple fact check shows that the additional revenues that BIR generated in 2018 after the reforms were passed amounted to P179 billion. In 2019, the additional revenues amounted to P224 billion. Many of the infrastructure projects such as Skyway Stage 3 were financed by the private sector. Government is giving us a distorted view of history since many of the much touted “Build, Build, Build” projects such as the LRT2 and the MRT 7 were started by the Aquino government. The public is led to believe that PPPs can be completed in such a short period. We need to understand that feasibility studies have to be made, due diligence has to be conducted, bid proposals must be evaluated—and there are a hundred problems to be solved such as Right of Way and negotiating and resettling informal settlers.
The SONA attempts to make us believe that investors can be lured with the legislation of laws like CREATE and trade liberalization. We may have the best laws and provide generous tax incentives, but without a rule of law where contracts and rights are respected, investors will not come. What sense of security will they get if government threatens to expropriate their assets without rhyme or reason or being posed with a threat that the military will take over their operations?
The other “magic formula” is the creation of additional Departments to attend to the problems of overseas workers and promote good governance. It is as if our current bureaucracy is thin and not bloated. And there is the “Malasakit Center “where people praise a Senator as a source of mercy and aid. The center uses taxpayers’ money and should not be shamelessly used for political purposes.
But some things turned out positive—like the drop in poverty incidence from 23.5% to 16.7% prior to the pandemic. But we must give credit where credit is due. The cash transfer program started with the Arroyo government and was broadened by President Aquino. To the credit of the Duterte administration, the program has been continued. And of course, the President was proud of “Fitch and Poor” upgrade in our credit rating.
But sadly, the pandemic has put things in disarray. The SWS survey says that 49% of adult Filipnos feel that they have become worse-off. The Philippines was ranked 52 out of 53 countries in terms of Covid resilience.
We can only pray in his last months in office, the President will realize that development is not just about the drug problem.