In front of the nation on his third year, what face will President Rody Duterte present come July 23?
So far, the President has exhibited four faces in the past two years. The Romans have the two-faced statue of Janus, but Duterte, a Filipino, has four to put him above the fallen Romans.
Before the Filipino electorate in 2016, he was a fighting man of action, benevolent to the poor and downtrodden, a man of the masses down to his boots and faded denim jacket, promising to correct the century old-iniquities that has kept the country beholden to the imperialists.
Politically, economically, socially he has become the face of the Filipino in the cusp of history, a man who will usher in progressive changes in the way the country is being governed, and an end to the oligarchs who for centuries have been the lap dogs of global powers.
On his first year he has promised to put an end to the drug menace that has threatened to destroy the Filipino youth, and with it the nation.
He has put on the face of a warrior, cursing and threatening death and damnation to the users and pushers of illegal drugs. His eyes reduced to a slit, he has called on the police and the military, and the local barangay heads to cooperate in exterminating the drug traffickers, jailing or even killing the alleged drug lords or pushers and their influential backers, putting users in rehabilitation centers, destroying shabu manufacturing laboratories and compiling a narco list of politicians and other community leaders.
Economically, he has announced his massive infrastructure program, doubling the salaries of policemen and military personnel while conveniently glossing over the salary increases of other government personnel, specially those in government corporations and financial institutions.
Buoyed by the increased gross domestic product and increased remittances by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), for which he cannot claim policy ownership, he has ordered tax reforms in the income tax system and minimal wage increments for the wage workers.
He has also promised to end the illegal and immoral contractualization of labor and to put a stop to the unjust wage structure bedeviling minimum wage workers.
In terms of social protection, he has ordered the increase in the pensions of retirees by P1,000 and promised another P1,000 by 2020 conditionally. He has likewise announced tuition free tertiary education for all state universities and colleges. Through it all, he has shown the smiling face of a socialist reformer, eliciting praise and adoration from the millions who voted him President. Although joblessness has dogged his initiatives in the labor front.
To his political enemies he has become ruthless, vengeful and unrelenting—witness his face when he delivers his tirades against Senator Leila De Lima, former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Senator Antonio Trillanes.
Sensing the widening gap between him and civil society and the Church, he has fulminated against critics who score his administration for the thousands of extrajudicial killings. He shows the same snarling countenance when he fires subordinates whom his inner circle, denouncing them as “corrupt” or “inefficient.”
Among the casualties were Leftists in his Cabinet, like Rafael Mariano of DAR, Judy Taguiwalo of DSWD, and Terry Ridon of the Youth Commission.
His second year saw the fruition of some of his campaign promises. The budget department has resolved the controversy over the funding of the free tertiary education policy, so much so that this semester has seen the first batch of university students enjoying free tuition for baccalaureate degrees in state colleges and universities—although it is not totally free as there were miscellaneous fees the students and their parents still have to shoulder.
The tax reform law (TRAIN) has been enacted and implemented with so much fanfare and so much regret by housewives and low income workers who were made to think everything will be rosy since the tax exemption has been raised to P250,000 per year.
Almost weekly price surges simply wiped out whatever savings the workers and their families enjoyed with the new tax exemptions.
Duterte’s economic managers keep on assuaging the sore feelings of consumers by predicting inflation to taper down this month and the next, but from all indications, the prices of goods and services will continue to shoot up.
The killings have not abated, punctuated by the destruction of Marawi City on the basis of intelligence that the fanatical ISIS, represented by the Maute group, has threatened national security. Unconfirmed reports have been filtering through media outlets that drug lords are also behind the Maute group, and are behind the proliferation of narcotics in Mindanao. Well, MIndanao is already under martial law and there are fears will be extended al over the country, in view of the breakdown in the peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF revolutionaries.
After his unfortunate railings against the Catholic Church, and the media storm it created, Duterte is now pictured as contrite and even kissing the hands of the prelate from Davao. What could this be? Another propaganda point for the President before his state of the nation address (SONA) on JuLy 23.
More than 90% of Filipinos are church goers, some may not be believers in the faith, but this latest antic, Duterte’s fourth face. has not set well with the Filipinos. More so his failures in the field of foreign relations as he has been accused of having already bartered Philippine sovereignty with the Chinese.
His drive towards federalism may or may not resolve the issues confronting his administration, but Duterte seems non-plussed. His satraps dismiss the fall in the President’s ratings as only natural, and he is still up compared with previous Presidents.
There is still much to await from the President in terms of socially alleviating policies under a Federal structure. Duterte has even promised to step down once the proposed Charter change is ratified by the people in a plebiscite next year.
To the farmers and workers however, who feel downgraded , the social justice provisions of the 1987 Constittuion having been omitted deliberately in the draft Constitution submitted by the Duterte study committee, headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, nothing more can be expected of the Duterte government. His promises to totally ban contractualization, provide genuine land reform and improve the lives of the millions of workers who remain jobless and their families wallowing in hunger will always be broken promises.