The last of President Rodrigo Duterte’s state of the nation addresses (SONAs) is at hand. In his Inquirer column today, Peter Wallace is a bit profuse in his praise of the President. He went on to “preempt his Sona by listing some of the achievements he accomplished, some that previous presidents shied away from, or were unable to accomplish”, and then writes…
But probably one of his greatest and most long-lasting legacies will be the “Build, build, build” program. His government more than doubled the percent of GDP spent on infrastructure and elicited foreign government and private sector support for 112 major projects. An essential if you want business to grow, and people to have communities they can live in.
In my personal experience, on the other hand, the government bureaucracy continues to suck big-time. Digitization is not being adopted by government departments and agencies. Local government units (LGUs) are the same. The resistance from bureaucrats is intense because it threatens their livelihoods. But what I can truly say is the six years of Duterte flew by compared to the agony of waiting for the Aquino administration that preceded his to step down. That was mental torture. What Duterte will say in his last SONA is top of mind among political pundits. This is his valedictory address to Congress and to the Filipino people before the campaign season sets in.
As Wallace points out, there are more reform measures pending before Congress. There is still enough time to get these passed provided our lawmakers don’t fall into the trap of politicking. Their priority is not these measures but the election year budget. August marks the start of the budget season for government departments and agencies. The budgets will be submitted to the House Appropriations Committee for review then the budget hearings will commence. There is incentive for the Congressmen to pass the budget before the end of the year because the campaign period for the local elections begin in March.
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There is also the ban on public works spending to be mindful of. The President admitted to not knowing anything about the economy and left it in the hands of someone who does. If it were not for the pandemic, the President would have been able to report gains during his six-year term. As it is, the pandemic put the economy into a recession but Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has proven to be both adept and pro-active. Congress finally passed amended portions of the tax reform program he put forth at the beginning of the administration. There are still pending measures in Congress which are essential components of the economic recovery program. These should be passed before the administration bows out on June 30, 2022.
By far, the greatest legacy of the Duterte administration is infrastructure development as Wallace highlights. Big-ticket and small-ticket projects alike were completed within six years. Some of these were awarded during the tail end of the Aquino administration. What the Opposition fails to take cognizance of is the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center was only able to get its act together in the last two years of its tenure. What was announced as the flagship program of the Aquino administration turned out to be a dud. The symbol of the failure is the “magpapa-sagasa kami sa tren” remarks made during the speech announcing the LRT-1 extension from Baclaran to Cavite. This was in 2013. By 2016, groundbreaking on the construction hadn’t even begun. The Duterte administration had to twist the arm of the Ayala-MVP joint-venture which was awarded the operations and maintenance contract of LRT-1 to get the project moving. It is finally being built.
There is also the increased government spending on social services. Free tertiary education, universal healthcare and the Malasakit Centers constructed in the regions as well as the upgrade of government-owned hospitals. The upgraded “Build Build Build” (BBB) program now includes the expansion of existing government-owned hospitals and the construction of new hospitals where they are urgently needed as part of the effort to build up healthcare capacity in the midst of the pandemic.
The greatest threat to economic recovery is still the pandemic. The news yesterday that the Delta variant has been detected locally doesn’t bode well for the economy. The government will again be put to a serious test as the rest of the world has been grappling with a Delta-induced surge. This could also have an effect on the conduct of the 2022 election if the situation becomes as worse as it is in countries in the midst of this surge.
Duterte is the only post-Marcos President who has been able to maintain his approval rating from start to finish. Filipinos are generally satisfied with his performance. It wasn’t a perfect administration with not all of the promises being kept but the people felt the change that he promised during the campaign even if he had been hampered by the vilification and black propaganda campaign organized by the Opposition. The Mayor who did not do well academically has finally obtained a passing mark when and where it counted the most. Daghang salamat kaayo Manong.
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