Crime, traffic: Tirades aside, what Duterte has done so far

 06 Oct 2016 - 16:19

Crime, traffic: Tirades aside, what Duterte has done so far
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (C) clenches fist with members of the Philippine Army during his visit at the army headquarters in Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines October 4, 2016. (Reuters / Romeo Ranoco)

By Ditas Lopez and Andreo Calonzo / Bloomberg

Rodrigo Duterte’s promise of radical change helped win him power in one of Asia’s oldest democracies. Since taking office in the Philippines, he’s certainly shaken things up.

But while his profanity-littered tirades capture headlines, alongside a war on drugs that has seen more than 3,000 people killed, what about his key campaign pledges?

“He is like a stereo. On one channel, he is shock and awe -- a lot of pronouncements, a lot of revelations,” said Segundo Romero, a professorial lecturer in development studies at the Ateneo de Manila University. “When you look at the actual management in government work, which is planning what to do, making decisions and making things happen, that has really not moved so much.”

The former Davao mayor, 71, inherited one of Asia’s strongest economies with growth around seven percent. But his challenges are complex and long-running, ranging from terrible traffic jams in the capital to creaking infrastructure to high crime rates. And while Duterte’s popularity is high (a poll released Thursday put his net satisfaction rating at “very good” three months in), he needs to deliver on the economy to reassure investors who have pulled money out of local markets in recent weeks.

“The older you get the more impatient you become,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said at a recent briefing. “That’s the hallmark of the president. He’s very impatient. That means we’re going to get things done faster.” Nearly 100 days in, here’s where Dutertestands:

Drugs and Crime

Duterte has repeatedly vowed to make ordinary Filipinos feel safer by tackling illegal drugs and crime. “I have long warned them to stop using drugs. Now, they still have not stopped. They asked for their own death, not me,” he said in June.

His campaign has seen over 22,000 drug suspects arrested and about 731,000 people turn themselves in. Half the deaths have been at the hands of the police.

Human rights groups argue that innocent people or those who are simply addicts risk being killed, and that the campaign won’t halt drug use. Duterte has publicly attacked leaders from U.S. President Barack Obama to United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon for questioning his actions.

For now Duterte is undeterred. “Our next move is to go after the high-value targets. My goal is to see every village free from drugs,” National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa said by phone, adding the volume of crime has fallen 49 percent.

Curbing Corruption

Duterte has pledged to crack down on graft, urging senior officials to shun sports cars while banning the use of honorifics like “your excellency” for himself and his cabinet.

Since taking office he has accused senior police officials of being on the take and oligarchs of using their influence to promote business interests. “I would hate to read your names in public and maybe authorize your arrest,” he said in August, referring to big tax evaders.

Duterte is seeking to simplify government transactions to minimize opportunities for graft. At the Bureau of Customs, an office was created to centralize collections. He’s asked local governments to cut the time for new business registrations to two days from several weeks and automate some transactions. As of late September, more than 70 percent of 1,389 local governments surveyed were in compliance, according to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.

Polluting Miners

Duterte and Environment Secretary Gina Lopez have targeted miners, ordering them to comply with environmental rules or shut down. The country is the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore used in China’s stainless steel industry.

After an initial audit, 10 miners were suspended and 20 were told “to get their act together” or risk an operations halt. The environment department is sending letters to companies facing potential suspension and giving them a week to respond, with a final decision on their future by the end of the month, Environment Undersecretary Leo Jasareno said this week in an interview.

Still, miners on the warning list say they are confident of staying open. And Duterte’s actions could rebound: Chamber of Mines President Philip Romualdez has said that $25 billion of investments are on hold and three quarters of a million people could lose their jobs.

Traffic Jams

Filipinos have long bemoaned snarling traffic jams and creaking mass transport. Transport agency chief Arthur Tugade pledged to capitalize on “euphoria” after Duterte’s win to get things moving.

Duterte has settled a longstanding dispute so two of three elevated railway lines in Manila can now be interconnected. He has sought emergency powers so he can put roads through private subdivisions, ban provincial buses on a major highway and increase the capacity of metro lines, according to officials. But he’s made little tangible progress.

In the longer term, Duterte has signaled he’s willing to take Chinese money for infrastructure, something his predecessor was loathe to do given territorial tensions in the South China Sea.

Economic Reforms

For Pantaleon Alvarez -- leader of the majority bloc supporting Duterte in the lower house -- economic growth is “meaningless” unless it benefits the poor. He’s pushing to pass by mid-2017 a package to cut personal income tax and adjust excise taxes on petroleum products.

The Finance Department has submitted its first package of tax reforms. “Without reforming our tax system -- so that it becomes fairer, simpler and more efficient -- the government cannot undertake the volume of spending required to achieve our goals,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said at the time.

Duterte aims to reduce poverty to 17 percent in six years from 26 percent now, and make the Philippines a high-income country in one generation. “This is not a pipe dream,” Dominguez told a recent business gathering. But to do that, growth must stay at 7 percent for the next generation, he said.

Creating Jobs

The economy is underpinned by remittances from Filipinos working overseas. While growth is helping keep a lid on unemployment -- the jobless rate is 5.4 percent -- Duterte has pledged to improve both the quality of work available and pay.

His administration is studying a nationwide minimum wage. “The difference in salary encourages migration, causing an explosion of the population in Manila and leading to other problems,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said by phone.

The government is moving to halve the number of workers on short-term contracts before the end of the year, Bello said. “His endgame is to see to it that our countrymen will no longer have to go abroad to look for employment,” Bello said of Duterte. “It’s a long-term goal, but he’s starting to create the climate for local and foreign investment.”

Peace in Mindanao

Decades of conflict in Muslim-dominated Mindanao have left the southern island with the highest poverty rate in the country.

“We want an inclusive approach to the peace process,” Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said by phone. A second round of talks in Oslo with Maoist groups starts Thursday.

Still, achieving peace is a big ask, and Duterte has said he doesn’t want to deal with the Islamic Abu Sayyaf group. “Even during our time, we can achieve only milestones,” Dureza said. “Peace building is a lifetime.”

With assistance from Cecilia Yap and Norman P. Aquino