The Measure of a Man
We have officially entered the penultimate year of this administration last June 30. The last four years are testament to the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, yet many still do not understand, or refuse to understand, his unorthodox ways.
In the fourth quarter survey for 2019 of the Social Weather Stations, the results of which were released in March, the results showed public satisfaction with the President was at a record-high “excellent” net rating of +72. This was up by seven points from his “very good” +65 rating in September last year. It is the highest satisfaction rating of any president since the late Corazon Aquino’s +72 in October 1986.
President Duterte was also the only president to breach the 90% mark in terms of trust rating. According to Pulse Asia, he has the highest trust ratings compared to his three predecessors — Joseph Estrada (whose highest was 44%), Gloria Arroyo (55% in October 2001, plunged to record-low of 10% in February 2010) and Benigno Aquino III (highest rating at 80%).
This has prompted some political pundits to remark that President Duterte, the much-maligned, much-criticized probinsyano from Davao City, must be coated in Teflon. The figures must have also resulted in some vigorous hair-pulling among the chief executive’s critics.
To say that the President is polarizing is putting it nicely: You either love him or hate him. There is no middle ground. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. We need the support of Filipinos to implement the programs of the administration just as we need a robust opposition to keep us in check and on our toes.
My only concern is that we seem to lack critics who offer logical criticisms that are actually good for this nation.
Some have ridiculed him for the most petty of things: his Visayan accent, the way he dresses up, and the size of his nose that has ridiculously become bigger and bigger in certain political caricatures.
Others got stuck in his language. Colorful and punctuated with curses here and there, his words may not be that of the elite and of the self-professed decent people, but it is certainly the language of the masses fed up with the system traditionally ran by oligarchs who have enriched themselves while leaving ordinary Filipinos at the gutter. And yes, it is also the language of a simple man upon whose shoulders lie the burden of protecting and uplifting the lives of 108 million of his people.
There were those who raised the issue of human rights, citing alleged abuses in the government’s war against drugs as well as raising the specter of fear with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act. But violations of human rights have never been, and never will be, a state policy of this administration. They claim a systematic, government-sponsored attack, yet do so without offering proof and despite evidence to the contrary.
So how should we measure the success of this administration, and perhaps, in the process, the President’s commitment and love for this country and its people?
Do not take my word for it. I am, after all, a member of his communications team. Measure the man, instead, by looking at the tangibles.
● Under the Basic Education Facilities Program, a total of 137,098 classrooms were constructed in various schools nationwide as of May. To support the Department of Education’s Learning Continuity Plan, 271,538 ICT equipment have been delivered to schools as of May, and another set of 119,850 ICT equipment will be delivered before the end of the year.
● From 2016 to 2019, a total of P7.2 billion was spent for the construction of at least 197 evacuation centers nationwide. As of June 2020, 129 evacuation centers have already been completed. The government aims to build at least one evacuation center per province to minimize disturbance to school buildings being used as evacuation centers post-disaster. Out of the 81 provinces, 65 have at least one completed evacuation center.
● To boost tourism, P104.5 billion has been allocated to date to develop 3,667 kilometers of access roads to enhance connectivity to tourism sites. As of May, 1,950 kilometers of tourism roads have been completed.
● A total of P38.6 billion was spent for the construction or improvement of 3,859 kilometers of farm-to-market roads to help farmers across the country. As of May, 1,540 kilometers of these roads were completed.
● This month, the 89-kilometer Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway or TPLEX will be fully utilized from Tarlac City to Rosario, La Union, reducing travel time from 3.5 hours to 1 hour and benefitting 20,000 travelers daily.
● The 5.58-kilometer NLEX Harbor Link Segment 10 elevated expressway connecting McArthur Highway and C-3 was opened last year. The 2.6-kilometer C-3 – R10 Section (Exit Ramp), on the other hand, was opened in June. Travel time from NLEX to Radial Road 10 in Navotas City (and vice versa) was reduced from 1 hour to just 10 minutes, ensuring not just the movement of people but the timely delivery of goods to and from the Port of Manila.
● After nearly two decades and three administrations, the construction of the LRT-Line 1 Cavite Extension Project is now progressing, with 48% completion rate. The 11.7-km extension line will cut travel time between Baclaran and Bacoor, Cavite from 1 hour and 10 minutes to just 25 minutes. Partial operation for the first five stations is eyed by the last quarter of 2021.
And amid this pandemic that has shuttered even the strongest nations worldwide, President Duterte has done the best that he could to save lives and save the economy.
The national government, in partnership with the private sector and local government units, was able to execute the conversion of 11 public and private structures in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Laguna and Davao City into Mega Community Quarantine Facilities or We Heal As One Centers with total bed capacity of 2,584. Thirty units of Container Vans were also repurposed into mobile rooms which can be used as additional COVID-19 isolation facilities.
The chief executive’s early and decisive measures to combat the contagion saved thousands of lives. Epidemiological Models by the FASSSTER Project in April and the University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team as of June showed that government interventions such as the lockdown have prevented as much as 1.3 to 3.5 million infections. The lockdown gave us time to expand our testing capacity from just around 300 actual tests per day in March to more than 18,000 average daily tests this month.
It is true that our economy shrank by 0.2% in the first quarter of the year — the first contraction in two decades. Our unemployment rate in April stood at 17.7 percent. But President Duterte’s leadership has ensured we will be able to weather this health crisis.
Again, don’t take my word for it. Believe, instead, the BBB+ credit rating, the highest in our compass system, and the decision of international credit rating agencies to affirm our sovereign rating and keep them at investment grade level despite the pandemic. This is nothing short of a vote of confidence amid a sea of credit rating downgrades and negative outlook revisions worldwide, and some puddles of criticisms on the domestic front that we have failed miserably to protect businesses and jobs.
They say that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. And the past four years, and most especially the last four months, were nothing but challenging.
President Rodrigo Duterte will present his report card, so to speak, when he delivers his fifth State of the Nation Address on July 27. The man will face the nation again — flawed, never perfect, and yet as always, with the determination to do what is right.
JV Arcena is the Assistant Secretary for Global Media and Public Affairs of PCOO. Prior to joining the Philippine government, he previously worked for the U.S. Department of State’s Asia-Pacific Regional Media Hub. A former journalist and Palace reporter of TV5, JV covered politics, elections, global and regional issues, calamities, the judiciary, among others.