We voted for change in 2016, and we saw change actually happening since. But we are still hoping for change, real change that will go a long way, change that will be sustainable and get the country to really develop.
The first three years was full of optimism as we saw reform after reform and realized that good and strong leadership can come a long way, as so many problems that before seemed inscrutable, inextricable, or plain and simple unsolvable were, one by one, dealt with and resolved.
In a previous writing “The Duterte Enigma”, we noted how and why the people chose an unorthodox leader to be President. We already had so much of the same leadership, only the names and faces seem to change every election.
Change is always promised during the campaign but we always end up having just the same kind of leadership after elections. The same interests are promoted, and the same sectors are undermined. Officials always assert the economy is robust but no one who needs advancement most feels any difference; in fact, they even end up worst.
So, out of the 5 candidates, the one who is markedly different, from the way he talks, dresses up, thinks and acts, and comes from way down south was chosen by the people.
The people must have thought we can try a different one, a really different one, whose distinct traits were prominently displayed from the campaign and up to now that he is President. But it’s not the first time the voters will choose one they think to be different from among the choices. It’s only that this time, the voters chose the one who is really obviously different, perhaps it was an effort to make sure we can expect the change many have been wanting (Read “Crossroad of Philippine Politics").
This explains why in each Presidential election, the administration candidate is always at a disadvantage. The only time an administration candidate won as President was in 1992. Perhaps it was because there were 11 candidates then that the voters ended up significantly divided and therefore the advantage of being in government made the difference.
Many are now saying it will be different come 2022. The President’s popularity is unprecedented and therefore his anointed successor will likely win. Some even argue that an administration win is more likely, especially if the Presidential daughter runs to take his father’s place.
Of course, this may be true if elections are held today or much earlier. The President, no doubt, is so popular despite the many issues thrown and used against his administration. And these are not so simple issues--extra-judicial killings, being China’s lackey, even going as far as linking the first family to drug syndicates, and many more. The question is how this popularity can be sustained up to the last day in office.
The supporters of the President remain because of the promise of change, and as already mentioned, this promise has been shown in the many firsts that have been introduced in government.
We have to ask, however, if there are other changes that can be expected in the next months and more in the next 2 years at least. More changes that can possibly ensure that whoever the President endorses to the people will really get their support, as he did when he was elected in 2016 and up to now that he is already President. Take note that popularity can soar in a snap, but can plunge as fast or even faster.
For every President, this sudden drop of popularity has been seen. It takes just one big issue, whether it's a sitting President’s own mistake or a failure of his people, it will always be imputed to him.
Remember the PEA-Amari scandal during Fidel V. Ramos’ time and the jueteng payola that brought down Erap? Of course, the case of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is entirely different. She was no longer as popular when she was elected as Vice President in 1998 and took over as President in 2001 compared to her election in 2004. The "Hello Garci" scandal was just icing on the cake. The same can be said of the Mamasapano massacre that forever changed the image of President Noynoy Aquino.
From day one of the Duterte presidency, there were obvious deliberate attempts by the opposition to bring down not only his numbers but the presidency itself. Serious attempts were made to destroy his image abroad and get the international community to help in discrediting him domestically.
All of these didn't seem to work and instead, as if to show that previous leaders really lost support from the people substantially, the president did not only remain popular, he seemed to have become even more popular.
More than just popularity however, it is a question of performance and impact on the day-to-day lives of the people, especially the basic sectors of society. Performance, as we have seen in the past 3 years, is the very measure of the President’s popularity.
Everyone who is really and sincerely supportive of the President knows that to continue serving the real interests of the people is the very reason why he is loved by many. He may not pursue so many of the promised far-reaching changes, say perhaps federalism, and remain popular, but for any action or inaction that results in actual injury to the people, it will undoubtedly make him unpopular. Hopefully, this unpopularity doesn't result to love lost.
Someone has to sound the alarm. It is time for many to make an effort to understand policy so as to have a full grasp of who actually gains and loses. We should start with the rice tariffication law that was recently passed and see how and why it has resulted in the kind of losses being experienced by our farmers. Some have been saying that this new law could have served its real purpose if it was passed as it was proposed. So, the question is why it didn't result to what was expected to be the result? Who is responsible for what?
Palay prices have gone down considerably, as has been reported in the news. The slump in the price of copra, on the other, hand has not been given much attention but has been hurting farmers as much. Meanwhile, there is growing advocacy to liberalize the sugar industry.
In many countries, farmers are always the first to be supported by the state to the point that the farming sector even determines who gets to lead the country. Sadly, in the Philippines, they have always been the most marginalized. How much productive lands have we lost in the past so many years to unproductive but financially rewarding endeavors? And we thought it would now be different for them, that is, for the good.
We haven’t even mentioned the scandal brought about by the now infamous law called Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA). Yes, the law was enacted by the previous administration. Yes, the freeing of prisoners started as early as 2013, way before this administration started. But that is no excuse to free convicts who did not only commit heinous crimes but also significantly disturbed public consciousness. If a law is found to be actually wanting, whether the Republic Act itself or its implementing rules, the authorities should have straightaway pursued a review, at the very least. But, of course, the opposite happened.
Some may already be looking towards 2022, but many still remain focused on the now and the next 2 years of good work in government. So much can still be done, even systemic changes, but so much depends on the work of the people in government, especially those who have been, supposedly, supportive of the President.
(The author is the Executive Director of the Local Government Development Foundation and a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government.)
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.