Did change come under former President Duterte?
First of a series on the legacy of the Duterte administration
When then-Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016, he carried with him the promise to bring about real and lasting change to the Filipino people.
Six years later, the Duterte administration would say the President was able to do exactly that, claiming that he left behind a better Philippines than the one handed to him by his predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino III.
Speaking during a summit last May that touted the Duterte administration’s accomplishments, then-Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that Duterte’s leadership, while unconventional, was the kind of leadership the nation needed.
“In the last 6 years of borrowed time, we were able to establish the needed change that our countrymen and women deserve -- serbisyong tunay na malasakit, especially to those that needed it most,” Medialdea said.
“While this may be a closing chapter of a great moment for our nation, I am confident that President Duterte’s legacy will not only be talked about in the years ahead but will also be felt by the generations to come.”
FREE COLLEGE TUITION
For Commission on Higher Education chair Prospero De Vera, Duterte’s most lasting legacy is the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education, which was signed into law in 2017.
The measure made tuition and miscellaneous fees free for students in State and Local Universities and Colleges.
“This landmark legislation that is truly, only, and exclusively a tatak Duterte-- because it was started under the Duterte administration--allowed public universities, 112 State Universities and Colleges, and close to 100 local government-created universities and colleges to launch a program in 2018 that allowed every young Filipino to dream and achieve their education,” De Vera said during the Duterte Legacy Summit.
As of 2022, 1.97 million Filipino students in 220 Higher Educational Institutions had benefited from the law. Another 364,168 students were provided with financial subsidies under the Tertiary Education Subsidy and Tulong Dunong program, also under the same law.
For new graduate Mavic Anes, the free college tuition law allowed her to continue her education, even after her single mother became among the first fatalities of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“Noong kasagsagan ng COVID, namatay ang nanay ko, so sobrang laking tulong sa akin para hindi na po mahirapan ang mga kapatid ko,” Añes said, adding that she did not want to be a burden to her siblings, who each have their own family to support.
Añes finished her Information Technology degree at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines last May.
Then-acting Presidential spokesman and Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Duterte’s display of strong political will allowed the government to gain much headway towards resolving a number of the country’s problems during his term, such as the decades-old Mindanao conflict.
Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law in July 2018, a move seen to be a significant step towards attaining lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao. The landmark measure paved the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao or BARMM, giving the Bangsamoro government more power and control over the region’s resources.
“Dahil sa political will ni Presidente Duterte ay napirmahan, naisabatas ang Bangsamoro Organic Law, na naging daan para magkaroon ng Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao na napakatagal na, sa napakatagal na panahon, napaka gulo ng lugar na yan. At isa yan sa mga rason kung bakit walang gustong mag-invest sa Mindanao, o sa Pilipinas, meron tayong masamang imahe. Pero ngayon, meron nang peace and order dyan sa area na yan,” Andanar said.
The Department of National Defense reported that as of 2022, some 19,200 combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and 2,100 weapons had been decommissioned as part of the ongoing peace process.
While the political transition period of the BARMM was extended 3 more years with the postponement of the region’s regular elections from 2022 to 2025, the Duterte administration remained optimistic for a future of lasting peace and progress in the Bangsamoro.
Andanar said Duterte’s political will also led to the rehabilitation of Boracay island, the country’s most famous tourist destination.
Duterte in 2018 ordered Boracay closed for six months, after years of overpopulation, abuse and unchecked commercialization turned the island into what he called a “cesspool.” What followed was a massive overhaul of the island and implementation of stricter environment and building laws.
“Alam mo, naalala ko noong Boracay rehabilitation, ang daming mga nag-oppose nyan, especially yung mga businessmen, kasi naturally, mawawalan ng negosyo, mawawalan ng trabaho, pero kita naman natin ang Boracay ngayon, naka-bounce back sila, at napakaganda ng Boracay,” Andanar said.
“Siguro, walang ibang makakagawa noon kundi si Presidente Rodrigo Roa Duterte lang. I would say, ang ginagawa nya lang, kung ano ang tama, at kung ano yung maganda for the majority of the Filipino people.”
Aside from these, the Duterte administration also provided free irrigation for farmers with less than 8 hectares of agricultural land, established One- Stop Shops and the Emergency Hotline 8888 to improve the delivery of government services, and increased salaries of uniformed personnel, Andanar said.
INCLUSIVE GROWTH AND PROSPERITY
For then-Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Duterte’s term will be remembered as the time when the country made the turn towards more inclusive growth and prosperity.
“With President Duterte's bold leadership and strong political will, many socio-economic reforms measures that languished for decades on the shelves of Congress were finally enacted into law,” he said during the Duterte Legacy Summit.
These included the Rice Tariffication Law, which lowered the price of the country’s staple food while providing funds for mechanization, high-quality seeds and access to credit and training for farmers. In addition, the Coco Levy Law, signed in 2021, marked Duterte’s promise to return the over P75 billion in coco levy funds that had once been arbitrarily taken from coconut farmers.
The Duterte administration also implemented the most comprehensive tax reform program in the country, which provided funds to finance the government's expanded social services and infrastructure programs. In particular, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act or TRAIN reduced personal income taxes for 99% of Filipinos taxpayers, a much-needed relief after 20 years of non-adjustment, Dominguez said.
“Through TRAIN, we have basically given out a 14th-month pay every year to our wage earners,” he said.
The Duterte administration also invested heavily on modern infrastructure, raising infrastructure spending to above 5% of GDP.
“Under this administration, big-ticket infrastructure projects that were faced with delays for decades were finally implemented, providing quality jobs to over 6.5 million people,” he said.
But for then-Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, Duterte will also be remembered for the many missed opportunities during his six-year term. This includes his failure to use the country’s landmark arbitral win in 2016 to assert the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea in favor of improved ties with China.
“Ang binanggit lang ni Pangulong Duterte, at the proper time, he will assert our victory. E pa-exit na nga siya eh, hindi pa niya ginawa yan,” Zarate said.
“Economically, ano bang naging pakinabang natin sa China? Nung nag-pivot to China si Duterte? Maraming pinangako na mga economic benefits but after six years, puro utang kung titignan mo, napaka-onerous ng provisions ng utang na yon.”
Zarate also regrets the President’s decision to close the door on peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP). In 2018, Duterte formally terminated negotiations with communist rebels by institutionalizing localized peace engagements through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict or the NTF-ELCAC.
“Alam naman natin, sa experience natin in the past na yung mga local negotiations na yan is just euphemism for surrender and capitulation. Yung problem ng land, hindi pwedeng 'Isolve mo yan sa probinsya sa Samar ay okay na ang rebellion sa bansa' dahil meron pang problema sa ibang problema ng bansa,” Zarate explained.
“Kaya, mag-eexit na si Duterte sa June 30, yung pinangako nila na this rebellion will end during my term, hindi nangyari yon, dahil nandyan pa rin ang problema.”
Zarate said Duterte also wasted the chance to finish once and for all the practice of labor contractualization, also known as 'Endo' or 'End of Contract' (short-term employment contract), during his term, to the detriment of Filipino workers.
“Ang sabi nya noon, first day niya palang sa Malacanang, tapos na ang Endo na yan. Mag-eendo na lang si Duterte sa June 30 and that’s the biggest missed opportunity,” he said.
“Sabi nila, hindi talaga kakayanin na i-end contractualization but that’s precisely the case kaya mas lalong lumulubog ang ating ekonomiya.”
PRESSED FOR TIME
In a speech on May 23, Duterte apologized for the shortfalls of his administration. He explained that if he had failed to follow through on some of his programs, it was because his time in office was only limited.
“In a few days, I will be out. ‘Yung nagawa ko, para sa ‘kin, ‘yun na ‘yon, the best that my efforts can really achieve. Kung kulang pa ‘yun, pasensya na, hindi ko na talaga kaya. The things that I failed to do most were not because of negligence or may mga shortcomings ako but talagang time – kasi six years would not be enough to finish all the projects,” he said.
As Duterte was counting the remaining days of his term, Filipinos may have been looking back at his earlier promise to bring about change in the Philippines, and a significant number may have agreed.
As reflected in independent pollsters' surveys, Duterte stepped down with the highest net satisfaction rating among all presidents post-1986. In the fourth quarter of 2021 survey of Social Weather Stations (SWS), for instance, 75% of adult Filipinos said they were satisfied, 9% undecided, and 15% dissatisfied with Duterte's performance. This gave him a net satisfaction rating of +60, classified by SWS as "very good."
Filipinos may have felt that change did come, but more work needs to be done by the next administration.