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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Pooled Editorial: The first 100 days: extreme caution ahead

THE first 100 days of the president of a country doesn’t measure success or failure. It covers just a tiny fraction of President Duterte’s 2,190 days or so in office.

Yet, assessing “the first 100” has become a tradition of sorts, inspired by the practice in the U.S., whose by-products of democratic precepts we tend to imitate. Since 1935 when president Franklin Delano Roosevelt coined the phrase, “the first 100” has been a favorite benchmark in governance.

The exercise continues to this day. Today our president completes his “first 100,” the period when a new president’s power and influence are at their height and could do the most good or worst harm.

The president is weighed and measured, not unlike the grading of a student, as when professor on public administration Prospero de Veyra graded then newly elected Benigno Aquino III in October 2010. Using the U.P. Diliman ratings (1 to 5, with 1 as the highest), de Veyra graded PNoy 1.8.

But grades don’t guarantee future performance, even if poll numbers are crunched scientifically. A Social Weather Stations survey (covering the period from Sept. 24-27) said Duterte got a net satisfaction rating of 64%, higher than his predecessors except Fidel Ramos: PNoy and Erap Estrada, 60% each, Cory Aquino, 53% (FVR got 66%).

The early rating, of course, didn’t assure how they would end up; crisis after crisis could drag them down.

Useful list

On Duterte, a more useful way may be to list what he may do more, and less, of the things he did in his first 100 days.

He can shift from shock-and-awe, scare-and-threaten tactics in the war on drugs to modernizing and improving strategies in prosecuting drug offenders and reducing the drug menace. The public has not been told of moves to upgrade police skills and equipment in combating crime, speed up and sharpen capability to prosecuted suspects, remove impediments in court trials, and improve rehab methods and facilities.

Without abandoning the anti-illegal drugs campaign, he can also give some focus on other areas of concern: the economy, corruption, public services (e.g. traffic, mass transport), health and safety, education, poverty. Listening to his rant, one would think there were no other ills of the nation but drug trafficking and drug abuse.

He can slow down and review some things he said and did and weigh cost against benefit, such as the issue of alienating United States and European Union, when new partnerships can be explored without abandoning existing alliances.

He can bring his point home, send his message across without the obscenity. Maybe some cuss word but not to wound or maim character. He does not have to always speak diplomatese but he needs to know what he cannot say or do in public since he doesn’t just do and speak for himself but for the entire nation. He can still be funny, folksy, warm or “colorful,” which is how President Obama politely identifies, and yet not wreck damage on himself, his office and the national interest.

Hard part

Duterte’s first 100 days have proved the potential of his administration to bring about the change that all presidents promise but only he could do with drama and hype. His 91% trust rating polled by Pulse Asia last July 2 to 8 must tell us the reservoir of good will from his people.

That might be squandered by his language and posturing, which led to instances when he had to apologize or explain.

Duterte’s “first 100” has been crucial for him and the people he leads. And the hard part is not over. Even allies of the president call for extreme caution, one senator even warning that he might “fall on his own sword.” Those who love their country would perish the thought.
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