FROM being a local chief executive of one of the major cities in the Philippines -- Davao City, tough-talking Rodrigo Duterte emerged to being the country’s top government official in 2016 with a promise to implement change, especially to elevate the peace and order situation in the Philippines.
Duterte ruled Davao City for 22 years -- from February 1988 to June 1998, June 2001 to 2010, and June 2013 to 2016.
As a former practicing lawyer and a prosecutor, Duterte was critical of criminals and this is what made Davao City one of the safest places not only in the country but also in the world, one thing he wanted to do with the rest of the archipelago.
Duterte was tagged as “the punisher” and his iron-fist undoubtedly caught the hearts of the Filipinos thirsty for change, translating to his landslide victory when he ran for president in 2016.
End illegal drugs, criminality
The fight against illegal drugs and criminality has become the centerpiece of the Duterte administration.
Drug abuse and criminality, according to authorities, are interconnected as most of the criminals are able to do what they do, especially heinous crimes, due to the influence of drugs.
Duterte’s ambitious dream was to end the drug problem within the first three to six months of his term. If it will not happen, he said he would resign.
Duterte put the Philippine National Police (PNP), then headed by one of his staunch supporters, General Ronald dela Rosa, in the frontline of the so-called “drug war.”
The PNP launched “Oplan Tokhang” under the Oplan Double Barrel, an anti-drug program.
The word “Tokhang” was derived from two Visayan words -- “Tuktok,” which means to knock, and “Hangyo,” which means to plead.
The goal is for policemen to visit the house of suspected drug users and pushers to convince them to mend their ways -- surrender to the authorities and avail themselves of the government’s rehabilitation process.
The campaign later turned bloody following the killings of alleged drug suspects here and there.
Claims about intentional killings of drug suspects by police in the guise of resisting arrest echoed left and right.
From 2016 to May 2022, law enforcement agencies conducted a total of 239,218 drug operations that resulted in the arrest of 345,216 drug suspects, while 6,252 people were killed.
Duterte also named several police generals and local government officials involved in the illegal drugs operations.
He later admitted he was wrong in thinking that the drug problem can be eradicated with his timeline.
Duterte did not resign as promised; instead, he asked for an extension.
As of May 31, 2022, the national government said that out of the 42,046 barangays in the country, 25,361 were drug cleared, while 6,573 were drug-free.
Crime statistics, though, registered a significant decrease of 67.71 percent.
Data from the PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management showed that from 1,265,407 index crimes recorded from July 2010 to May 2016, during the term of late President Benigno Aquino III, it went down to 408,547 crimes from July 2016 to May 2022, under the Duterte administration.
Crimes of murder went down by 21.72 percent, homicide by 54.01 percent, physical injury by 80.32 and rape by 20.43 percent.
In December 2021, Duterte himself admitted that he failed to completely wipe out illegal drugs and criminality in the country, but he maintained that he did as much as he could with the time he had.
Duterte vowed that even after he steps down as President, he will continue his advocacy against illegal drugs as a civilian.
End insurgency, terrorism
Being the first Mindanaoan President, the issue of peace in the so-called war-torn region weighs heavily in Duterte’s agenda.
In March, Duterte said Mindanao has been relatively peaceful following the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BBL).
Duterte signed BBL, which is aimed at establishing the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm), which provides the basic structure of the Bangsamoro government.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Al-hajj Murad Ebrahim is the first interim chief minister of Barmm.
Meanwhile, the peace talks with the communist rebels bug down after Duterte called for its termination in November 2017, over continuous attacks of the group’s armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
In December of the same year, Duterte signed a proclamation tagging the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA a terrorist organization under Republic Act 10168 or “The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.”
He also ordered the establishment of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) in 2018 to fight communist rebellion, especially disinformation being spread by its alleged front organizations.
In 2020, Duterte signed into a law the highly controversial and criticized Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, or the “Act to Prevent Prohibit, Penalize Terrorism,” which repeals RA 9372 otherwise known as the Human Security Act of 2007.
In April, Duterte admitted that the dismantling of the communist terrorist group remains to be a “work in progress.”
NTF-Elcac spokesperson Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, however, said they noted in their recent assessment the diminishing representation of the communist group in the Congress, as well as of their guerilla fronts.
“’Yung guerilla fronts natin all over the country armed component bumagsak by almost 50 percent, so ‘yung mga natitirang guerilla fronts hindi na ganoon kalakas. In fact, we expect in the next few weeks another one to fall in Davao Oriental. Humina sila,” he said.
Malaya said according to incoming officer-in-charge of the Department of National Defense, retired general Jose Faustino Jr., the country can already declare a “strategic victory” against insurgency.
In March, Duterte identified Kabataan, Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, Alyansa of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and Gabriela partylists as legal fronts of the CPP-NPA, urging the public not to vote for them.
Of the said partylists, only Kabataan and Gabriela were able to secure Congress seats in the May 9, 2022 elections.
Pay hike for police, soldiers
As he expressed appreciation to police and military who had been material in the attainment of peace and order in Davao City, Duterte also vowed to increase their salary.
He said he also sees the pay hike, especially for cops, a deterrent for corruption, another matter he promised to address.
In 2018, Duterte signed Joint Resolution 1, authorizing the increase in base pay, as well as allowances, benefits, and incentives of all military and police personnel under the Departments of National Defense (DND), Interior and Local Government (DILG), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria).
A second base pay schedule also took effect on January 1, 2019, further increasing the salary of MUP ranks starting from First Chief Master Sergeant in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and those with equivalent rank up to the rank of General in the AFP and those with equivalent rank.
The average increase stood at 72.18 percent for all MUP ranks in 2019.
Duterte also vowed to end corruption in the government within the first six months of his term. He said if he cannot do it, he will step down from post.
It did not happen.
Despite signing several documents to promote his anti-corruption drive, which resulted in the removal of erring government workers and establishing of a government hotline to allow the public to report corrupt practices in state departments and offices, his administration was riddled with corruption allegations even during the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
In 2020, several officials from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) were implicated in the infamous “pastillas scheme,” which allowed foreign travelers to enter the country without background checks in exchange of grease money.
At least 40 BI officials were ordered dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman over the scheme.
In 2021, the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the alleged misuse of public funds intended for the country’s Covid-19 response.
Several Duterte appointees were accused of premeditating plundering acts through the purchase of protective gears to prevent Covid-19 infection of health workers.
Duterte slammed the COA several times, as well as the senators who were conducting investigations on the matter.
Duterte signed RA 11302, or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018, and RA 11517, or An Act Authorizing the President to Expedite the Processing and Issuance of National Permits and Local Permits, Licenses and Certifications in Times of National Emergency.
These laws also aim to simplify government transactions as Duterte noted that the people should not fall in line for hours just to get a government document.
Duterte in July 2021 admitted that addressing corruption is not an easy task but he vowed to fight it until the end of his term.
West Philippine Sea
To assert the country’s rights in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS), Duterte said during the campaign period in 2016 that he would ride a jetski to go and plant a Philippine flag in the Spratlys Island.
Duterte said his remark was a pure joke.
The Philippines filed several protests against China over its intrusion in the WPS (South China Sea).
There were also several instances where Chinese authorities harassed Filipino fishermen.
China refused to recognize the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands in favor of the Philippines, invalidating China’s claims within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line, which is over 90 percent of the WPS.
The ruling also affirmed the traditional and legitimate fishing rights of Filipino fishermen in the area.
Duterte, in one of his Talk to the People public addresses, said the arbitral ruling is nothing but a piece of paper that can be put to trash.
In contrary, Duterte during the United Nations (UN) general assembly in September 2021 said that no country can disregard or diminish the five-year ruling of the PCA.
He maintained that the disputes should be resolved “peacefully,” noting that China is an allied country of the Philippines.
End labor contractualization
Labor woes were among the matters closest to the people’s stomach.
During the campaign period in 2016, Duterte said “the moment I assume the presidency, contractualization will stop.”
However, in 2019, Duterte vetoed the Security of Tenure Bill, which seeks to end the labor contracting scheme.
In July 2021, Jacinto Paras, presidential legislative assistant and adviser for political affairs, said the proposed anti-contractualization law is not on the list of Duterte’s priority bills.
Duterte also vowed the release of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was charged with plunder over the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office intelligence funds.
Arroyo was released following her acquittal from the charges in July 2016.
Duterte also fulfilled his promise to allow the burial of late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. (SunStar Philippines)