Good news from the Duterte administration
With this column, I begin a series on the first 100 days of the Duterte presidency. My overall verdict is mixed: progress is being made in serious problems the country is facing but some very bad things are happening as well.
In the last three months I have been giving national situationers, focusing on a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of the Duterte administration. In my briefings, I try to be as balanced as possible, highlighting the good things going on while raising concerns about some developments. For the latter, I never fail to mention the human rights situation, describing what is happening as the massacre of the poor, the state of our politics as seen in the President’s treatment of Senator Leila de Lima. Now, I am concerned about the evolving foreign affairs policy of the administration. I will write about these in my next column but today I will highlight the positive.
Among the best decisions I have seen so far is the decision to impose a two-year moratorium on land conversion approved by the Duterte-led Presidential Agrarian Reform Council. As an environmental and social justice advocate, I have been wanting, for the past 20 years, to have such an important measure implemented. That the Duterte administration was able to do this in the first 100 days speaks well of its commitment to the poor and sustainable development. I hope they keep the moratorium in place until a land use act that conforms to both sustainability and social justice is passed and until a better, more comprehensive and effective agrarian reform act is passed. I congratulate and thank Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano for making this possible.
I am hopeful that the ongoing peace processes will be completed soon and will be implemented properly within the term of the President. More than anything, a permanent cessation of hostilities between the government and the Moro revolutionary organizations/communists will be great for human rights in this country. The leaders and panels, led by Secretary Jess Dureza, that President Duterte has appointed for these processes are brilliant and trustworthy. Aside from Dureza, I am happy with the appointments of Irene Santiago as chair of our negotiations with the Moros, Labor Secretary Bebot Bello as chair of the panel with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and veteran peace officials Undersecretary Nabil Tan and Assistant Secretary Acel Papa. The presence of lawyer colleagues such as Dean Sedfrey Candelaria, human rights lawyer Antonio Arellano, and former Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento in the NDFP negotiations is also reassuring. I know Secretary Jess and all these officials well. I have faith in their ability to land these peace processes safely, for the good of the country.
I also praise Duterte’s excellent Cabinet, praising particularly: the economic team led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia; the anti-poverty team of the administration led by Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco; the spectacular women secretaries that Duterte has appointed (Leni Robredo for housing, Gina Lopez for environment, Judy Taguiwalo for social welfare, Paulyn Ubial for health, Leonor Briones for education, Liza Maza for NAPC); and the Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, assisted by the dependable Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menard Guevarra and the newly appointed Kelvin Lester Lee (proudly, I claim him as one of my best and most idealistic students from Ateneo Law School), whose steady hand and legal competence is so critical for an administration that purports to be revolutionary in the change it wants to bring to the country.
I welcomed the appointment of Secretary Art Tugade in the Department of Transportation. He now has a good, dynamic team in his department and I look forward to the mobility and transportation crisis being addressed. One of the most encouraging developments in this area is the appointment of Julia Catherine Nebrija as assistant general manager of the Metro Manila Development Authority. Julia is a prominent thinker, advocate and practitioner of inclusive mobility, an approach that is more effective in addressing traffic and related concerns than the usual, conventional measures that are taken.
The appointment of personalities from the left—Taguiwalo, Mariano, Maza, Joel Maglunsod for labor and Terry Ridon for the urban poor portfolio—is also a stroke of genius and definitely good for the poor and the basic sectors.
The recent appointment of Teddy Boy Locsin as United Nations Permanent Representative is excellent for the President and the country. He will do us proud, I am sure. In the same way, Ambassador Manuel Teehankee’s return to the department, this time as undersecretary, as his brilliance and experience in multilateral relations is great needed at this time.
In a previous column, I have already welcomed the appointment of Martin Delgra as Chairman of the Land Transportation Franchise Regulatory Board. He has not disappointed with the quiet progress he has made in cleansing one of the most corrupt agencies of government.
Among the early appointments, I must also highlight the appointment of Undersecretary Gloria Mercado and Assistant Secretary Jonas Soriano who have joined the office of Secretary Evasco. I know both of these officials well, having worked with them closely when they were with the Development Academy of the Philippines: they are excellent, innovative, and persons of integrity.
Of the more recent appointments, I am very happy with the appointment of another student, this time from the first batch of students I taught in the University of the Philippines, Bayani Agabin as Finance Undersecretary. Bayani is a steady and solid lawyer. He can give legal assurance to the bold reform moves Secretary Carlos Dominguez is aiming to implement.
Very important to me is the appointment of human rights lawyers Milabel Cristobal and Marcos Risonar as assistant secretary and undersecretary respectively of the Department of Agrarian Reform. Milabel and Marcos, my colleagues in the Free Legal Assistance Group, is joined by my classmate Luis Pangulayan who has been reappointed DAR Undersecretary; they form a formidable legal team that can pushed the envelope in a rights based agrarian reform program.
I am happy that Assistant Secretary Michelle Go of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has already been reappointed. I look forward to the announcement of other prominent environmentalists joining Secretary Gina Lopez in her quest for environmental sustainability and justice.
Finally, I am happy with the appointment of University of the Philippines colleague Prospero de Vera as Commissioner of the Commission on Higher Education and as adviser to the peace process with the NDFP.
Slowly, the government is being filled up with good people. But, in our system, the President wields what I have described as awesome powers. In the next column, I will raise concerns about how the President is using these powers—especially his commander-in-chief and foreign-policy powers, as well as his unspoken but even more significant power as the highest role model for politics and governance. The question is whether the good news I highlight here will be overshadowed by the misuse of these great powers of the Philippine presidency.
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