‘I bore no illusion that steering the nation towards a comfortable life for every Filipino would be easy. Indeed, the past five years have truly been challenging and humbling.’
After assuming the Philippine presidency in 2016, Rodrigo Roa Duterte left an impact on the country by demonstrating a unique leadership style, partnered with a bold speech and brave demeanor towards handling national issues like terrorism, corruption, and health concerns, both shocking and delighting his Filipino constituents for several years.
Throughout his term as the 16th president of the Philippines, Duterte initiated several efforts to develop the country into a disciplined yet progressive one. Among his endeavors, seven stand out from the rest, supporting the claim from his many supporters that he’s a good and effective president despite his naysayers.
“I bore no illusion that steering the nation towards a comfortable life for every Filipino would be easy. Indeed, the past five years have truly been challenging and humbling,” he said during his final State of the Nation Address in July 2021.
Before Duterte’s administration, the public constantly commented on the country’s economy, saying that things could be better. Duterte eventually addressed the issue with tax reform under Secretary of Finance Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez III, making the Philippines one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia.
His reforms raised taxes on “sin” products such as tobacco, e-cigarettes, and alcohol through the passage of the TRAIN law. The tax reform was also effective in meeting the administration’s goal of keeping poverty levels to a minimum. Data from the Duterte administration shows a reduction in poverty incidence to 16.7 percent in 2018, compared to the 23.3 percent in 2015.
Duterte added two sin tax laws in 2019 and 2020.
Unfortunately, the economy took a nosedive, and poverty became rampant again when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out early in 2020.
Another achievement that Duterte managed during his presidency was intensifying infrastructure projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program with the help of former Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways Mark Villar.
The president poured funds, over P6 trillion in the past six years, into numerous infrastructure projects to build 145,000 classrooms, 2,000 school buildings, 5,555 bridges, and 26,500 kilometers of roads, access roads, expressways, and tollways. He spent more on the campaign compared to his predecessors, while Villar raised infrastructure spending to an average of 5.14 percent of GDP, opposed to Fidel V. Ramos’ 1.7 percent, Joseph Estrada’s 1.62 percent, Gloria Arroyo’s 1.5 percent, and Benigno Aquino III’s 2.7 percent.
Banking on his success in the infrastructure sector, Duterte then tapped Department of Transportation Sec. Arthur Tugade to encourage the same development in the transport sector, which receives the most complaints from Filipinos because of numerous violators, complicated commuting, and hours of traffic.
Following the concerns of the public, Tugade made mass transportation accessible, reliable, and easy in the Duterte administration.
“We have taken away the misery of public commuting,” he said.
He completed more than 200 airport projects, 400 seaports, and 21 new lighthouses. The DOT secretary also oversaw the building of new airport terminals for Mactan, Clark, Ormoc, and Kalibo. Even the Bicol Airport reopened after an 11-year delay.
Tugade also improved operations in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). The airport NAIA improved from being one of the worst airports in the world to being the most improved by 2018. Illegal actions such as the “tanim bala” incidents also came to a halt, giving many travelers going to and from the airport a sense of safety and security.
Inspired by the idea to provide accessible and affordable services to all Filipinos, Duterte then looked towards the education sector, knowing that many of today’s youth wish to attend classes but struggle to do so because of financial problems. As a solution, Duterte signed RA no. 10931, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, which he signed on August 3, 2017.
RA 10931 provides various financial assistance and scholarships to student beneficiaries in state universities and colleges (SUCs) and local universities and colleges (LUCs). It also institutionalized programs like the Free Higher Education (FHE), Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES), Student Loan Program, and Free Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).
Another achievement in the Duterte administration worth mentioning is an independent foreign policy. Duterte skillfully maneuvered international talks with the United States of America and pivoting his alliance to China without losing the support and friendship of the latter.
The US also returned the Balingaga Bells of Samar, which they took as a trophy during their occupation in the Philippines.
Duterte’s win during the pandemic
By early 2020, Duterte faced the most challenging problem in his administration: the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, most of his efforts in keeping the economy afloat and reducing poverty reports became insubstantial as Filipinos stayed indoors for their safety, causing the economy to come to a screeching halt since workers were unable to go to work for a time.
Although the Philippines, like every other country in the world, was unprepared for the incident, Duterte eventually came up with policies that aimed to provide solutions to the pandemic, while keeping Filipinos safe and updated inside their homes.
He first signed RA 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, to help the government intensify its ongoing efforts against COVID-19. It also allowed Duterte to wield special powers as head of the executive department in containing the spread of the virus and mitigating its effects.
Eventually, Duterte began tapping government agencies to contribute to the pandemic. Since his first response was to put the entire country in community quarantines, he later shifted to a medical approach.
In an attempt to hinder the transmission of the COVID-19 virus among Filipinos, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) prioritized the production of 26,000 test kits for field implementation and distribution to five hospitals.
Meanwhile, as assistance to hundreds of thousands of displaced families, the government also developed, expanded, and enhanced the “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program” for two months.
Although Duterte received numerous criticisms from other government officials and the public, his administration was not without any achievements. But being human, like his predecessors, he also experienced highs and lows in his term as president. Filipinos now hope that Duterte’s successor can either meet or surpass the level of governance that he set during his time.