Over the last 60 or so days since the inauguration of Rodrigo Duterte, I have watched in silence as countless media outlets across the world have portrayed the president of the Philippines as a reckless loose cannon who is enabling human rights violations and in broad strokes painting a very scary picture for a nation I hold dear. After several conversations with confused and misinformed American friends, I feel the strong need to explain some very apparent truths that most Filipinos understand that the rest of the world seems to miss out on.
On May 9, 2016 President Duterte won a resounding victory over multiple candidates that represented different elements of the establishment, defeating the next closest candidate by more than 6.6 million votes. He did this with a very untraditional platform and an abject refusal to fit the mold. In the broadcast debates that preceded the election he was very outspoken in his abject desire for change in the nation.
He promised to eliminate corruption and crime and repeatedly asked drug users and pushers alike to “surrender or it will be bloody.”
This was a reality check for those who didn’t understand what the path for change would require. He was calling out the fact that when he came into office he was going to ensure prosecution of crime and enable the police to actually police the nation. The long standing system of graft and corruption that allowed high level criminals to thrive was going to be in the cross hairs and he has held true to this. He has pushed a high operational tempo to attack crime and stood behind the police 100 percent so long as their efforts were in pursuit of justice.
He repeatedly stated, do your job and do not try to kill anyone, but if they violently resist and you are in peril, shoot.
According to Fox, the outcome of this has been 1,700 criminals killed during arrest efforts and a shock to the Philippine system. A shock that has led 700,000 others to surrender and seek treatment or counseling and exit the previously vast drug enterprise; as reported by Communications Secretary Martin Andanar. While that 1,700 number seems staggering, I am absolutely certain it is small in comparison to families saved from destruction, or the impact to communities that will recover as a result of gaining back productive citizens.
The 700,000; that is the story for us. We are a people that believe in redemption and the massive number of citizens seeking help lines up to a culture with a deep expectation of “bayanihan.” The term bayanihan refers to the spirit of communal unity and cooperation to achieve a particular goal; and on this journey to redemption we realize it is going to take all of us to save our country.
Aside from the War on Drugs, there have been other amazing gains that have flew under the radar.
For the first time in history the Philippines has a national 911 system in place on par with the United States. Previously, police numbers were varied and directed to local organizations with little oversight or guarantee on response. Having this in place has given people a peace of mind a real national solution to support the efforts to stabilize the nation and reduce corruption.
Aside from crime, he implemented a general 8888 number for complaints and feedback on government offices. Duterte committed to eliminating corruption and after 60 days of giving former presidential political appointees time to clean house and right the ship, he took drastic action and fired all department heads. Their second in charge will operate in their place for the interim or until a new appointee can be found who will act on the peoples’ expectations. This further demonstrates the level of significant deviation from former administrations who were essentially status quo in approach.
Another huge effort and undertaking is unfolding through construction projects and infrastructure development planned through the rest of the year and across 2017. These projects will bring in the first high speed rail lines with backers from China and Japan and improve transportation options while creating thousands of jobs. Alternate provincial cities are being targeted for development as well in an effort to draw work out of Manila and Cebu and ease the traffic and congestion.
There are a lot of other moving pieces that have contributed to a 91% trust rating nationally. Filipinos are a proud people and majority of them are thankful for a leader who stands up and has shown backbone as well as a planned and transparent path towards a better future.
The Philippines is tagged as a developing nation, but I am certain he can be the driving force of social and economic change.
I understand that most of the western media sees a body count and runs with the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality, but we see a moment in history where our nation has a chance to purge the corruption that evolved and rooted over the last decades through a leader who unequivocally refuses to compromise and on so many levels represents the humility, dreams, and aspirations of the common people.