Duterte presidency unravels as coronavirus ravages Philippines

Analysts say the pandemic has exposed the president’s ‘militarist’ approach and lack of a serious policy agenda.

It has been four years since Rodrigo Duterte took his oath as president of the Philippines, railing against the “erosion of faith and trust in government”, while riding on a populist wave by promising “real change” and “transparency” to the country of more than 100 million people.

But as he enters his last two years in office on Tuesday, Duterte’s leadership has proven hollow, analysts have said, adding that his handling of the continuing coronavirus pandemic has exposed his lack of serious policy, leaving many Filipinos to fend for themselves even as the economy faces its most serious challenge in decades.

From his war on drugs that killed thousands, to the deadly siege by ISIL-inspired fighters in the city of Marawi, and the current health emergency that already infected 36,000 people and killed more than 1,250 others, Duterte has relied on “militarist” approach to every major crisis he faced, even if it is not working, observers added.

Sonny Africa, executive director of the independent think-tank, IBON Foundation, said fixing the political and economic damage that Duterte has wrought in the last four years “is already a daunting task”.

“It’s scary what another two years will do,” Africa told Al Jazeera, as he warned that the Philippines “is in the worst crisis of joblessness and collapsing household incomes in its history”.

Africa, a London School of Economics-trained development expert, said that instead of addressing basic fiscal and economic reforms – such as social protection, free land distribution and the reversal of a “regressive” tax system – Duterte’s economic managers are continuing with business as usual.

“The government’s policies are not working because the self-serving political agenda and interests of economic elites are given priority over rational public health and socioeconomic relief,” he said.

If anything, the president “is opportunistically exploiting the pandemic” in advancing a political and economic agenda that shows “undue bias” for big business, cronies and foreign investors, Africa added.

Duterte has defended his policies by saying that he is “looking after the welfare” of the Filipinos, and telling them to “stop blaming the government, because the coronavirus is already here.”

He also said that he will “bet his reputation” that there are no anomalies in the government’s handling of the health crisis.

Africa noted that majority of the borrowing is for infrastructure projects that are “unlikely to be financially and economically viable, amid the changed conditions of pandemic-driven recessions”.

“Its so-called ‘recovery programme’ is a mere recycling of the same economic policies before the pandemic and are more inappropriate than ever.”

“The dependence on debt to drive the economy was questionable before and is only more so now.”

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