Shoot now, ask questions later

Drug killings in Philippines.

MANILA: The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte seems to be taking on a “shoot now, ask later” policy not only in dealing with criminals, but also in its plan to shift the form of government to federalism.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address, all 90 minutes of it, may be classified into 38 minutes of prepared speech and 52 minutes of straight-from-the-heart talk. He should change his speech writers because they failed to make his speech sound like it came from him.

I actually pitied him, stumbling along during the scripted moments, even as he was so effective in connecting with us, his audience, with the unscripted ones. We live and learn. Hopefully, by his next Sona, things will have worked out, and he actually will sound like himself, and we will save time.

I was asked on TV to grade his Sona (State of the Nation Address) - on content (substance) and on delivery (style). My top-of-the-head answer was 75 per cent for the first, and 90 per cent for the second. That was too generous for content. My modified score is 50 per cent.

Why a poor grade for the substance? Wasn’t he prioritising the poor? Wasn’t he talking about making their lives less miserable? His statement that he didn’t want to see the people lining up and waiting under the hot sun resonated with me. Also: faster turnaround times for government frontline services. Longer times between renewals. Better transport services, including rail. More infrastructure. Laguna Lake to be used by the poor than by the rich. Rice subsidies for the poor. Accessible healthcare. Jobs.

He wasn’t leaving out the rich either: reduction of income taxes for individuals and corporations, which drew enthusiastic applause.

Continuation of economic and social policies of previous administrations. True, he said he would ease the bank secrecy law, but he seemed almost apologetic about it.

So where did he go wrong? Isn’t it obvious? You can’t increase government expenditures and at the same time decrease government revenues. That’s like a rock meeting a hard place. How will those increased expenditures be financed? In other words, beautiful plans. But not workable due to resource constraints.

How to characterise his administration at this point?  It seems he has adopted a shoot-now-ask-questions-later operating technique. One hopes he will rethink this. It may arguably have succeeded in Davao, a city of about 1.6 million people. Mistakes made are more easily rectified or reversed.  But in a country of 102 million people, mistakes are magnified, and not easily corrected.

We already see it happening in the war on drugs. There were the death squads in Davao, which Duterte appeared to have controlled. Magnify the problem by 50 times and you magnify the mistakes even more. How many of the dead are really drug pushers, or users? Who made the judgement? In Davao, it is estimated that about 10 per cent of those killed were not involved in any crime, just cases of mistaken identity or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or worse, malice aforethought. In Thailand, where a drug war was conducted sometime in 2003, the estimate is that at least half of the 3,000 killings were not drug-related. Ten per cent vs. fifty per cent.

Further, how does this jibe with Duterte’s Sona statement that “no amount of case assistance can compensate for the loss of human life”? Will the real Duterte please stand up?

Another illustration of the shoot-now-ask-questions-later mentality is the federalism issue.  In yesterday’s news, Duterte said a constituent assembly (Con-ass), not a constitutional convention (Con-con), would be the mechanism for a change to a federal-parliamentary system.

This, reportedly after he was told that a Con-con would cost 6-7 billion peso (US$127-149 million). By whom? By Senate President Koko Pimentel, Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Duterte’s view was to put the question of federalism under study by a commission, with Moros, Christians and lumad as members, as well as experts on the federal form of government (Duterte: Polls on federalism in 2 yrs). Only after they have performed the task of detailing how the country could effect the shift to a federal form of government would Duterte call for a Con-con. He thought this could be done in two years. Notice that he never used the term “parliamentary.” He was thinking about a federal-presidential system a la the United States.

At Monday’s Sona, he talked about the French system, “which is a federal-parliamentary, but with a president.” He preferred that system, he said. I hope he studied it. Because the French 5th Republic with this system replaced the 4th Republic’s purely parliamentary system, the French having decided that they wanted to have a president also with great power.

But, Reader, the French system is NOT a federal system.

How this system is better than ours, I would not care to guess. But it is not federal, so what is Duterte talking about? Good grief! Talk about shoot first and ask questions later!

To top it all, the latest version is to have the Con-ass make the decisions. Because a Con-con would cost 6-7 billion peso. But have they figured out how much a Con-ass would cost?  In terms of the amount of time lost, from needing to rationalise our current laws and creating new ones? Be reminded, also, that the Con-ass is dominated by dynasties, landowners, mine-owners. The elite, in other words. What do you think they will do when it comes to changing the Constitution? Where will our poor be?

Please. Let us not shoot first and ask questions later. Therein lies the path to tragedy. Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

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