Benchmarking the Duterte presidency
The incoming Duterte Administration is being formed now. Early indications are that the Cabinet will not have a lot of technocrats. They are political appointments. We can debate the qualifications of the specific people, and maybe will as the line-up becomes more definite. But right now, let’s just circle some important wagons. Let’s set some tangible goals that we ourselves can use to judge the OUTPUT of the new Administration. That way, we can be assured of being objective rather than operating on a lingering political bias.
We know that the Duterte government will focus on a few important goals:
- Stable, growing economy
- Crime reduction
- Poverty reduction
- Peace in Mindanao
- Harmony with China
- Infrastructure development
We also know the opposition has identified a couple of potential vulnerabilities:
- Human rights. Significant issues are raised by alleged vigilante killings in Davao. We should try to measure how well the Administration is doing to raise the Philippine performance on human rights.
- Corruption. Will jailed plunderers be released? Will anti-corruption efforts be strong? Will clean-up of LGU’s continue, or are we back to self-enriching local warlords under the guise of Federalism?
Finally, we have that complex and profound matter of Federalism and a Constitutional re-write. That one will be tough to measure in tangible terms, but we can perhaps set forth some parameters to consider.
With that as background, let me propose nine benchmarks that we can refer to regularly as the Administration proceeds with its work.
We an see from the following chart that annual GDP growth for the Philippines, among the leaders in Asia and the world, has recently hovered around the 6% mark, with 10-year high around 9% and a low around 1%:Here are the suggested benchmarks going forward:
- Outstanding: 9%
- Excellent: 7.5%
- Expected: 6%
- Weak: 4%
- Failure: 2%
Legitimate reason for weak performance could be global economic decline, but it should be remembered that the Philippines benefits from OFW remittances and a comparatively low GDP base for the population of the nation. In other words, people resources aren’t yet wholly deployed generating productive work and there is a tremendous upside to performance potential.
Woe to the Administration that takes the shining star back to economic dilapidation.(2) Crime reduction
Crime statistics over the long term are not wholly reliable because reporting methods have changed from year to year. However, we do know the Duterte Administration expects sharp reductions in criminal activity. If we take the base rate of 2012 as a starting point, we would say that a clear reduction of crime rate per 100,000 of population ought to be expected.
Here are the proposed benchmarks:
- Outstanding: reduction of 15 per year or better
- Excellent: reduction of 10 to 14 per year
- Expected: reduction of 5 to 9 per year
- Weak: little change or increase of up to 5 per year
- Failure: increase of more than 5 per year
(3) Poverty reduction
Our benchmark measure is percentage of individuals living under the official per capita poverty threshold. In 2015, 26.3%of the Filipino population lived on income below the poverty line. This is slightly improved, but statistically no different, than the 27.9 percent figure in 2012. The figure in 2009 was 28.6%. In 2006 it was 28.8%.
The Philippines pays a price for its population growth of 1.9% per year, or 5,000 new births per day.
For now, we can sketch out some benchmarks. A future blog will discuss in more detail how much income has to be redistributed or generated to bring the poverty index down. The challenging “expected” target considers: (1) continued strong economic growth will soon start to pay dividends, and (2) poverty reduction is a primary goal in the Duterte platform; the need to improve the lives of impoverished Filipinos is essentially one of the main reasons for his electoral success.
- Outstanding: 2.5% reduction per year
- Excellent: 2% reduction per year
- Expected: 1.5% reduction per year
- Weak: 1% reduction per year
- Failure: No change, or increase
(4) Peace in Mindanao
We don’t have any tables to refer to in order to index peace in Mindanao, but we can establish some performance targets if we consider that there are three basic ‘rebellions’ underway at the present time:
- NPA/CCP ideologues and extortionists
- Indigeneous people (MILF/Moros et al)
- Outside terrorism (BIFF/Abu Sayaff/ISIS)
The past approach has been military conquest and eradication of the NPA and outside terrorist efforts, and negotiation with the indigenous peoples (Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL). President Duterte is offering the NPA/CCP a stake in government, so he clearly anticipates ending that conflict, and perhaps the BBL matter will get reconfigured as a part of a Federalist master plan. We don’t know how President Duterte will deal with terrorism that originates outside the country.
Here are the benchmarks I would suggest be used to weigh performance of the new Administration, with achievements coming by the end of the Duterte 6-year term:
- Outstanding: Agreements with NPA and MILF; agreement with or eradication of BIFF/ISIS
- Excellent: Agreements with NPA and MILF; suppression of BIFF/ISIS
- Expected: Agreements with NPA and MILF
- Weak: Agreements with NPA or MILF
- Failure: Continued active rebellion on all three fronts
(5) Harmony with China
Again, we must build our expectations on a ‘project’ or ‘outcomes” basis. We know that President Duterte is more inclined to work out a negotiated agreement with China, but the critical issue becomes, is Philippine territorial integrity, as defined by international law, retained by the Philippines? After all, these territories are rich with resources that can support the impoverished Philippines in the future.
The presumption here is that the UN arbitration panel will rule substantially in Philippine favor, confirming that the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) gives the Philippines rightful claim to resources within 200 nautical miles of her land baseline.
Proposed benchmarks covering achievements within six years:
- Outstanding: China withdraws from all contested areas
- Excellent: China withdraws from Scarborough Shoal and negotiated agreements are reached on all other contested locations
- Expected: The standoff continues; the main contest is between the US and China for open seas
- Weak: China holds her position and reclaims Scarborough Shoal; China begins commercial exploitation of selected ‘islands’
- Failure: China holds her position, builds a military outpost on Scarborough Shoal, and begins widespread commercial exploitation on other Philippine claims
(6) Infrastructure development
Infrastructure encompasses a range of national investments, from roads and airports to dams and ports. The decision as to where to invest is always challenging, and one big ticket project can change the alignment of investments from land to air or energy. This particular set of benchmarks will focus only on the overall level of investments without considering what projects are included. We know that the Aquino Administration was criticized from both directions, for doing too much (DAP) and for doing too little (projects delayed by planning, funding or implementation). Yet the overall level of investments increased markedly from 2010 to 2015.
What is the “right” level of investments for the ability of the Philippines to borrow or pay off obligations? The Aquino target was to reach infrastructure spending of 5% by 2016. That target is within reach this year.Given the anger in Manila about transportation overload (leading to the demand for “change”) and the lagging investments of the past, reflected in the poor road, train and air capacities, the 5% level is probably now a minimum threshold rather than a maximum target. Here are the proposed benchmarks, considering total infrastructure and capital spending:
- Outstanding: 8%
- Excellent: 7%
- Expected: 6%
- Weak: 5%
- Failure: Below 5%
It is possible that there may be a lagging effect for a year or two as the new Administration re-sets priorities. However, an enduring slowdown in investments, thrown against ever-increasing demand, would certainly be considered a failure in performance.
(7) Human rights
This is an area of considerable argument and friction right now because the early pronouncements of the Duterte Administration go against the grain of international norms for human rights. Killings outside the halls of justice, for instance, or the resumption of capital punishment, especially by the brutal means of hanging. There are also signs of infringements on freedoms cropping up (curfews).
Rather than critique the individual issues, we will look to international ratings to evaluate Philippine progress toward improving the nation’s human rights performance. If the Duterte Administration believes a higher success is found in crime reduction or “discipline” than human rights . . . that is for the Legislature and Judiciary to take up.
Our position here is that the Philippines will not be a modern, first-world nation – open to tourism and investment – until it accepts international norms as reasonable rules of fairness and compassion. Therefore, it is important for the Philippines to curtail human trafficking, and to seek compassion, equality, fairness and liberal individual freedoms.
The most thorough evaluation of Philippine human rights is prepared periodically by the United States as a part of the global push for freedom, fairness and compassion. The last report was done in 2014: “Philippine 2014 Human Rights Report” (pdf file).
The Philippines is cited for weaknesses in numerous areas:
- Widespread vote buying
- Dynastic political families monopolize elected offices
- Authorities at times lost control over security forces
- Extra-judicial and vigilante killings and disappearances
- Weak and over-burdened criminal justice system
- Widespread official corruption and abuse of power
- Allegations of prisoner/detainee torture and abuse by security forces
- Harassment and allegations of violence against human rights activists by local security forces
- Warrantless arrests
- Lengthy pretrial detentions
- Overcrowded and inadequate prison conditions
- Killings and harassment of journalists
- Internally displaced persons (IDPs)
- Violence against women
- Abuse and sexual exploitation of children
- Trafficking in persons
- Limited access to facilities for persons with disabilities
- Lack of full integration of indigenous people
- Absence of law and policy to protect persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
- Child labor
- Ineffective enforcement of worker rights
- The government rarely investigates or prosecutes human rights abuses
- Long running insurgencies result in displacement and harm to civilians
Benchmarks going forward might be stated as follows:
- Outstanding: notable improvements in 12 or more areas cited above
- Excellent: notable improvements in 7 to 11 areas cited above
- Expected: notable improvements in 3 to 6 areas cited above
- Weak: minimal improvements and perhaps degradation in one or two areas cited above
- Failure: Degradation of performance in more than 3 areas cited above
We can look to global ratings as the best comprehensive measure of the nation’s progress at reducing corruption.
Transparency International is a commonly cited global rating agency. The Philippines in 2015 was ranked as the 95th least corrupt nation among 175 countries. In this index, down is good. The rating had deteriorated under the latter years of the Arroyo Administration but improved steadily under the Aquino Administration, until a slight up-tick in 2015.
Certainly President Duterte campaigned strongly on fighting crime and corruption, so the benchmarks should show an expectation of continued improvement. Here’s the proposed set of benchmarks, oriented around a starting point of 95. We need to acknowledge that the lower the performance score, the harder it becomes to eke out improvements against other countries that are also seeking improvement. A 10 point gain is a challenge.
- Outstanding: 7 point annual improvement
- Excellent: 5 point annual improvement
- Expected: 3 point annual improvement
- Weak: 3 point annual degradation
- Failure: 5 point annual degradation
(9) Federalism/Constitution re-write
The matter of federalism is so profound and undefined at the moment that it is difficult to establish benchmarks. Getting there requires a broad consensus as to structure and powers, a re-write of the constitution, approval and early implementation steps. Opening a constitutional re-write places the nation at risk of political gameplaying and power-mongering. So advocates for federalism have to take the nation, not through a minefield, but a through a bomb field with a nuke or two buried somewhere along the way.
The best we can do with benchmarks is project a non-disruptive engagement, no matter the end product. Here are the outcomes possible anytime within the next six years:
- Outstanding: constitutional democratic framework remains sound; no disruption of the nation’s political or economic foundations
- Excellent: constitutional democratic framework remains sound; no economic disruption but mild political disruption
- Expected: constitutional democratic framework remains sound; mild political and economic disruption
- Weak: the constitutional democratic framework is challenged; considerable political and economic disruption
- Failure: constitutional democratic framework is weakened or overthown; severe political and economic disruption