Mercurial policy making


    ANY change in administration can be viewed in two ways: good, in the sense that it can bring an end to policies that are simply not working the way it was envisioned. Bad, because every administration tends to bring in its own set of flagship programs and can put those identified with its predecessor in the back burner for at least six years. While government budget runs in trillions of pesos, resources are essentially finite: barring a new source of funding, projects are in truth in competition with one another. More budget for one means cutting money out of another. This is perhaps one of the major reasons why the ideal approach to policy-making should be quite precise and well-thought out.

    Unfortunately, the firebrand attitude of then-Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte during the 2016 campaign did not translate very well to his policy-making approach. The fanatics will howl at this statement, as expected. But the even-keeled only need to look at recent events to come to the conclusion that the country is currently being run on policies based on knee-jerk reactions. First case in point: the rice tariffication law. The administration made it clear that it was being passed to address rising food costs to avert high inflation. It did the trick, and now inflation is at a manageable level. What perhaps was set aside in the mad rush was the effect the law would have on our farmers, who are already desperate for much-needed support from our government. It seems that we have outdone ourselves when it comes to rice importation, as the Philippines, an agricultural county, is now on track to become the second biggest importer of rice in the world (importing 2.6 million metric tons) next only to China’s 4.5 million metric tons. Mind you, China has one billion mouths to feed, and ours only at 110 million.

    The subsequent suspension, backtracking on the suspension, and eventual clarification on what the President meant contributed to chaos that ensued. Even the Agriculture secretary was caught off guard with the announcement, and had to rush to Malacañang to get instructions. To be honest, all the flip-flopping had me tuning out of the news cycle, with the hope that they’ll get themselves together a few weeks later and address the matter with clarity.

    Next, the vaping ban. Apparently President Duterte woke up one day and decided to declare vaping as the next public enemy. Policy-makers are still scrambling to catch up, and legislators wanting to earn brownie points quickly came out with bills to support the President’s directive. The PNP snapped into action, with a decisive directive to all its personnel that vapers are to be arrested on sight—never mind that they couldn’t point to a law that penalizes vaping. I’m all for measures to help keep our kids off smoking and vaping, but do we have to do it the right way, not because the throne said so. That’s just how it is in a democracy.

    Again, chaos has ensued. Legislators and allies can’t seem to make heads or tails of the pronouncement, volleying between supporting total immediate bans and regulating vaping products. So much time wasted trying to divine the royal pronouncement instead of concentrating on other more pressing matters.

    Third, the hiring and firing of Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chair of the ICAD, done within a dizzying pace. To begin with, the offer to have the Vice President was borne out of pride—not in her work, but because her criticism of the drug war bruised the ego of the head honcho along the Pasig River. She offended them some more with her *gasp* audacity to accept the challenge, and offended them most when she showed everyone that a knowledge-based approach could be taken to try and solve the problem. It’s embarrassing for the men, really, when VP Robredo stepped up and decimated the myth that only an iron fist can produce results.

    She started asking questions they didn’t want to answer, and it caused such a panic that their bullying couldn’t cower her. And so, with a snap of his finger, President Duterte fired Robredo from the post, probably tired of trying to trip her at every turn. No one can say they didn’t try, though: for two full weeks, she was subjected to every inane insult they could come up with, but none resulted in having her toe their line.

    It makes for bad optics for the President. I’m sure that while this was whispered in the corridors of the Palace, no one deemed it in their best interest to actually say it out loud to the President’s face. It’s safe to say that we can expect more of this mercurial policy-making to be the norm for the rest of Duterte’s term, which certainly does not bode well for the rest of the country.