At Monday’s (April 26) pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) “Sulong” (Progress) televised presentation of the key cabinet departments of Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the president’s men tried to keep an upbeat, even bullish, mood—despite the worst and deadliest pandemic of the century, and the worst performing pandemic management by any government in Asia.

Before the pandemic struck in March 2020, Duterte was going to be a great fiscal, social, and economic reformer, making him quite possibly, the greatest of our presidents. 

COVID-19 brought the expletives-prone, God-cursing President down to earth. 

Unless Duterte manages to inoculate at least 70 million of 110 million Filipinos and limit pandemic deaths to no more than 20,000 (from 150,000 to 350,000, my estimate) by the end of 2021, he will be relegated to the dustbin of history as the country’s worst president since the killing of Magellan in 1521.

Up to the end of 2019, here are some of the big achievements of the Duterte administration:

Poverty at its lowest in history, 16.7% (and on track to 14% in 2022), equivalent to 6 million Filipinos crossing past the poverty line of P60 per day income; one of the highest economic growth rates, 6.6%, in Asia; close to $4,000 per Filipino income, same level as China and Thailand; near full employment, unprecedented, with unemployment reduced to just 4.5%; inflation averaging 2.9% in the past five years; the highest ever credit rating with investment grade of BBB+ and A-; the highest tax-to-GDP and revenue-to-GDP ratio; the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio; and the highest ever infrastructure spending, as high as P1 trillion per year or over 5% of GDP in 2019. 

Twenty years ago, infra spending was just P100 billion per year or 2% of GDP. 

In five years, Duterte built 1,200 kms of railways, from 77 kms when he took office.  For 50 years before 2016, kms of railways built by the government: zero.

Of course, the government is still hobbled by rampant corruption, from the lowest to the highest levels of government; crippling red tape (the Anti-Red Tape Act itself promotes red tape; the Ease of Doing Business is a joke); and colossal traffic in main Metro Manila streets, resulting in losses of P3 billion per day.

Criminal underinvestment in education and health care made Filipinos one of the most stupid citizens in the world (in PISA reading, math and science tests among 77 countries, the Philippines ranked 77th in reading and 76th in math and science) and living an unhealthy life.  Their life span is shorter than most Asians.  Internet speed is a joke despite among the highest telco rates in the world.  

Only 70% of the archipelago has reliable electricity despite having one of the highest-priced power rates in the world. Of 1,500 towns, 600 do not have any bank branches.  Income inequality is among the most revolting in the world. 

Duterte tried to solve those problems by scaring the oligarchs out of their wits.  He also installed more generals in civilian positions than any president did before him.

Despite the vagaries of life, Filipinos are among the happiest in the world and they give the highest job approval and trust ratings to any leader since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden apple, a whopping 91% for Duterte.

At Monday’s (April 26) whole-day “Sulong”, the head of Duterte’s economic team put on a brave face amid the most daunting challenges any government has faced this century.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said:

“Our economic recovery should be patterned after the growth policies our administration put forward from the beginning of our term. Hence, we are maintaining the pace of our Build, Build, Build program.

“Even with the ongoing crisis, we have kept our budget for infrastructure investments and it is programmed to increase to more than 5% of our GDP until the end of this administration’s term. With its high multiplier effect, we are expecting the Build, Build, Build program to be the main driver of rebuilding the domestic economy.

“Despite supply challenges worldwide, we are fully rolling out our vaccination program. This will allow us to safely reopen more of our economy, and restore jobs.

Inoculation target

“The target is to inoculate at least 70 million Filipinos or 100% of our adult population within the year. We have arranged for the delivery of more than 140 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for this year. About 15% will be delivered in the first half of this year and 85% in the second half.”

Concluding, Dominguez assured the people:

“We are fully determined to restore the vigor of the Philippine economy at the soonest possible time. Even with the unprecedented crisis, the Duterte administration will continue to work hard until the last minute of its term to undertake the remaining reforms we had set out to do in our zero-to-ten-point socioeconomic agenda.

“We will stay true to our promise of real change. We will make sure that the programs we have pursued will be irreversible and form the foundation of an inclusive, sustainable, and investment-driven economy for the Filipino people.”           

— Tony Lopez