Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s enduring popularity among Filipinos, the Chief Executive failed to use his record ratings to improve the lives of Filipinos, as millions more continued to feel hunger and experience poverty exacerbated by the pandemic.
This is what a recent report published by the Ateneo School of Government found, after political science professor Carmel Abao and sociologist and development studies professor Jayeel Cornelio analyzed the Duterte government’s social development reform agenda.
Abao and Cornelio assessed the poverty incidence against self-rated poverty, hunger statistics against self-rated hunger, as well as education completion rates and budget allocations for social programs, to measure the impact of Duterte’s leadership.
Duterte, they recalled, ran on a campaign of “tapang at malasakit” (courage and compassion), promising to take a tough stand on crime and bring palpable change to the lives of Filipinos.
“President Duterte may be very popular and official poverty rates may be going down, but these do not erase the reality that many Filipinos continue to feel and experience poverty and hunger – especially under the pandemic,” the pair said.
They added: “The numbers reveal that President Duterte did not use his political capital where it is supposed to matter: in the everyday lives of Filipinos. The story of President Duterte thus is the story of misused and wasted political capital.”
What the numbers show
Abao and Cornelio pointed out that while poverty incidence dipped to 16.8% in 2018 during Duterte’s term – after steadily declining during the Aquino administration – self-rated poverty statistics “have shown some signs of reversal” in the past five years, from 44% in 2016 to 48% in 2020.
Carmel and Abao opposed the idea that the increase in self-rated poverty would be remedied once the health crisis was under control, pointing out that its rise began in 2017, a year after Duterte took office. In 2017, the figure climbed to 46% from 44% the previous year.
“Given that the rise began in 2017, it is a mistake to simply dismiss it as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said.
The hunger incidence in the country also climbed to an average of 21.1% in 2020, following years of decline since 2012. It had even peaked at 30.7% in households in September 2020, according to data from Social Weather Stations.
Meanwhile, Abao and Cornelio pointed out that while social services comprised about 40% of the government’s total annual budget, funding for the health department was only at 4% of the national budget even in the midst of a pandemic. Though government officials said that more funds for health response measures were spread out to different agencies, budgets of the Department of Health and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation were “not enough to meet the challenges of the health crisis.”
More so, they said, Duterte’s pronouncements on the availability of COVID-19 funds have been “extremely inconsistent,” swinging been claims that the country had “enough money” to complaints that the “country is sinking.”
For Abao and Cornelio, these point to the weakness of strongman rule. “A popular President is simply not enough to feed the hungry and to alleviate the lives of the poor. Nor can his rhetoric make a lasting difference,” they said.
The government should focus on improving processes in national agencies, crafting more efficient ways of delivering aid to Filipinos in need, and ensuring better planning during emergencies, they suggested.
“The past five years of Duterte have proven that having a strongman at the helm of government can never be enough. It takes more than a popular President to solve social problems relating to education, health, incomes, and quality of life,” they said. – Rappler.com