Duterte Promise Checklist: Major accomplishments, failures

Pia Ranada
Duterte Promise Checklist: Major accomplishments, failures
Halfway into his presidency, we look at what Rodrigo Duterte's presidency has achieved and what it has failed at so far

MANILA, Philippines – With President Rodrigo Duterte about to give his 4th State of the Nation Address at the halfway mark of his term, it’s time to take a look at major accomplishments or failures during his presidency.


  • Bloody war on drugs

The Duterte government has lived up to the President’s promise of a “relentless” anti-drugs campaign. While the campaign has been modified and reorganized thrice, Duterte’s marching orders have been to arrest drug suspects and kill them if they “fight back.” Here are the numbers as of June 30 (as reported by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency):

  • 5,526 drug suspects killed in operations
  • 7,054 “high value targets” and 681 government workers arrested
  • 2,367 cops dismissed

But human rights groups dispute the government statistics. The Commission on Human Rights has said as many as 27,000 may have been killed in the name of the drug war. The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), has cited at least 12,000 deaths – including those allegedly killed by vigilantes.

Human rights groups and international bodies, however, have raised alarm over the lack of transparency from law enforcement agencies and lack of action over similar mysterious murders of drug suspects outside of police operations.

Numerous witnesses have claimed that police shoot suspects even if they aren’t resisting arrest. It doesn’t help that Duterte himself frequently calls on the police to “massacre” drug suspects and not to worry if they are accused of abuses since he will pardon them. 

  • Tax reform law

The first tax reform law (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN law) was signed in December 2017, Duterte’s 2nd year in office. It’s primarily a revenue-generating measure to fund the administration’s infrastructure program, health, education, and social services programs. But it also allowed Filipinos to keep more of their salary while imposing higher taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks, cigarettes, cars, and fuel – a burden on poor Filipinos. The government is trying to ease that burden with cash assistance. Duterte wants Congress to pass a second tax reform law.

  • Bangsamoro autonomous region and government

The signing then ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law is a major achievement for both the Mindanaoan President and Congress.

It built on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, signed during the Aquino administration. Duterte has appointed officials to lead the new Bangsamoro government and continues to be involved in shepherding the region.

  • Universal health care

Beginning with a campaign promise to give the poorest Filipinos access to hospitals and medicines, Duterte ended up pushing for and signing the Universal Health Care law, with the help of Congress. Now it’s a major measure that was often used in the 2016 campaign as brownie points for voters.

  • Free college education

Although it was never a campaign promise, Duterte pushed for the enactment of the free tertiary education law, against the advice of his economic managers. The government’s fiscalizers now face the challenge of finding funding for this expensive law every year but it’s a welcome development for Filipino families everywhere.

  • Cutting red tape

Duterte’s simple promise to reduce processing of government permits to 3 days has branched into various presidential actions meant to cut red tape. He signed the Ease of Doing Business Act, issued an executive order for faster anti-poverty services, put up the 8888 hotline for citizen complaints, and constantly reminds Cabinet members to streamline processes in their departments. 

  • Aggressive infrastructure plan

Promising to build “legacy” railways during his term, Duterte has thrown his support for his economic managers’ Build, Build, Build program. The government secured a loan from Japan and the Asian Development Bank for the North-South Railway.

It also got a loan from Japan for the rehabilitation of the rotting Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3). But it’s Duterte’s promised Mindanao Railway that still lacks funding. Despite talks with China for this project, there is still no signed deal.

  • Environmental policies

Some of Duterte’s most decisive policies were on the environment. In fell verbal swoops, he closed world-famous Boracay for rehabilitation, jump-started efforts to clean Manila Bay and Laguna Lake, and got Canada to take back its illegal garbage stranded in the Philippines for 6 years. He’s threatened mining companies and local government officials who don’t follow environmental regulations.



  • EDSA traffic problem

Duterte himself admitted he has been unable to untangle EDSA from its perennial traffic mess. Commuters still endure long hours on the road, a result of congestion, bad urban planning, inefficient public transportation, and unharmonious or unenforced traffic rules. Many times, Duterte has laid the blame on Congress for not giving his Cabinet emergency powers to deal with the problem. Lawmakers, however, have said the Duterte government hasn’t presented an adequate plan.

  • Assert Hague ruling during his term

More than halfway into his term, Duterte is yet to assert the Philippines’ victory over China’s claim to the West Philippine Sea. He has reminded Chinese President Xi Jinping once, to which Xi repeated China’s non-recognition of the ruling. Maritime law experts have called on Duterte to gather international support for the ruling, as a way to pressure China into respecting it. But Duterte refuses to do this, saying he prefers to preserve warm ties with Beijing.

  • Hardline stance vs corruption 

Though Duterte almost regularly makes announcements that he’s fired top officials or even dozens of personnel at a time due to corruption, he has not been transparent about these decisions. Many times, officials he’s fired claim to be fighting corruption themselves.

The public is left to wonder about the real reasons for their axing. Most of these officials are also yet to face criminal or administrative charges. Add to that Duterte’s penchant for reappointing officials who have been accused of misdeeds and you get mixed assessments of Duterte’s so-called “one whiff, you’re out” policy. (READ: CORRUPTION RED FLAGS | Fake transactions, doubtful accounts in government spending)

  • Respect for rule of law, human rights

In his first SONA, Duterte promised his administration “shall be sensitive to the State’s obligations to promote, and protect, fulfill the human rights of our citizens, especially the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable and social justice will be pursued, even as the rule of law shall at all times prevail.”

But in his presidency, he has belittled human rights and threatened to harm human rights activists. He has told cops to “massacre”  drug addicts and to plant guns on drug suspects so they would be justified in shooting them. Though he swore to protect the Constitution, Duterte has repudiated it several times, like when he threatened to declare a revolutionary government or when he said the constitutional provision that he should reserve resources in Philippine waters for Filipinos is for the “thoughtless and senseless.”

There were also many times he stretched the law just to crack down on critics, convincing many of his dictator-like tendencies. (READ: Does Duterte fulfill the dictator criteria? This book can help us find out)

  • Shift to federalism

He claimed to launch his presidential bid with federalism as his main advocacy. His national party, PDP-Laban, fielded him because of his support for this form of government. But halfway into his term, Duterte has given up on the idea. Instead, he has told Congress to make other changes to the Constitution.

  • Return coco levy fund to farmers

In 2016, Duterte and his then-running-mate Alan Peter Cayetano promised poor coconut farmers they would benefit from the coco levy fund in their “first 100 days” in office. Three years have passed and this is yet to happen. (READ: ‘Na-Duterte kami’: Why farmers feel betrayed by coco levy vetoes)

Duterte even vetoed the two coco levy bills designed so that the billions in funds could benefit farmers. Duterte cited multiple problems with the bills, including provisions that supposedly open the funds to corruption. – with reports from Cecilia Pagdanganan/Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.