"Without a vaccine for general use, the recession could rage well into 2021."
In a previous column I talked about President Rodrigo Duterte’s achievements. Now, here are his failures:
1. The Philippines’ greatest depression
In the second quarter of 2020, the Philippine economy slumped to its lowest ever in the country’s history -- a 16.5-percent contraction in economic production. On top of the 0.7-percent contraction in the first quarter 2020, the 16.5 -percent GDP growth drop means the country is now in recession with first semester drop in economic output of 9 percent. It is the worst recession in our history.
For the whole of 2020, the economy is expected to decline by 10 percent. BizNewsAsia estimates the GDP contraction for the whole could be as large as 30 percent -- assuming a loss of P1.5 trillion for each month of lockdown. This lockdown – the longest and severest in the world – has run for seven months. This means half of the economic production is gone by now. That cannot be recovered in four months.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez explains that “no matter how much money countries pump into their economies, their GDP would have shrunk massively, anyway. It is not the sheer size of the stimulus package that matters now but also whether it is actually saving the productive parts of the economy. This is because the problem is not a systemic contraction or a cyclical bust. Simply, necessary mobility restrictions hamper aggregate demand.”
Government economists earlier projected a recovery of 7 percent to 8 percent in GDP growth rate in 2021. That is now overly optimistic. Without a vaccine for general use, the recession could rage well into 2021.
When the President came to power in July 2016, he stumbled into the greatest and longest economic expansion in the country’s history—70 consecutive quarters of growth. Duterte himself added 14 quarters of growth before it went negative in the first quarter of 2020.
Begun in 1999, the expansion meant a 4.2-fold increase in the size of Philippine economy (from $72.2 billion in 1998 to $304.9 billion in 2016), a dramatic reduction in poverty, and middle-income status for Filipinos, with their per capita income exceeding $3,000.
Today, Duterte presides over the worst economic performance of the Philippines ever. The slump is also the worst in ASEAN. The economic collapse also makes him the worst president ever in terms of economic performance.
And that is all due to the second biggest failure.
2. Pandemic mismanagement
Duterte imposed one of the earliest lockdowns in the world. Still, even if it was the world’s longest and strictest, the lockdown failed to contain the pandemic.
Ten days before Duterte imposed the lockdown on March 15, 2020, there were only TWO confirmed cases. At this writing, the Philippines is the pandemic epicenter in the 11-nation ASEAN with a total of 265,888 cases. It is No. 21 in the world. The Philippines dislodged Germany yesterday and is barely 23,000 cases below No. 20, Italy, 288,761.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez says “the decisive (lockdown) helped us avert an estimated 1.3 to 3.5 million infections according to researchers from our universities. The lockdown enabled us to reinforce our health system and build up our capacity to do widespread testing in our communities. From just around 1,282 actual PCR tests per day conducted in the last week of March, our capacity has grown to about 32,000 average daily tests this (August).”
Adds Dominguez: “Without the lockdown, the rate of infections and deaths could have been much worse. The latest data suggest that a little over 1 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the country are severe or critical. Our mortality ratio, on the other hand, is at 2.5 people per a hundred thousand.”
He notes that per 100,000, the EU member states average 31 deaths, UK 70, Spain 61, Sweden 57, and the US 52.
3. Unprecedented human rights violations
What has made Duterte a strong president, the vicious illegal drugs campaign, has also given him one of his major failures—massive human rights violations. Critics say he killed more than 27,000 in the guise of eliminating the pervasive illegal drugs curse.
Human Rights Watch says many of the 27,000 are “vigilante-style killings perpetrated by police officers themselves or by killers linked to the authorities.”
Authorities admit to 7,000 deaths during the campaign. Any numbers above that are classified as “homicides under investigation.”
Aside from the drugs war killings, the Human Rights Watch has also noted the politically motivated detention of his most prominent critic, Senator Leila de Lima, the removal in May 2018 of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the revocation of amnesty given Senator (now retired) Antonio Trillanes IV who led mutinies in 2002 and 2007, and the passage of a new Anti-Terror Act (ATA).
Recently, there have been sensational killings of known political activists, human rights defenders, and alleged New People’s Army commanders.
In 2019, the Human Rights Watch reported that “State security forces and government-backed paramilitaries continue to harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, and in some instances attack and kill political activists, environmentalists, community leaders, and journalists.”
Duterte has vowed to continue his “war on drugs” which will be “as relentless and chilling on the day it began.” He wants death penalty, banned under the Constitution for most crimes, to be reimposed for drug crimes.
But the people love the President for the “drugs war.” In May 2019, two top allies made it handily into the Senate elections which solidified Duterte’s power base. Longtime aide, Christopher Go, and Davao’s former police chief, Ronaldo dela Rosa, who initially spearheaded the “drug war,” were elected to the Senate. Dela Rosa was named to head the Senate committee charged with investigating police matters and the “drug war.”
4. Failure to contain the communist insurgency and the Muslim separatist movement
The killings of political activists and alleged NPA leaders have failed to dent the 52-year old communist insurgency. Muslim terrorists are on the warpath marked by a new phenomenon—suicide bombers. The PNP has tripled its anti-insurgency budget, a worrying sign.
5. Coddling of the police and the military
Duterte has employed more generals, from the military and the police, than any other president before him. More than 45 star-rank officers occupy cabinet and civilian positions in the government.
Despite the overwhelming dominance of generals, the Duterte administration has not proven itself any more competent nor any less corrupt than past administrations.
When the chief of the national capital’s police force was caught on social media having a breakfast birthday party with more than 50 guests (despite strict lockdown prohibiting gatherings of ten or more people in one place at the same time), Duterte refused to fire the erring general.