Quirky style eclipsed by high ratings

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Critics demanded the release of medical bulletins, noting that transparency about the President’s health is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. But the Palace played down concerns about his health.Halfway through his term, President Rodrigo Duterte continues to hold high trust and satisfaction ratings, and extended his popularity to his allies who swept the midterm elections.But 2019 also brought home quirks in this President’s management style and threw up challenges to test his mettle.

Verbal orders

One of those quirks was his penchant for issuing verbal orders with no documentation.In July, in a televised message, he ordered all games run by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office shut down due to massive corruption in the agency.Despite the absence of any written directive, Duterte’s order was enough for the Philippine National Police to shut down over 30,000 PCSO-operated outlets nationwide, a move that affected at least 120,000 employees. A few days later, he lifted the suspension of lotto operations, saying that it was not involved in any irregularity. The bill for the President’s order: P250 million in revenues lost.In November, Duterte ordered a ban on the use and importation of vaping devices and ordered the police to arrest those who use e-cigarettes in public.This was in response to the first confirmed case of vaping-associated lung injury in the country.But the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said Duterte’s order could be challenged by any citizen who feels aggrieved by the directive, an opinion that angered a prickly President.As the year draws to an end, there is still no law that bans nicotine products or e-cigarettes. Police have apprehended users of e-cigarettes, not based on any law, but on an executive order providing for “smoke-free environments” in public and enclosed places.

The Matrix

In the runup to the May midterm elections, the administration ramped up attacks on the opposition, releasing a “matrix” or diagram that purportedly linked members of the Liberal Party, the Magdalo Party, journalists, lawyers and even prelates to a destabilization plot against the President.Among the names mentioned in the matrix were members of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and Rappler.Duterte ordered Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo to release the matrix to the public, adding that intelligence reports have been fed to him from “foreign” sources about the supposed coordinated media plot. The allegation, however, was criticized due to inaccuracies and outdated information—and it was never proved.

Water woes

A shortage of water this year—and an unfavorable ruling in a Singapore-based arbitration court–saw Duterte unleash his fury at private utility companies led by two of the country’s richest businessmen.Metro Manila suffered a water crisis in March, leaving families waiting for hours to get their daily ration from tanker trucks. Before the year ended, the President cursed the Pangilinan-led Maynilad andAyala-led Manila Water and ordered the government to review their contracts over supposed onerous provisions.When an arbitration court ordered the government to pay the two companies more than P10 billion to compensate for “losses” they incurred because they were not allowed to raise their rates, Duterte threatened to file a case of economic sabotage, graft and plunder against people behind the 1997 concession agreements between the government and the two utilities.

He also floated the idea of a military takeover of water distribution if the problem was not resolved.The executives of the water firms sent a letter to the Palace expressing their willingness to amend the supposed “onerous” provisions in the 22-year-old agreement., but the President has yet to respond to the offer, saying he would make an announcement on Jan. 6, 2020.

China syndrome

Duterte’s Beijing-friendly foreign policy continues to be a major issue, as he struggles to sell his pro-China stance to Filipinos, who were angered by the June 9 incident in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in which a Chinese vesel hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat.The incident was exacerbated when the Chinese crew left the Filipino fishermen adrift at sea, where they were rescued hours later by Vietnamese fishemen.Duterte played down the incident as a “maritime accident,” saying nobody had died.His defense of the Chinese prompted him to reveal a 2016 verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that he said allowed the Chinese to fish within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, in exchange for allowing Filipinos to fish in the Panatag Shoal, which China controls despite Philippine claims to it.The administration insisted the deal between Duterte and Xi was “legally binding” even though no document sets out its terms and conditions.After refusing to assert the country’s 2016 arbitral victory in the South China Sea, the President declared he would do so in a meeting with Xi in October.

But he returned from China empty-handed, with Xi still insisting that his government would not recognize the ruling of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration.The administration sought to cushion the lack of progress by saying the Chinese offered the Philippines a 60 percent share in joint oil exploration in the South China Sea—if Manila would set aside the arbitral ruling.Drug warMeanwhile, the President’s bloody war on drugs continue to draw condemnation from human rights groups and the international community.When the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution to investigate human rights abuses in the Philippines, Duterte ordered all government agencies to reject loans and grants from the 18 states that supported the inquiry.

Later in the year, irritated by criticism from Vice President Leni Robredo, Duterte dared her to take a job as co-chairperson of the Inter-agency Committee Against Illegal Drugs. Rorbredo surprised him by accepting the offer.But 19 days after Robredo accepted the post, the President fired her, saying she committed “missteps” that did not sit well with him, such as talking to foreign entities critical of the administration’s flagship campaign that killed 5,000 drug suspects.

In August, public outrage exploded over the near release of convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez, purportedly on good behavior.It was later revealed that Panelo, who also serves as the President’s chief legal counsel, had sent a referral letter about Sanchez’s bid for clemency to the Bureau of Pardon and Parole—a revelation that added fuel to the fire.The public clamor prompted Duterte to sack Bureau of Corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon and order the rearrest of heinous crime convicts—dead or alive—who were released on the basis of good conduct.Duterte also defended Panelo, who was Sanchez’s lawyer during his murder trial.

In the wake of an investigation into the early release of convicts, senators uncovered a police syndicate that resold seized narcotics.Health problemsThe health of the 74-year-old Chief Executive was in the spotlight when he cut short a trip to Japan because of “unbearable pain” in his lower back and hips. The pain, Malacañang said, was due to the motorcycle mishap.He also revealed he has a rare neuromuscular disease called myasthenia gravis, an addition to a long list of ailments the President claimed he has. Duterte also donned an air purifier in several events he had attended and skipped the change of command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in September due to a fever. There were also instances when Duterte was absent from the public eye for an entire week.

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