Five vows, five years later: A lookback into Duterte’s major campaign promises

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines)— For most of his political career, Rodrigo Duterte was known as a local official who transformed Davao City from a security risk to a thriving economy.

The nation noticed his no-nonsense, unconventional governance, and in 2016 elected Duterte to the highest position in the land.

In the twilight of the chief executive's term, CNN Philippines looked back at some of his major campaign promises:

End illegal drugs and criminality

Duterte vowed to end drugs and corruption three to six months into his term. He said at the time, “If I become president, there's no such thing as bloodless cleansing. I propose to get rid of drugs within three to six months.”

This was translated into a bloody war on drugs— a campaign that earned the ire of human rights groups.

The President also vowed to step down if he failed to deliver on this promise. However, he did not resign and, instead, asked for an extension.

“I feel so bad about all of these things. Kasi nalaman ko, paano ko ma-kontrol in three to six months, ang mga generals na pulis nandiyan. Tapos ‘yung mga Bureau of Customs na inaasahan ko, p*******ina nasa droga. How will I succeed, e nasa droga...Alam ko na nagkamali ako. Nagkamali talaga ako,” Duterte said.

[Translation: I then learned, how can I control this in three to six months, the police generals are there. Those at the Bureau of Customs whom I trust, they are in drugs. How will I succeed? They are in drugs… I know I made a mistake. I really made a mistake.]

Despite this, the President remained popular.

If there's one thing that set apart Duterte from past presidents, political analyst Carmela Abao said he shed light on issues close to the masses: poverty and inequality.

Abao said the president captured the imagination of Filipinos but lacked the system to put these into action.

“It really reflects social problems that other presidents may not have tackled before,” Abao said. “Drugs, for example, has not been tackled by any other president before. Apparently, with Duterte, we are not sure hanggang saan niya talaga dadalhin (up to where he will go with this)."

She further described the president's style. "In political science, sometimes they call it, performative governance. It’s in the realm of symbolic politics. You're not really doing it, but as long as your language says you are, your appearance says that you are, then you will get people to believe that you're actually delivering,” Abao said.

Promise to increase salaries

Duterte also vowed to double the salary of the police and military.

He raised the pay of law enforcers, frequently visited military camps and fast-tracked modernization programs.

However, Abao differentiated law enforcement at the local and national levels.

Kung baga trinansport lang niya 'yung ginawa niya sa Davao dito sa ginawa niya sa [national level],” she said.

[Translation: It’s like he transported what he did in Davao here at the national level.]

Promise to end corruption

Duterte also promised to put an end to corruption within the first six months of his term and if he fails to do so, he will step down.

According to Abao, it is not as easy to strike down corruption as it seemed.

“If you're really after crooks, put in a system. Make sure there's a possibility for people to go to jail," she said.

But after more than four years, Duterte would say it was impossible to leave a clean bureaucracy.

Promise to end insurgency

As the first president from Mindanao, Duterte promised to end insurgency.

To his credit, the Moro rebellion finally ended through a landmark peace deal, with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front now a key implementer of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

On the other hand, the peace talks with the communist rebel was a lost cause.

The unprecedented challenge

At the twilight of his term, Duterte faced the biggest challenge yet: the COVID-19 pandemic.

As in previous occasions, he delegated key tasks in the COVID-19 response to former military officials.

Defending the move, the chief executive explained they get the job done.

But Abao said government institutions may have been undermined in the process.

“I think it revealed the limits of populist governance. So you're basically undermining institutions, but in a pandemic we see how important institutions are and how important systems are. Like 'yung healthcare system natin, komplikado siya e (Like our healthcare system, it’s complicated),” Abao said.

Abao added there has to be a system and parameters when it comes to addressing a major health crisis like COVID-19.

‘Yung governance niya is not evidence-based. Not even evidence-informed. For example, sabihin niya, 'by the end of this year, back to normal na tayo.' Paano magbaback to normal e wala pa nga nababakunahan? Tapos 30,000 pa lang nababakunahan sasabihin mo, 'Oh it’s excellent.' That kind of [behavior] is not just detrimental but it has caused deaths,” she added.

[Translation: His governance is not evidence-based. Not even evidence-informed. For example, he says, by the end of the year, we're back to normal. How can we go back to normal where there's no vaccination yet? And when 30,000 have been vaccinated, you say ‘Oh, it’s excellent.]

Despite criticisms, Duterte scored high in independent surveys even at the latter part of his term, which is unusual for a president.

Abao said this has something to do with his father image.

“[B]ecause a father can do wrong but he will always be forgiven. When you're a father, you may have done something really wrong but you will remain a father. But a government official, if you do something wrong you're not supposed to remain in government. So I think that imagery of being a tatay (father) really absolves him of so many accountabilities,” she explained.

Abao said it is a political strategy combined with a social condition that makes Duterte popular despite his shortcomings.