Duterte admin charts course for next five years

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 28) — "Kung kayo naiinip na, kami naiinip na din." (If you're growing impatient, we're growing impatient too.)

Top leaders of the Duterte administration had this to say during CNN Philippines' Town Hall on Wednesday when pressed about the government's progress in reclaiming Marawi. But it also summarized their thoughts about their first year in government.

According to the officials, President Rodrigo Duterte has made significant headway over the last 12 months. They called for patience, though, as they said it would take some time before major security, transport and economic issues could be fully resolved.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesperson Restituto Padilla, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Transport Assistant Secretary TJ Batan, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chief of Staff Jojo Garcia and Sen. Dick Gordon were at the Far Eastern University (FEU) in Manila to parry questions straight from the audience.

Questions poured in from the university students and also from social media, focusing on the unrest in Mindanao, Metro Manila's perennial traffic woes, and what the economy still had in store for Filipinos.

Here is their assessment of the Duterte administration's performance, one year on.

Marawi: Certain victory

The AFP has been able to rescue majority of residents stranded in Marawi, as well as recover the bodies of Maute fighters and their weapons, Padilla said.

But there is still a number of people left in the city, mostly senior citizens and children. The AFP has confirmed the deaths of 27 civilians so far during the month-long fighting. There are reports of fresh executions but these have yet to be verified.

"We don't doubt we will win. But it will take time," Padilla said.

He acknowledged that residents have long been wanting to return to Marawi, but he said progress in reclaiming the city had been slow. Urban warfare is complex since the area is developed and Maute fighters could hide in many places.

More than that, what ground they have been able to recover has been littered with a "frightening amount" of explosives.

"The IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are designed not just to injure but to kill," Padilla said.

He said the AFP was just as eager as the Marawi residents to have things returned to normal in the city. But the priority of the troops is to ensure the safety of civilians before letting them return to their homes.

Drugs: After the war

The buzz around the President's war on drugs has died down in recent months, especially with attention now focused on Mindanao. But the promise to rid the Philippines of illegal drugs was at the heart of Duterte's campaign.

"Oplan Tokhang" and "Oplan Double Barrel: Reloaded" have claimed more than 3,000 lives, police data showed. Human rights groups put the number closer to 9,000 and allege that this includes extrajudicial killings.

During the Town Hall, students probed the government on its plans to address the problem of drug addiction, beyond police operations.

Trade Secretary Lopez said awareness campaigns have been launched to educate citizens about the dangers of illegal drugs and to prevent them from trying it.

"There are also support programs to keep them busy and encourage them to be productive, such as skills training and entrepreneurship classes," he said.

Sen. Gordon, meanwhile, challenged drug addicts and their families to seize the opportunities offered by the government.

"For example, we have already legislated that education should be free in all state universities," he pointed out.

Transport: Inching forward

Aside from security, traffic was the other flashpoint during the Town Hall.

The MMDA was taken to task for traffic jams still plaguing the metro, with Garcia admitting roads are simply not enough to accommodate the daily volume of vehicles. The MMDA, however, is focusing on two major factors it believes are worsening the situation: obstruction and corruption.

Obstruction disrupts the flow of traffic, Garcia said, citing public utility vehicles loading and unloading passengers outside the designated stops, cars illegally parked on the street, and vendors occupying the sidewalks, forcing commuters to walk on the streets.

"More than obstruction, though, is corruption. Hindi naman gagawin 'yan ng motorista kung walang enforcers na tumatanggap ng patong," Garcia said. (Motorists wouldn't risk violations if enforcers didn't accept bribes.)

Meanwhile, Batan assured the Transport department was working to expand MRT operations to 22 trains with four carriages each, from 20 trains with 3 carriages each.

This is a crucial development as the MMDA's proposed two-day number-coding scheme was criticized widely during the Town Hall. Audience members, both in the venue and on social media, decried that they wouldn't be able to take their private cars for nearly half the work week.

Economy: Investing in friendship

The Duterte administration's decision to rekindle ties with countries like China and Russia, as well as strengthen friendships with Japan and Korea, has reaped rewards, economic managers said.

Trade Secretary Lopez said the Chinese and Japanese governments alone have committed about $9 billion each in official development assistance. Business-to-business talks have also gone well, with private deals in the works.

"These are not just commitments. Toyota and Mitsubishi have started to produce some of their cars locally and with local content too," Lopez said.

To further expand the economy in anticipation of more foreign investments, the administration is planning a steady rollout of infrastructure projects during its term.

Diokno said there were 75 flagship projects the economic team wanted to pursue, ranging from railways, bridges, airports and seaports.

"Basically, we want to connect areas all across the country and make growth centers outside Metro Manila, so that other regions can share in the development," the Budget chief said.