LOS ANGELES — Presidential Communication Secretary Martin Andanar met with members of the Filipino American community at the Philippine Consulate here, Jan. 23, and presented a positive picture of President Rodrigo Duterte’s governing style and campaign against illegal drugs in the Philippines.
Andanar responded to press reports circulating in the U.S. and international media what the Philippine administration brands as an erroneous depiction of Duterte’s anti-drug war and his style of national leadership.
Andanar asserted that Duterte’s formula for economic development is predicated on achieving an underlying peace in the country: “We will move forward if the citizens are enjoying a peaceful life.”
The Duterte administration has claimed that the campaign against drugs has so far resulted in confiscation by the government of 3.7 billion pesos of drugs over the first six months of the administration from 18 regions in the country. It also reported netting one million “surrenderees,” 80,000 of whom are known drug pushers.
Andanar cited the success of Pres. Duterte’s economic formula with the country’s growth at 7.1% gross national product (GNP) in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2016 in spite of “naysayers,” economists and business leaders who predicted a decline in the economy of 6% in the same period.
This, according to the Andanar, makes the Philippines’ economy one of the fastest growing in the world and second in the ASEAN region.
He also credited Duterte with winning the confidence of international finance institutions like the World Bank, Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Credit Watchers of Standard & Poor for a predicted economic growth of 6-7 percent for 2017.
He noted that official development assistance (ODA) from various donor countries like Japan and China has totaled one trillion pesos with more billions coming from Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia, demonstrated confidence and optimism of these countries on the economic future of the Philippines.
The town hall moderated by Philippine Consul General Adelio Angelito Cruz, sought “free for all” questions from the audience.
During the Q and A, many members of the Fil-Am communities here–from Los Angeles to San Diego expressed support for the Duterte however, one underlying theme of the questions raised was about the killing of persons mistaken to be pushers or drug addicts.
Andanar called these concerns legitimate but added that in waging war there’s always “collateral damage.” He reassured the audience that the government was doing its best and working with the Philippine National Police (PNP) to cut down these damages.
One community member followed up: “Bakit po puro mga mahihirap na drug pusher ang napapatay ng mga pulis?” (Why is it that only poor drug pushers are the only ones being killed by the police?)
To which Andanar responded: “Let’s face it, the rich drug pushers usually live in gated communities (and have the capabilities to hide)” compared with pushers from the low-income strata who admittedly are easier to get to.”
The press secretary said President Duterte needs six more months, “perhaps up to the end of his term to combat the drug menace.” Andanar said the president didn’t realize the enormity of this problem, that there are four million drug addicts in the Philippines (other estimates put the number at 1.8 million).
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Andanar cited Davao as an example of Duterte’s success in bringing about lawfulness. “This is our exhibit A– Davao.” Duterte was the former mayor of Davao a coastal city on the island of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, for more than two decades before he was elected president.
“Lumago ang economiya ng Davao, bumagsak ang krimen and the people there follow the law.” (Davao’s economy grew, crime dropped.) He added: “The law in the Philippines was not followed until Duterte came to power because people do not fear the law. Walang sumusunod sa traffic; pag-file mo ng kaso sa korte umaabot ng siyam-siyam; walang sumusunod sa batas.” (No one followed traffic rules; lawsuits took forever to resolve; no one followed the law).
He said the majority of those who left the Philippines probably did because of their frustration with lawlessness. “Niluklok ng 16 million voters si Duterte and when he implemented his changes in Davao, that province now “posts 9 percent economic growth – the highest in the Philippines” (16 million voters made Duterte president).
Still addressing the issue of the “extrajudicial killing” of people suspected to be drug dealers and addicts, another community member asked: “Is (Duterte’s) government following the philosophy of ‘the end justifies the means’ or the Machiavellian rule?”
True, Andanar, answered, “it seems like Machiavellian and there are things in life when we have to be Machiavellian; then there are situations when we have to be ontological and follow the morality of church.”
As to the possible declaration of martial law, Andanar said journalists have a responsibility to ensure that the complete message is not taken out of context.
“If you write ‘Duterte will declare martial law,’ add ‘—if’ to the headline. He said writers should understand that in this fast age of social media, many readers do not bother to read the inside pages, where the rest of the story lies.
He also addressed concerns that oftentimes the President makes pronouncements that may need to be interpreted or clarified.
“Our president speaks in the language that most Visayans speak and understand,” he said, “and for decades the country has operated mainly in Tagalog which is the main language of most Filipinos.”