If it still isn’t clear to some people, President Rodrigo Duterte once again showed why he is the polar opposite of former President Noynoy Aquino. Where his predecessor was characterized as being indecisive and a mollycoddler, Duterte cuts right to the heart of the matter and acts like a true leader should – swift, bold, audacious. With no regard as to friend and foe alike.
The contrast in leadership styles was put to the fore in Duterte’s most recent media conference, where he tore into government officials who continue to torment the Filipinos with their incompetence, inefficiency, and corruption. Unlike Aquino who as chief executive regularly shielded close friends like Roxas, Puno, Torres, Naguiat, Abaya, Alcala, and Abad from the righteous anger of the people, this time the President himself took the lead in calling out inept officials.
Saying that he was mad at government, hence the raised fist during the campaign, Duterte rattled of examples of abuse regularly experienced by Filipinos from the very people tasked to protect and preserve their welfare.
It was while citing the “laglag bala” issue, which Aquino, Abaya, and Roxas largely left unresolved, that Duterte announced that he was firing thousands of holdover government officials appointed by the previous administration.
“On Monday (August 22) I will declare all positions in the government that were presidential appointments… all throughout the country, I will declare your positions vacant.”
The President, in his anger, singled out the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LFRB) and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for being hotbeds of corruption. As frontline agencies, both the LTFRB and the LTO are among the key government offices that ordinary Filipinos regularly transact with. As such, Duterte obviously places a higher premium on it being responsive to the needs of the people.
One sign of the President’s extreme displeasure over the dismal performance of these agencies, Duterte ordered the head of the LTFRB to report immediately to him, and did not even wait until Monday to relieve all the presidential appointees to the LTO. “Consider your positions vacant as of this hour.”
Another agency that was targeted by Duterte was the Government Service Insurance Corporation (GSIS), which he lambasted for being inefficient in solving the problems of its constituents made up of public school teachers, policemen, soldiers, and other government personnel.
Frustrated at their ineptitude, particularly in the aspect loan applications and releases, Duterte said that “the heads of financial institutions” should also consider themselves “resigned.”
The mass firing, which will affect thousands of officials who are close to the past regime, shows the degree of neglect Aquino placed on his showpiece anti-corruption platform. Even now the gnashing of teeth and hair pulling have already begun. And it is particularly loud among those whose fortunes were tied to Aquino. Which explains why Duterte’s critics have once more crawled out of the woodwork to denounce him.
They say he is crazy, stupid, or both to do this. They say the government will grind to a halt without these people at the helm. They will say and do anything so they can continue to cling to their entitlements.
But the President is on very firm ground. He has the support of the vast majority of Filipinos who are as tired as he is of the same old crooks taking advantage of the system again, and again, and again, and again. And just like them, Duterte hates corruption with a passion on the scale of his crusade against illegal drugs and criminality. And in a figurative sense, this promises to be just as vicious and bloody, especially on the privileged lifestyles of many of these officials have been living large at the expense of the majority of Filipinos.
Duterte’s warning should also be taken as a very clear shot across the bow for his own appointees. Those who are entering government service with the expectation that they will be able to earn four million a month, or buy fast food franchises for their friends, or that their position is a license to act like an ass should disabuse themselves of those notions.
Working for this administration is neither a blessing, nor a privilege – it is a calling, and as such it will not be easy. As quick as all these previous officials were “put in the crucible” of our country’s fight against corruption, those who feel their closeness to the President or any of his allies protects them, better think twice. It is not a shield, it is a lightning rod. The days of Aquino’s patronage-style politics is over. It is time to go to work.