Brand values

Two nights ago I was daydreaming about what I would do if I won the lottery. Not necessarily those blockbuster jackpots; even the tens of millions of pesos ones will do. Maybe I can finally get the things I need for the flat, like a fridge.

Just hours later, Rodrigo Duterte would unilaterally ban the lottery, and all of the other gambling operations of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, citing massive corruption in the agency.

It certainly was swift. Yesterday I saw photos of police closing down lotto outlets. That seemed a bit drastic; you'd assume those kiosks who did nothing but the lotto - and I'm sure that's every kiosk - would close it down themselves, because, well, what else can they do? They may try to sell tickets but the system will be offline. Then again, drastic is the brand the president rides on. Decisive is the brand the president rides on.

Sometimes you forget that this is the case. Even if the president still attracts strong support - more so now that his allies and acolytes have swept up more positions in the legislature, particularly the historically more independent Senate - you forget that he thrives on being able to say he's done things faster than any other president. Setting aside the chaos that is his campaign against illegal drugs, and the faster pace of his infrastructure investment program, Duterte hasn't done as much as he wanted. His major policy initiatives - and let's set aside the argument over whether those initiatives are "truly his" - have been stuck in legislative limbo, no thanks, perhaps, to the fluid nature of numbers and allegiances in both chambers.

If you watched his State of the Nation Address last week - promised to be short, but ultimately also stuck in Duterte's tendencies to go off-script and bloviate - you would realize that, at least from a policy perspective, not much gets done. Not for lack of trying, of course. This government, for one, hopes to pass five tax reform packages in six years; it's spent two years trying to convince businesses that the second, the so-called TRABAHO Law, would ultimately be good for them. It certainly is a complex plan, one that involves streamlining the myriad incentive packages for foreign investors (which has the economic zones up in arms) and revising the industries which will be prioritized for promotion, but several sectors fear that the plan would result in current investors leaving. Consider that our biggest exports are not in the agricultural sector but in the semiconductor sector. Lose a chunk of that, and we will have a problem.

Another one of this government's initiatives, the Ease of Doing Business Law, has been stuck in the bureaucracy a year after it was formally signed by the president. (Yes, I know the framework for this law was set many years back, by both the public and private sectors.) The Anti-Red Tape Authority, which was established to oversee the law's provisions, took a while to appoint its head; the Implementing Rules and Regulations were only formalized a couple of weeks ago. And yet the clock has been ticking; the law imposes a three-year period for all government entities to streamline, simplify and improve regulatory processes and requirements. We've seen some Business One-Stop Shops established (you might remember the one that our current Government Friday, Isko Moreno, opened in a midst of media publicity) but we've still got a ways to go when it comes to actually attacking the perceived sluggishness and complications of working with government.

But then, that's the bureaucracy for you, for better or worse. It can be corrupt, but at the same time it can be methodical, deliberate. I've seen that first hand. They're still trying to convince stakeholders that the TRABAHO Law would be good for everyone, for one. You know Duterte would've wished these things would go faster - and if he could, he would've made it possible. All this (perceived) dithering is anathema to his brand; throw into that the uneasiness towards how he has embraced China, and you have someone who's turning out to be more the same, at least to those who have been in the middle of the fence, and not gobbled up the Kool-Aid.

So, we have these unilateral actions to remind us that, hey, unlike that other guy, this guy gets shit done. He has nothing but the country's interest at heart, decorum be damned, rules be damned - all that just gets in the way, come to think of it. So, now, in the name of quashing corruption, he's suspended (or banned, depending on what you read) all gambling activities from the state-run lottery operator, never mind how it impacts those kiosks that suddenly have nothing to sell and have to close.

But, hey, this guy is also practical. Sure, he may have promised to end "endo" once and for all, but in vetoing the Security of Tenure Act which would've done just that, he cites the need to balance interests of both management and labor. Sure, he may have promised to plant a Philippine flag on Spratlys, but in cozying up to China, he cites how it is more important to avoid a war, never mind the many other legal means to enforce the arbitration ruling that we are entitled to what's in our exclusive economic zone. Whatever. He just wants what's best for us, and anyone who says otherwise is a hater.

This year's State of the Nation Address focused more on what Duterte has already done, in a bit to cement, this early on, the #DuterteLegacy. I found that weird, because I expected him to look forward to what he wants to do, considering he has bigger numbers in the legislature, to the point that even some in the "dilawan" side are looking to align with the supermajority. And he certainly hasn't lost his support, whether it's because of social media algorithms or because people just can't get tired of his straight talk.

But then, it seems keeping the brand values alive is more important - why else would they greatly emphasize on the "production" of last week's speech? Star director doing the cuts; decorations on the rostrum, to remind us that, despite not delivering on what he promised, he still has Marawi in his mind. What is he losing when he lets his own brand down? Or, what are we being distracted from when we are reminded of his brand, in all its misogynistic glory?

And your responses...

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