Energy of political will of the presidency is the reason Duterte is succeeding

Thursday January 04, 2018 ()

Why is President Rodrigo Duterte succeeding with his administration and gaining in popularity after 18 months in office, while his predecessors mostly faltered or were even petrified (Aquino III) while serving much longer at the job?

I will answer this with the single word which the great Alexander Hamilton said is the secret, the sine qua non, of effective government: ENERGY.

Political will of Duterte

While Duterte is the oldest to serve in the Philippine presidency, and his presidential time has been short so far, DU30 has been a dynamo (a force or power) in office.

  • He has launched more reforms and programs to change the tone of government in the country.
  • He has shaken up the bureaucracy and fired more governments officials (including many whom he appointed) to check corruption and raise the level of government efficiency.
  • He has appointed a powerhouse team of economists and technocrats to design and lead an ambitious economic program to take the Philippines to the heights of economic productivity and modernization.
  • He has faced down and defeated a full-blown IS-inspired rebellion in Mindanao. Now, he’s shifting focus to liquidating once and for all the 48-year-old communist insurgency, and
  • He has dramatically changed the thrust and priorities of Philippine foreign policy.

Federalist No. 70

Hamilton, one of the original American founding fathers, succinctly summarized his ideas about executive leadership in the classic Federalist Paper No.70. It was just the first of many innovations that he introduced in America.

Hamilton wrote:

"Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government…It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combination which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice, to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction and of anarchy ...

"What are the ingredients which constitute this energy. The ingredients which constitute this energy in the executive are: first, unity; secondly, duration; thirdly an adequate provision for its support; fourthly, competent powers."

In short, Hamilton argued here the case for an energetic and forceful president.

Some scholars equate Hamiltonian "energy" to presidential "activity," while others describe energy as a president’s eagerness to act on behalf of his constituents.

According to Hamilton, a unitary executive is necessary to:

  1. Ensure accountability in government;
  2. Enable the president to defend against legislative encroachments on his power.

A unitary executive structure will best permit purpose, direction, and flexibility in the executive branch—especially necessary during times of emergency and warfare.

A unitary executive is best suited to promoting accountability in government because it is easier to point blame at one person than to distinguish fault among members of a group.

Hamilton justifies executive strength by claiming that the slow-moving Congress, a body designed for deliberation, will be best-balanced by a quick and decisive executive.

Hamilton also maintains that governmental balance can only be achieved if each branch of government (including the executive branch) has enough autonomous power such that tyranny of one branch over the others cannot occur.

Energy of will or political will

It was the late Blas F. Ople, senator, labor secretary (under Marcos) and foreign affairs secretary (under Arroyo), who first introduced me to the work of Alexander Hamilton.

He told me that Hamilton espoused "energy of will" in the presidency. I haven’t found the exact phrase in Hamilton’s works, but it was a captivating rendering of Hamilton’s ideas on executive energy. This relates "energy in the executive" to "political will," a term which many use to describe what is missing in feeble government.

Blas was a fine phrasemaker and political thinker in his own right. It was my good fortune to work with him when I was fresh out of college. He got me hooked on Hamilton, political science and history.

Three presidential strategies

The US historian and political scientist James Macgregor Burns, in his study of presidential government, Presidential Government, the Crucible of Leadership (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1967), opined that presidents face a choice between three basic presidential strategies or models.

They could try to operate on the basis of the old Madisonian model – the model of checks and balances, bargaining among minority coalitions, limited presidential power, and the inability of government to make major departures in policy except on the basis of a popular consensus.

They could act on the basis of another model – the Jeffersonian model. This is the model of executive teamwork and leadership, majority rule, and party responsibility.

Or they could adopt a third strategy – the Hamiltonian model. Hamilton believed in a national executive with ample powers to govern and lead. He would not feel unduly confined by the nice balancing and compartmentalizing of governmental power by the constitution framers. He would adopt a legislative strategy to intervene in the framing of bills at the start and at the finish and all the way in between.

Some scholars describe Hamilton’s model as "high-toned" government.

Duterte’s choice

In his own case, President Duterte, I believe, has clearly adopted the Hamiltonian model of presidential leadership.

He is conscious of the fact that our Constitution’s "Article VII on the executive department" does not define explicitly the powers and duties of the president. The charter is wordy on restraints on martial law and writ suspension; it is ever watchful of President Marcos; it is constipated in its vision of the mission of the president in leading the nation in the economy, society, general government, and in foreign affairs. Duterte knows acutely that the people’s expectations of him are high.

The duties cited in the president’s oath are the sort which mother would surely approve:

  • Preserve and defend the Constitution
  • Execute the laws
  • Do justice to every man
  • Consecrate my service to the nation

All the Charter really says is that the president shall have control of all the executive departments, bureaus and offices. He shall ensure that the laws are faithfully executed.

No wonder, Benigno Aquino III spent his time Noynoying in Malacañang.

This is not for DU30, a man of action and busybody. He would not mark time at the Palace by any stretch of the imagination. He would dare to do things and seek to leave his mark as the 16thPresident of the Philippines.

Does it mean, as Senator Leila de Lima suggests, that Duterte will become a dictator among us? Will he modernize the Philippines and reform our system of government over the corpse of the Constitution?

No, it means that he will exercise executive leadership in the achievement of ambitious and worthy goals for people and country. He will make reform where he can.

His energy will hopefully accomplish a lot more before the show is over.

Sources:

  • Why Duterte is succeeding: Energy in the executive, Yen Makabenta, January 4, 2018, The Manila Times

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