The Philippines recently marked the first 100 days in office of both President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte. Global news reports highlighted the key issues that Marcos has tackled since July but the work of Duterte has usually not been mentioned.
In the Philippines, the vice president is elected separately by the citizenry. The vice president has no official role in the government other than to wait and prepare to lead if the president is unable to fulfill his or her duty. It is important, therefore, to review Duterte’s first 100 days as it can provide a glimpse of her priorities and even the prospect of her becoming the country’s next president in 2028.
After their proclamation, Marcos appointed Duterte as the Department of Education (DepEd) secretary, an important position since she will oversee the biggest government agency in charge of more than half a million public school teachers and almost 30 million students.
Reflecting on her first 100 days as DepEd secretary, Duterte said the main achievement of her department was the resumption of face-to-face classes in over 47,000 public schools. Her allies praised her also for the reopening of schools during the pandemic.
Duterte didn’t mention some of the controversies that hounded DepEd, such as the audit report of overpriced laptops procured by the previous government and the request for confidential funds intended to make schools safer. Several groups have questioned the rationale of a civilian agency performing the duties of security forces. Opposition Senators revealed that the DepEd confidential fund is even bigger than the budget request of the government’s intelligence agency. Duterte defended the budget item but Senators can still realign or remove it when Congress resumes plenary sessions in November.
Meanwhile, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers pointed out the logistical problems encountered in public schools, such as classroom shortages and inadequate learning resources, which added to the suffering of both educators and students. They also called out the Marcos-Duterte tandem for their “betrayal and neglect” after reneging on their election pledge to raise the salaries of teachers.
Unlike her predecessor Leni Robredo, who was an opposition leader in the previous government, Duterte is an ally of the president, and this allowed her office to expand its outreach programs to providing medical, burial, and transportation assistance. Duterte reported that for the first time in the history of the Office of the Vice President, satellite offices were established in key cities across the country. Another first was the establishment of the Disaster Operations Center and the planned permanent residence for future vice presidents. As VP, Duterte visited 20 cities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao and went to the islands of Limasawa in Southern Leyte, Siquijor, and Guimaras to bring the services of her office.
She also reported that among the highlights of her first 100 days were her meetings with the ambassadors from Australia, Italy, Ireland, Vietnam, Laos, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, the European Union, Qatar, India, and the United States. Duterte even mentioned that she met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during her first week in office. Interestingly, Duterte trended on local social media when she delivered her video greetings for China’s founding anniversary in Mandarin.
Duterte also went viral after she greeted Marcos during his birthday and hinted that she has been using the president’s chopper for some of her trips. This sparked an intense online conversation about the privileges enjoyed by top officials while the majority of commuters are left to endure the country’s languishing mass transportation system.
Duterte didn’t include in her report that an election rival and former legislator had accused her of having a role in the filing of a cyber libel complaint involving one of her former staff members. Duterte denied that the charge was politically motivated, although she warned her critics that “the right to freedom of speech and expression does not protect anyone from defiling the name and reputation of others.”
Duterte’s supporters consider her a strong candidate for the 2028 presidential elections. Her first 100 days saw her actively moving around the country; she expanded the services of her office and agreed to be in charge of the government’s biggest agency. She met top security officials after she was appointed caretaker of the government when Marcos was abroad on a state visit, and she held highly visible meetings with diplomats. Is she already preparing for the presidency?
As education czar, Duterte faces a tough battle ahead since the country is still reeling from the devastating impact of the decision of the previous government to extend school closures during the pandemic. And despite her long list of activities as VP, it is inevitable that many will compare this to the impressive work of her predecessor, who overcame numerous challenges and succeeded in delivering public service and leadership through innovation and transparency.