Decoding Duterte” was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on August 6, 2016.

It is not easy to reconcile seeming discrepancies among statements made by President Rody Roa Duterte (PRRD) and between what he says and what he does. But the task should not take the skills required to read tea leaves or chicken entrails. Five weeks after he assumed office, we begin to get a sense of the presidential style.

First, prepared scripts do not sit well with PRRD, as demonstrated not only by his casual treatment of the State of the Nation Address prompter, but also by his undisguised surprise at portions of his text. After reading the plan to accelerate commuter train speed from 40 to 60 kilometers per hour, he commented: “Huwag kayong maniwala dito” (Don’t believe this). He then talked about the risk of raising speed limits with dilapidated train tracks.

He softened this warning by addressing Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade: “Art, ambisyoso ka, ah. Kaya mo kaya ito?” (Art, you are ambitious. Can you really do this?). The possibility of being publicly disavowed may make PRRD’s executives more modest in their claims. It may also lead the public to wonder which of the prepared texts issued under his name PRRD takes seriously.

Second, the remarks probably reflect PRRD’s limited time and patience with protracted planning processes. Management consultants would prescribe a system for approving speeches or, for instance, critical personnel appointments. The latter would involve several steps, including preparing a short list of candidates and the metrics to evaluate each one’s fitness for the job. This was not the process PRRD described in appointing Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.

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Edilberto de Jesus
Edilberto de Jesus is a former Secretary of Education. He is also professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.