On two important issues, President Duterte seems to have amended an earlier decision after meeting with his cabinet and they gave their views and their recommendations.
One was the issue of Philippine ratification of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Early in his term, President Duterte had said he would not sign the Paris agreement as he feared it would set back the country’s economic development.
Led by Secretary Gina Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the cabinet debated on the matter last Thursday and it was stressed that the Philippines, like all other countries in the Paris conference, had merely submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution to the attainment of conference goals, which a follow-up conference five years from now would review for possible updating. The majority of the Cabinet voted to uphold the treaty. It was a near-unanimous vote, with only one or two opposing, the President said. So he said he would go along with it and sign it.
The other big issue was the matter of Philippine-American military exercises. During his recent state visit to China, the President said there would be no more such exercises during his term. But in last Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana said the cabinet members advised that the annual Balikatan exercises between Philippine and American defense forces be held as scheduled, but no longer the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) naval exercises and the Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex). The President also yielded to the cabinet on this issue.
President Duterte is a strong-willed leader ready to make decisions on delicate issues. On his own, he has sometimes stepped back and clarified or modified his position. At his meeting with his cabinet last week, he called for an open discussion and he listened to their counsel. This is a welcome development.
We have very capable and competent men and women in the cabinet today. While they were chosen primarily to run their departments according to their respective expertise, they are also patriotic citizens with a wide range of views and experience.
President Duterte would do well to consult them often and listen to their views. Together they can better determine the people’s thinking on various national issues and be guided by them.