MANILA, Philippines—The transition of President Rodrigo Duterte from tough talk to seeming helplessness against corruption was palpable.

The President, who once declared he won’t condone even a “whiff” of corruption, has been drawn to saying “you cannot stop corruption” by what he and his explainers said was the sheer enormity of the problem.

READ: As whiff of corruption emits bad odor, Duterte quick to defend his men

In his last State of the Nation Address, Duterte said corruption was “endemic in government” and “nobody can stop corruption unless you overturn the government completely.”

To get rid of corruption, he said martial law should be declared. He earlier said “the most that we can do is to fight it” because “if you don’t want corruption, then close the government.”

“We are not proclaiming that we have gotten rid of corruption. There is still corruption in this government and any other government that will come after me and in the past — it is always there,” he said.

In 2016, however, when he was still campaigning for the presidency, Duterte declared that if he was elected, he will get rid of corruption. “Give me about three to six months,” he said.

Five years later, the Commission on Audit (COA) released a report finding “deficiencies” in the use of P67.3 billion by the Department of Health (DOH) in the fight against COVID-19, including P41 billion transferred to the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and…

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