POLITICAL norms may be crumbling all around the world, but citing Adolf Hitler as an inspiration remains a no-no almost everywhere. That did not stop Rodrigo Duterte, the outspoken president of the Philippines, who declared in September that he wanted to do to Filipino drug addicts what Hitler had done to Jews.

So far, Mr Duterte’s drug war has seen more than 7,000 drug suspects killed by police, vigilantes and rivals (the three categories overlap). Most Filipinos are enthusiastic, albeit nervous for their safety; many foreigners are appalled. Love it or hate it, the campaign has totally overshadowed Mr Duterte’s eight months in office. Yet Filipinos elected Mr Duterte not just for his “Duterte Harry” approach to crime, but because of a much broader pledge to upend the status quo by elbowing aside entrenched elites, reducing yawning inequality and repairing crumbling infrastructure. In addition to its terrible cost in lives, Mr Duterte’s anti-drugs crusade risks becoming a distraction from the many more constructive items on his agenda.

The most important measure Mr Duterte’s administration has so far presented to Congress, where his supporters hold a hefty majority, is the first of five ambitious tax-reform bills. It would lower the top personal income-tax rate from 32% (relatively high for the region) to 25%, and would raise the threshold at which tax becomes payable. To offset those losses, the bill would increase taxes on fuel and vehicles. The second bill, which the government plans to introduce later this year, would reduce the corporate income-tax rate from 30% (also high for the region) to 25%, while trimming tax breaks. Later measures would lower inheritance taxes, make more goods and services subject to value-added tax (VAT) and raise taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and, perhaps, sugary drinks.

Carlos Dominguez, the finance minister, says these changes should raise revenue, despite lowering headline rates. The lower personal rate will, he hopes, deter tax evasion by reducing the incentive to cheat. The lower corporate rate is intended to attract more foreign investment.

Tax and spend

Increased revenues are essential to Mr Duterte’s ambitious infrastructure plans. For years the country has underinvested in infrastructure—in the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Competitiveness Index, the Philippines ranked 95th in the sector, well below its South-East Asian peers. Mr Duterte’s administration wants to spend 5-7% of GDP on infrastructure, roughly what his predecessor, Benigno Aquino, managed in his last year, and well above the average rate between 1980 and 2009 of around 2%. Manila has some of the world’s worst traffic—two-hour commutes in each direction are not unusual. As a candidate, Mr Duterte promised to do something about it, which helped win him support from Manila’s middle class.

Priorities, according to Mr Dominguez, include better airports and railway lines around the country, notably in Mr Duterte’s underdeveloped home island of Mindanao, and between Manila, Subic Bay and Clark—raising the possibility of a new international airport at Clark to relieve congestion at the abysmal one that serves Manila. Numerous projects approved by the previous administration are scheduled for completion during this one, giving Mr Duterte plenty of opportunities to grin, cut ribbons and claim credit.

Other items on the “ten-point socioeconomic agenda” he released shortly before taking office include relaxing restrictions on foreign ownership of companies, overhauling land-tenure laws, improving the country’s health and education systems, promoting rural development and broadening access to contraception.

Mr Duterte is also well positioned to put an end to two of his country’s longest insurgencies. Mr Aquino presented Congress with a bill granting autonomy to Muslims in Mindanao; Mr Duterte, who got on well with Muslims as mayor of the island’s biggest city, says he supports it. In February he cancelled peace talks with the communist New People’s Army, but he has close ties (too close, whisper some) with leftists, and the two sides may soon find their way back to the negotiating table.

Making good on any of these initiatives requires attention and discipline from the top, however, and Mr Duterte remains almost wholly focused on drugs. Many hoped that would change: in late January Mr Duterte suspended his drug war after rogue police officers killed a South Korean businessman. But this week the national police chief said that drugs are creeping back onto the streets, and the president suggested that the war would resume.

Mr Duterte is now pushing a bill to reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine, and also wants to reinstate capital punishment (formally) for drug-trafficking. These proposals are meeting resistance in Congress, which is also uncertain about autonomy for Muslim areas and lukewarm about tax reform. This week Leila de Lima, a senator and a long-standing critic of Mr Duterte’s, was arrested on charges that she ran a drug-trafficking ring while serving as Mr Aquino’s justice secretary. Ms de Lima strongly denies the charges, calling herself a “political prisoner”.

The president’s erratic character, obsession with drugs and indifference to the rule of law have consumed his first eight months in office. But his term is six years: there is still plenty of time to focus on more worthwhile plans. The millions of Filipinos who elected him to improve their lives will expect no less, even if they, too, are now distracted by the war on drugs.