WILL THE PHILIPPINES BE THE NEXT SINGAPORE UNDER DUTERTE?
AFTER A GRUELING 90-DAY CAMPAIGN PERIOD which many consider the Philippines’ most exciting and cliff-hanging presidential election ever, the Filipinos have spoken.
They gave Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte a landslide victory that reflected their preference for an iron fisted action man with a proven track record as the “punisher”over the failed promises of straight governance, economic prosperity and better lives of his closest presidential rival.
With campaign tags like “Tapang at Malasakit” (courage and compassion) and “Tunay na Pagbabago” (real change), coupled with his milestone achievement of transforming Davao City from murder capital to one of the safest in Southeast Asia, Duterte beat his rivals by a very convincing margin. Duterte’s promise to end criminality and corruption in the country within months from his election as president provided hope to a nation hungry for real change, especially in the areas of peace and order and corruption.
Before a mammoth crowd at his “Miting de Avance” at the Luneta Park two days before the May 9 election, Duterte, with his signature cuss words and no-prisoners language warned drug traffickers and corrupt government officials to stop, or he would go after them once he assumed the presidency.
But as the mayor’s supporters cheered the promised changes, the business community had reservations on his economic agenda, or the lack of it. According to Makati Business Club Executive Director Peter Perfecto, that agenda was not clearly laid out in the campaign.
Duterte raised further controversy over what some considered his unrestrained profanity prompting them, including the church, to launch a ‘morality campaign’ to vote only for righteous candidates. Obviously, that campaign was a dud. His alleged links to a DDS or Davao Death Squad reportedly responsible for the summary execution of drug criminals were also raised but flopped. Even the last minute “bombshell” of Senator Antonio Trillanes on Duterte’s alleged bank accounts bombed out, and nothing could stop the tough talking mayor from getting the highest number of votes in the presidential race.
At the close of the presidential canvass by Congress, Duterte had over 16 million votes, garnering well over 6 million more than his closest rival.
The Duterte Destiny
Duterte’s rise to the presidency could have already been written in his stars, in his early years. His mother, the late Soledad Duterte, must have seen this potential in her first son as she fondly called him President Rody. Destiny has taken a long and circuitous route for Duterte and at age 71, he captured Malacanan after a 22-year all-win record as congressman, mayor and vice mayor, becoming the country’s 16thpresident. Beatles superstar John Lennon said about destiny: “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.” The presidency in 2016 was, without doubt, meant to be Duterte’s.
With limited resources and no party machinery, Duterte defied the known standards for winning an election – money and machinery – by beating the three other candidates with the money and the most solid political machines and logistics. He made campaign history by defying political orthodoxy, matching paid political ads with earned media and totally dominating social media, to the consternation of maintream print and broadcast. The usual operators who dictated political disocurse were pushed to the margins by a new backwaters bully on the pulpit, relentless and vicious.
Many, with tongue in cheek, credit the bunglings of the Aquino administration for the Duterte phenomenon. Outgoing Pres. Aquino’s hubris, arrogance and incompetence, they said, made Duterte a compelling necessity, the decisive leader as counterpoint to Noynoying.
Aquino may have had a plan but he lacked the political will and competence to see them thru. Duterte said he would pick thru those plans to pursue whatever good there was and he has apparently found some.
Duterte Unfolds his 8-Point Economic Agenda
After months of speculation on his economic agenda, Duterte finally rolled-out his eight-point economic program. At the same time, he started naming members of his cabinet giving the public initial insights into a Duterte presidency. Reactions to announced nominations have been mixed but there is growing consensus that the new president should have as much leeway to cobble together his official family. Apparently, he is getting the benefit of the doubt on this one.
At a May 12, 2016 press briefing, former agriculture secretary Carlos Dominguez, the incoming Finance Secretary, underlined the following measures to boost economic growth:
- Continue and maintain the current macroeconomic policies. Reforms in tax revenue collection efforts will be complemented by reforms within the bureaucracy of tax collecting agencies.
- Accelerate spending on infrastructure by addressing major bottlenecks, and maintain the target of setting aside 5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to infrastructure spending.
- Ensure attractiveness of the Philippines to foreign investors, and enhancing competitiveness in doing business in the country. This also means reducing crime to attract investors and increase security of businessmen and consumers.
- Provide support services to small farmers to increase productivity and improve market access. Provide irrigation and better support services to farmers. Promote tourism in the rural areas.
- Address bottlenecks in our land administration and management system.
- Strengthen basic education system, and provide scholarships for tertiary education, which are relevant to private employers’ needs.
- Improve tax system by indexing tax collection to inflation rate, “to enable those who earn a little to have more in their pockets.”
- Expand and improve implementation of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.
While some point out the very close similarities of the 8-point agenda to the programs of the outgoing administration, a closer look will reveal the effort to correct the past mistakes with marked differentiation: infrastructure spending pegged at 5% of GDP should make up for PNoy’s underspending; support to the farmers and the countryside will correct the current imbalance in the sharing of growth dividends between the very rich and the very poor; security and crime, though not covered in detail, are factored in as investment draws. But most critical to any agenda is the political will to follow through and the incoming administration has political will in abundance.
Will Duterte be the Philippines’ Lee Kwan Yew? Will the Philippines be the next Singapore? Read the second part of this story. Grab your Trade In Magazine Copy at National Bookstore.
CHITO JUNIA is the editor-in-chief of Trade In Magazine and President of BOC Press Corp.