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Musings on Duterte’s first six months


By Andrew James Masigan

Andrew James Masigan

Andrew James Masigan

The year is about to come to an end.  As I contemplate the last six months of the Duterte administration,  I find myself having mixed sentiments. On one hand, I remain optimistic on the  plans and programs of the administration’s  economic team.  Carried out correctly, it could firmly establish the country as one of the most competitive in the region.  On the other hand, the President’s confusing policy declarations, obsessive fixation on the war on drugs and inclination towards partisan politics have become a cause for worry. Let me elaborate further.

On the economic front, the administration’s ten-point economic agenda is the most timely and appropriate we’ve had since  President Quirino’s “Drive Towards Industrialization”.  It contains the prescriptions needed to eliminate the roadblocks to development and foster rapid growth.  Among its important components   are: constitutional amendments to relax equity  and industry restrictions for  foreigners;  corporate and personaltax reform; promotion of rural development  through agriculture and tourism; investment in human capital through education; promotion of science, technology and the creative arts; and the  implementation of the Reproductive Health Law.

More significantly,  its intention to spend $160 billion on infrastructure within 5 years should take the economy to a new level, not to mention provide relief to us all.  There are nearly 100 projects waiting to be built for which the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and Department of Public Works and Highways are lead agencies. To implement them quickly and without legal impediments, however, the DOTr is requesting emergency powers from the  legislature.

All these, along  with  the continued adherence to fiscal and monetary prudence,  should set up the economy nicely for decades to come.

Proposals  for tax reform, economic Cha-cha and emergency powers have  already been submitted to Congress.  Let’s hope it sees light   in 2017. The economic team could use the President’s persuasive powers to get it  through.

Dampening optimism, however,   is the manner in which the war against drugs is being handled. While I recognize that illegal drugs are a problem, I am concerned that the fixation on it takes away precious  executive attention on the fight  against the real enemy – poverty.

The war on illegal narcotics and its consequential extrajudicial killings are costing us more than we realize.   The perception of lawlessness and disregard for basic human rights has already caused the suspension  of aid from certain donor countries. Worse, it is the reason for which numerous investors have either  put their plans on hold or have cancelled them in favor of Vietnam.  Investment commitments to the Philippines have plummeted by 50 percent this year,  compared to last year.

Exacerbating matters is the President’s fondness for making  grand, sweeping statements  relating  to foreign policy only to retract or contextualize them  the following day. All these compound political risk, not to mention create the impression that the country is a hostile environment for America or EU investors.

Why am I excessively concerned  about investments? It’s all about capacity building. Investors, foreign and local, build  economic capacities through new factories,  acquisition of  fixed assets and infusion of technologies. It is our guarantee that growth will continue apace in the years to come. We are losing the battle for foreign investments and our supposed “savior,” China, has not filled the gap in any way.

On the political sphere, a cause for worry is the political appointees chosen not for their academic or experiential credentials but because they are friends or staunch supporters of the President during his campaign.  The best and brightest, many are not.  Partisan politics has become prevalent again.  All these will redound negatively in the manner by which government operates and our how national resources are expended.

As a leader, President Duterte has compelling traits. He is charismatic, popular,  armed with the right economic prescriptions, undeterred   by religious, social or familial baggage and proven capable of getting things done quickly, no matter the obstacles.  In him are the traits needed to foster an economic renaissance like no other.   My wish for  2017 is for the President to give the economy the same  commitment and attention  he has given  the war on drugs. What a game changer that will be.


Andrew is an economist, political analyst, and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.

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  • gambit

    “While I recognize that illegal drugs are a problem, I am concerned that the fixation on it takes away precious executive attention on the fight against the real enemy – poverty.”

    That is absolutely wrong! Why? Well of course we are already a Narco State. Drug money is everywhere and is ruining our hope for GOOD GOVERNANCE. For us to lift off and progress we should bring back the TRUST of the people by eliminating drugs, corruption and criminality. That is the platform that we need to establish before we take off any economic goals moving forward. And you mentioned about credentials vs trusted friends holding key government position, well why not? All we need is a TRUSTED government official with the right level of POLITICAL WILL. Its garbage if you are that good but is untrusted. You can’t work on a team where you don’t trust all team members. And its as if the credentials are far away from what we need. Thats just a politically motivated opinion I would say…

  • That is the problem when you have a diplomat who specializes too much on economic theories and tries to analyze it with his own political story line – it is usually short of those other valid realities that have to exist for it to endure.
    When it is all about capacity building that is translated to putting the right infrastructure only, the input is not complete.
    I believe that Duterte is doing both. Capacity building “includes” a doable economic atmosphere where the lawless are punished and the compliant citizens are assisted – you see, each citizen has a choice, but at the end of the day, both the lawless and the upright citizen do not have equal rights.
    That is what economics is all about from the eye of a good leader and an enforcer.
    Study Davao and learn his signature (why it has successfully climbed the ladder from scratch).
    But it has to start with a messy conflict against the bad elements in society, and it is still (like you said) a 6 months old administration. We could either support it or impair it

  • Ra Jsn Oduger

    Regarding political appointees, the sensitive cabinet posts were given to battle tested individuals whose credentials is at par with the best. Those given to supporters are minor and insignificant ones. The author is just trying to placate some of his elitist friends in the mainstream media.

  • ee

    This must be categorized as “Opinion”, however the good writer (as a self-proclaimed analyst), is misleading readers to make his statement a fact. Please provide a supporting details before doing something like this. It looks rubbish!!!