Crossroads (Towards Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 5 October 2016


No Filipino leader has projected himself upon the world’s consciousness as swiftly as our President Rodrigo Duterte. This is largely because of his plain, profanity-laden manner of speaking.

His quick rise to notice. He was able to seize the attention of the world by the sagacity of his war against illegal drugs and the way he could invoke confrontation with famous leaders and personalities by the sheer nature of his referenaces to them.

With Pope Francis, he cursed at the traffic-gridlock in Manila that the papal visit had caused. On separate occasions, he unleashed his own brand of response with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and  US President Barack Obama, when each made known their concern about human rights of the victims in President’s war against illegal drugs.

I called attention to the problem that arose from such impudent talk recently. (“Tact and diplomacy: Duterte-Obama miscues and the fallout and the economy,” Sept. 14, this column.)

More trouble from straight talking. Shortly after this piece was written, President Duterte unleashed more examples of his style of straight, unguarded speaking monologues, often before television.

These appearances are, very often, before as many groups that he addresses. So, the occasions are replete with quotables depending on the moment and the subject matter.

The television is a precision piece of communication medium. But the images from TV could be clipped, folded, and turned into fragments of quotes. These are the ingredients of proper and improper means of mis-transmission and mis-understanding.

Alert journalists can easily spin a quote, an expletive. And then we get the words and pictures transmitted over the world. In modern net-working, such clips can easily go viral.

Thus, the most sensational comparison of his war against drug criminals with Hitler’s holocaust against the Jews became immediately viral and worldwide. In turn, it unleashed a reverse criticism against President Duterte. The damage was properly perceived, for he had stepped into forbidden territory.

With international outrage so expressed, he had to explain and offer an apology.

Learning from experience. President Duterte should be able to learn from these developments. He cannot forever make amends and apologize for failure to say the right thing.

His Cabinet officers and spokesmen cannot serially be offering interpretations of what he had meant or said. Credibility could be lost with repeated blunders.

In the end, the damage reflects poorly on the President, and, from that, also on the nation. You, me and our forefathers!

Hence, silence or prudence would be the best course of action. When our actions or words refer to other nations or leaders, we should use the proper level of courtesy or respect even when we disagree with them.

But the President is irrepressible. He speaks in his manner because he does not seem to care about being president. In talks before groups of followers or government officers, he often speaks with fatalism, showing he is not afraid to be removed from the presidency.

But he should remember and realize that his words and actions affect the nation and the future of the nation.

The presidency is not about him. It is an institution in our nation’s journey as a people in a community of sovereign nations. He does not need to alienate the Philippines from some countries to further relations with other countries.

It is unnecessary to make enemies of friendly countries just to deepen or open relations with other nations. He is in such a hurry to correct the country’s problems he does not care to react with caution when the world takes notice of his unorthodox methods in pursuing his objectives.

Macrofundamentals and the drug war. I am often asked if there is a connection between the drug war and the economic program. The essence of such a question is in what way the drug war affects the economic program.

In general, the answer to this is that the intensified drug war is likely to have beneficial results on the economy. The prosecution of the drug war implies a competition for funds with other needs of the economy.

First, there are needs related to the direct prosecution of the drug war — the police and its requirements. These have risen, and the President has also promised a rise in the number and salaries of policemen.

In addition, there is the growth in attending to the requirements of rehabilitation of drug victims. This aspect has not been fully appreciated in earlier years, and when President Duterte engaged in the drug war, the rehabilitation centers are in short and inadequate stage.

The benefits from a successfully executed drug war could be immense. A drug-free labor force will certainly improve productivity in employment. Also, collateral crimes associated with the drug menace will fall, making it much safer for citizens to do their daily life.

Duterte’s economic program. In fact, the 10-point economic program is not being hindered by the drug war. The main elements of the program would have to be passed first in Congress.

A bright side of the current Duterte government is that the economic program is moving well with quick action. The Congress and the Senate are primed for the government’s legislative program. The most important parts of the program are already in Congress.

The budget is now in Congress. The tax reform program — a comprehensive package — has also been submitted to Congress. The is the most comprehensive tax reform program in recent memory. Moreover, the preliminaries of filings for the constitutional amendment to introduce a federal system of government is already a major concern of the current Congress.

In general, the macroeconomic fundamentals of the economy have not changed much from last year and continue to be favorable. The world’s major economic blocs are still troubled by the same conditions.

Europe is in some kind of turmoil because of Brexit – Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. China and Japan are in pretty much the same situation as in last year.

The bright side comes from the US economy which has shown steady gains. This has given strong impetus for the US central bank to proceed with its plan to raise interest rates by the end of the year, with the presidential elections there holding up the action.