Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11 November 2017


President Duterte’s 13-minute keynote speech at the Apec CEO Summit was excellent. I don’t know who wrote it, but he read it word for word, with very minor glitches (like when he said “500 centuries ago” instead of “five centuries ago,” in reference to the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade). There was not a single expletive.

Tangentially, I must say that I do not blame him for resorting to expletives, if his Filipino audience in Vietnam (in another forum) is any indication. The first “p*tang ina” he pronounced was met by enthusiastic applause and laughter (you can see it for yourself on YouTube), so what the heck.

Returning to the matter at hand: It was not his speech to the Apec CEOs that has generated all the media headlines. Rather, it was his answer to the only question posed to him after that speech, a question that had to be repeated, as the President seems to have some hearing disorder.

The speech may have been excellent, as I said at the beginning, but it was not especially noteworthy. Reader, you can watch it yourself, courtesy of PTV 4. There were the usual platitudes about the need for more competition, more complementation, more cooperation. All the other buzzwords were there also—regional economic integration, connectivity (not only physical but people-to-people). And a call for greater market access.

His main message to his audience of CEOs was that they should adopt an inclusive business model that would provide opportunities to those at the bottom of the scale—the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in their countries. This would serve two objectives: They would be integrated in the way these CEOs do business, and it would unleash their spirit of entrepreneurship.

He also called for the equitable distribution of the wealth increase that accompanies globalization and free trade.

He ended with a friendly warning: The Post 2020 Apec will only be relevant if prosperity is shared by all. And repeated that the essence of true cooperation is that everybody contributes. We don’t want charity, we want greater market access. And unless we adopt this mindset, inclusive growth will continue to elude us. Amen.

Okay. Came the one-question (the emcee was prepared for two) open forum. And this is where the fun (and the headlines) began.

The questioner started with thanking the President for his insights on Asean and his “strong advocacy of free trade and inclusive growth” which “we all share.” Now the question: “We have seen a rise in antiglobalization feelings, particularly in certain developed countries. How do you think Apec should be reacting to that?”

The questioner was asked to repeat the question, which he did, emphasizing the antifree trade and antiglobalization feelings of developed countries. The emcee (a Filipino) then repeated it to the President, and I think the emcee’s version was not quite the same as the questioner’s. But I don’t know that for sure.

Anyway, the President started his answer by saying: “Globalization, to a certain extent, has really damaged poor economies.” And then launched into a seven-minute peroration which, I must say, was quite incoherent.

Only consider: He gave, to illustrate his view, America and China. He said America was “the first victim of globalization,” and China was the big winner. But wasn’t America the rich country and China the poor country? So globalization helped rather than damaged the poor country, right?

Further, he talked about the Philippines, and how our “bright boys” go to America and form part of its resource base. Huh? Didn’t he just say that the United States was the victim rather than the beneficiary of globalization?

Then he talked about how we export raw materials and import finished products at “four times the original cost.” Good grief. Has he looked at our export list recently? It seems this is what he learned in college 50 years ago, and he thinks it is still so today.

The supreme irony, to me, was when he talked to the Filipino community in Vietnam and expounded on how we were being victimized by globalization—to a group that is benefiting from it.