BizNewsAsia’s “Man of the Year” for 2017 is President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
A lawyer, former prosecutor for nine years, the mayor of Mindanao’s Davao City for 23 years, romped home with the coveted title with very little competition.
The closest one giving him a good fight is not even a public official. He is Ramon S. Ang, the vice chairman, president and chief operating officer of giant San Miguel Corp. In 2017, Ang brought SMC to new levels of revenues, profits, growth, and expansion that left its corporate rivals eating dust and stockholders smiling all the way to the bank. In 12 months up to this January, SMC’s share price went up 38 percent, valuing the company at a record high of P314 billion and increasing the wealth of its owners by P87.6 billion.
Duterte is BizNewsAsia’s Man of the Year for a number of reasons:
One, his free college law;
Two, his tax reform law;
Three, his winning the Battle of Marawi;
Four, his war on drugs;
Five, his savvy diplomatic statesmanship;
Six, his stewardship of the robust economy; and
Seven, his unrelenting war on corruption in government.
Duterte signed the free college for everyone law on Aug. 3, 2017. Republic Act 10931 or “The Universal Access to Quality Education Act” guarantees free college education for more than one-million college-age students who otherwise won’t be able to secure quality tertiary education—and therefore, their future—because of extreme poverty.
The President signed the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law on Dec. 19, 2017, which exempts some seven-million wage earners from paying tax on their income not exceeding P250,000 a year.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, principal author of TRAIN in the House, estimates the tax measure will trigger the greatest wealth transfer from the rich to the poor, in the history of this country. About P150 billion in government revenues will now go yearly into the hands of the poor, if TRAIN is properly implemented.
Together, the free college law and TRAIN will set in motion a massive overhaul of Philippine society, leading to the government finally licking the age-old problem of poverty.
Salceda is also the principal author of the free college law.
Only 9.6 million or 9.3 percent of the 2016 Philippine population of 102.78 million are degree holders. Only 64 percent of overseas Filipino expat workers have had a college education.
Under the 2018 General Appropriations Act, the free college bill will amount to P41 billion. The toll will rise to P57 billion in 2019, P53 billion in 2020, and P59 billion in 2021, or a whopping P211 billion in the last five years of the Duterte administration.
Meanwhile, it took the latest in war technology, more than P50 billion in cost, and a longer time frame—four months and three weeks (148 days)— to score victory in Marawi against insurgents wanting to establish a caliphate and a hub for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Southeast Asia, but the victory was sweet and decisive just the same. And Southeast Asia could heave a sigh of relief with the apparent mortal blow to ISIS’s expansionary ambitions in the region, home to some 240 million Muslims.
On Oct. 17, 2017, Duterte declared Marawi liberated. Liberation does not stop there. Duterte and Congress have extended martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2018.
On drugs, government data show 3,967 drug personalities have died in the anti-illegal drugs operations, from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 27, 2017. The number of those killed in the illegal drugs war could be higher. An indicator is that 16,355 homicides are under investigation, for killings between July 1, 2016 and Sept. 30, 2017.
Some 1.3 million alleged users of drugs surrendered. Another 118,287 drug personalities were arrested during July 1, 2017 to Nov. 27, 2017.
Duterte’s war on drugs gave him the gravitas of a strong leader, one who matches his rhetoric with deadly action. It also has made him unprecedentedly popular. Some 77 percent of Filipinos are satisfied with his drugs war. Some 88 percent support his campaign against illegal drugs.
The war on drugs also lent Duterte international recognition, although a good part of it unwanted. Some international papers have referred to him as a butcher. On balance though, the image that emerges is one of a strong leader, single-minded and purposeful in his program of government and vision.
His reputation as a strongman having preceded him, Duterte has ascended to the world stage as of credible statesman and able negotiator, with star power that probably exceeds that of United States President Donald Trump.
The biggest winner of Manila’s hosting of the 31st Asean Summit, Nov. 13-15, 2017 was President Duterte.
“The success of the momentous event is indicative of President Duterte’s ability to lead the country towards global recognition,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.
“The world community now recognizes not only the fact that the Philippine President is not just the president of the Philippines, a leader of Southeast Asia, but a recognized leader in the international community.”
“The Asean Summit also set in motion a number of constructive negotiations among Asean member states and their dialogue partners,” Roque said.
The summit led to an agreement between Asean and China to start formal talks on the Code of Conduct in the West Philippine Sea by 2018.
The World Bank sees the Philippines as becoming the fastest-growing Asian economy in 2018, along with Myanmar, with 6.7-percent GDP growth. In 2019, the Philippines will be the fastest growing, with 6.7 percent economic growth.
Finally, Duterte has waged a war of corruption in a manner and viciousness no president before him has done.
Addressing the gambling agency Pagcor on Jan. 11, Duterte said “I want to stress again the point that you can come in, expand, do business peacefully but please avoid graft and corruption whether you are the giver or the receiver.”