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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Is Duterte an infra president?

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I approached leading presidential candidate Davao Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte at Wednesday’s (April 27) joint meeting of the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines. 

At this writing, Duterte already has 35 percent of the vote.  I think the long-time Davao mayor will duplicate Joseph Estrada’s record in 1998 (39.86 percent of the vote) and Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s in 2010 (42 percent), making the first president from Mindanao one of the country’s most popular presidents.

At the MAP-MBC lunch, while talking to me, Digong pressed my hand tightly and warmly like I were a long lost friend.  He said he would be “honored” to be interviewed by me and asked for my number.  The man comes across as genuinely warm and sincere.  He has an easy way with people.

Duterte, however, is not the kind of man the country’s economic titans usually relate to.  At the presidential table, the mayor was flanked on his left by MAP president Perry Pe, and on his right, by MBC chair Ramon del Rosario Jr. and vice chair Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala (Jaza). Their conversation was perfunctory and not at all animated. The photographers signaled me to ask Duterte to stand up and shake the hand of Jaza. The mayor gladly obliged, to the furious clicking of cameras.

The mayor began his 77-minute speech by telling the 300 CEOs, “relax.  I am not the man portrayed to be by some.” He related a number of anecdotes with a common theme—he is an action man who deals with criminals and other unsavory elements rather harshly, by sending them to Heaven.  He talked about the corrosive effects of money on crime, drugs and corruption.  He vowed a clean government, right on Day One. If he cannot do it, right away, he assured, he cannot not do it in 10 years.

Duterte is probably not an infrastructure president.  I see infra as the panacea to the nation’s problems.

The outgoing BS Aquino III administration claims to have increased infrastructure spending, from 1.8 percent (P165 billion) of the Gross Domestic Product in 2010 to P766.5 billion or 5 percent of GDP in 2016. 

The target is infra spending of 5.4 percent of GDP by 2018.  Assuming GDP of P18 trillion, infra spending should reach P1 trillion in 2018.

It is no coincidence that among the major countries of the Association of  Southeast Asian Nations, the Philippines has the poorest quality of infrastructure, the lowest amount of yearly foreign investments, and the highest poverty and  unemployment rate.  

Also, the Philippines is also the only country in the entire Asean region to have failed the Millennium Development Goal  (MDG) of halving the 1990 poverty incidence by half, by 2015, from 34 percent to 17 percent.

Poverty in 1990 was 34 percent.  Poverty in 2015 was 26 percent. The Philippines is the only nation in Asia to miss its poverty halving target.

Under BS Aquino, about three- million Filipinos joined the ranks of the poor. 

At the last presidential debate on April 24, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and former Department of Interior and Local Government secretary Mar Roxas mentioned infrastructure, in a meaningful manner.

“Our economy will be devoted to construction and reconstruction and will always—and will always be able to depend on five percent to seven percent of the GDP,” Santiago said in her opening presentation. 

She knows that infra must be at five percent to seven percent of GDP. While spending on infra, she also vowed to keep the budget deficit at three percent of GDP.

“In agriculture, we will modernize with irrigation, water impounding facilities, infrastructure, credit available for poor farmers and other technological advances in agriculture that other countries have already adopted,” Santiago said.

For his part, Mar Roxas promised to create 10-million jobs in six years as president.  That’s an average of 1.66-million new jobs per year. 

He should have promised two million jobs a year because the economy, even if there were no president or the president were a dog, would continue creating one-million jobs a year, due to its size (P17-trillion GDP or $369 billion)—one million to provide jobs to one-million new entrants to the labor force and another one million to reduce the combined nine-million unemployment (two million) and underemployment (seven million).

On traffic, the candidates think the problem is one of personnel, not infra.  Grace Poe will appoint a “traffic terminator,” probably with Cabinet rank. Binay will employ good managers and engineers.

Santiago’s solution is railways.

Duterte echoed Santiago’s railway proposal, but one built along the Pasig River “so you don’t buy the road right of way.”

The problem is that the Pasig River runs east from Laguna Lake to west to Manila Bay. It does not reach Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Sorsogon. Duterte also suggested a better mass transit system. Noting that more than 300,000 new vehicles hit Metro Manila roads, he seemed exasperated. “Nothing would really solve the problem,” he conceded.

In any case, outside of crime and drugs, Duterte is not strong on details.  He has the macro view of problems and will probably let his advisers to do the devil in the details.  They include the Dominguez brothers of Davao, led by Sonny; lawyer  and ex-newsman Jess Dureza (a Duterte law classmate and their valedictorian), and some of the Fidel Ramos boys and generals (they are in full force) during the FVR presidency.  Over a year ago, it was Ramos’s idea to have a Philippine president from Mindanao.

At the April 24, debate Grace Poe talked about completing long-pending infra projects—the South Luzon Skyway, the North-South Luzon connector road, the MRT 7 from Trinoma to Bulacan, and the LRT Extension to Cavite.  She raised the possibility of a subway system (very expensive), even one running under the sea (really very expensive), restoring the Philippine National Railway lines to Dagupan, and perhaps building MRTs for Cebu, Cagayan de Oro “and other parts of the Philippines.”

Roxas, of course, talked about current Aquino projects—installing additional 144 coaches for the decrepit MRT 3, the groundbreaking for MRT 7 (a San Miguel Corp. project), the LRT 2 extension to Antipolo (delayed), the LRT 1 extension to Dasmariñas, Cavite (delayed), and even to Calamba, Laguna (delayed).

VP Binay talked about education, enforcement, and engineering but didn’t elaborate except to blame the Aquino administration for its incompetence in coping with traffic.   

Binay thinks traffic is a manpower problem. He will deploy competent managers and create a Department of Transportation by cannibalizing the DoTC.


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