BUSINESS leaders said Thursday they were disappointed that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte offered no specifics about his economic plans and policies during Wednesday’s speech before the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines.
.“I think that was an expectation that he would spell out more concrete and more substantive policies, measures and plans which Senator [Grace] Poe and Secretary [Manuel] Roxas [II] did, and it was highly appreciated by the members. I think the members, in this particular meeting, went home a little bit…their expectations were not met,” said Peter Angelo Perfecto, MBC executive director in an ANC television interview.
“What was unfortunately missing was any discussion on economic policies and programs,” said Ramon del Rosario, chairman of the MBC.
Duterte’s lead in the presidential race two weeks before the May 9 polls has unnerved the business sector, with the peso slumping 1.6 percent this week as opinion polls put the mayor firmly ahead of his rivals, despite his provocative comments about rape and extra-judicial killings.
Meanwhile, Philippine bond risk has climbed from near an eight-month low and foreigners have pulled $41 million from local stocks this month.
Duterte, famous for his expletives, trailed his two closest rivals Poe and Roxas in a Bloomberg survey of economists on which candidate would best steer the country’s economic policy.
While Duterte said his economic policies would be leaning towards the improvement of the people’s lives, which includes spending more than P18 billion yearly to support start-ups; amending constitutional provisions to open the restrictive economy to foreign ownership and even copying the best practices of many of his rivals and the past administrations—many questions about his economic policies were left unanswered, businessmen said.
“Even if they were best practices, they should have been identified. If there were things the Arroyo and Aquino administration, if there were policies there that the mayor liked, then he should have said what these were, and if there were things in the platform of the two [Roxas and Poe] that he’d like to copy, it would have been better if he told us and stated clearly what exactly in these platforms he would adopt,” Perfecto said.
“When you have a claim that in six months you will address crime, I think we would expect more detail to that, and particularly the traffic problem, the only thing he did say… was that it may not be solved in six years but he will do his best,” he added.
Issues, such as Duterte’s plan to adopt “socialist” economic policies also raise concerns among members of the business community.
Duterte, who talked for an hour, failed to entertain questions as a question-and-answer session was called off because of his tight schedule.
Perfecto said that details in his speech, aside from the usual remarks he makes in sorties, could have helped businessmen decide who to support.
“At the very least, I think we were expecting a little bit more detail. I think that’s important so that people can make their decision,” he added.
Peter Wallace, however, said Duterte stayed true to himself in stark contrast to other politicians.
“He talks as he is, and I think people respect that. I think people are sick of listening to politicians who say what they think other people may like, other than what they really believe. He [Duterte] says what he believes and this is refreshing for people,” Wallace said.
Del Rosario said Duterte, who was the third and last presidential candidate to appear at the MAP-MBC presidential forum, may have missed the opportunity to get the message across to another set of voters.
Roxas and Poe had earlier spoken before the influential business groups.
“Clearly the two [Poe and Roxas] knew this was a business group that wanted to hear more about economic policies and programs and they made it a point to address those issues. In the case of Mayor Duterte, his passion is really law and order and he chose to focus on that. And that’s fine, that is his prerogative,” Del Rosario added.
In his talk, Duterte said he was open to amending the Constitution to allow foreign investors to play a bigger role.
“I will open the economy to foreigners,” said Duterte.
In February, Duterte said he was “comfortable” with up to 70-percent ownership, up from the 40 percent maximum the Constitution now allows.
But Duterte said he will let Congress decide on which industries will be opened to foreigners.
While he was against foreign ownership of land, Duterte said foreigners could lease land for up to 60 years.