Beyond war on drugs, Philippines' Duterte seen setting up economic boom
Less than two months in office, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is getting high marks from the business community for policies that could engineer an economic surge and companies say they are making new investments as a result.
While Duterte may be getting headlines for a bloody war against drug dealers and users, less attention has been paid to one of Asia’s few economic success stories.
The groundwork was laid by Duterte's predecessor, President Benigno Aquino, who took growth above 6 percent over his six-year term , but executives are also cheering the new administration’s focus on building new infrastructure and say it could spell the start of a long-term boom. Some even see Duterte's violent and highly controversial anti-drugs campaign as potentially positive.
"We are in a very good spot," said Antonio Moncupa Jr., president and CEO of East-West Banking Corp, one of the top 10 lenders in the country. "The pronouncement of government prioritizing infrastructure spending, accelerating it and cutting red tape, solving peace and order, I think all point to very good prospects ahead."
Last week, the government announced that the Philippines’ economy grew at 7 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, its highest level in three years. It makes the Philippines the fastest growing among all countries that have reported so far for the second quarter.
When Duterte won the May presidential election, there were questions marks over how he would handle the economy – Duterte, who is nicknamed "the Punisher", has been unapologetic over unleashing the police on drug users and dealers. Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa said on Monday that there have been 1,800 drug-related deaths since Duterte took over as president, with 712 of those at the hands of the police.
The new president has launched a crackdown on online gambling, vowed to destroy oligarchs, warned that the country could live without a mining industry if environmental standards were not met and called the U.S. ambassador a "gay son of a whore".
But Duterte has a 91 percent approval rating in the latest public survey and businesses are lining up to announce expansion plans. The mainstays of the economy - remittances and the outsourcing sector - are flourishing and boosting domestic consumption.