a maverick leader

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  • Rodrigo Duterte was elected in May to take over as President of the Philippines from 1st July 2016. Many commentators have likened his rough, tough image to that of Donald Trump but such a comparison is almost offensive to Trump. Dutertes utterings would make Trump sound like a Sunday School teacher in comparison. Duterte brags about his Viagra-fuelled womanising, revels in the nickname of The Punisher and has run a foul-mouthed campaign, vowing to kill 100,000 criminals and feed their bodies to the fish in Manila Bay. He has made jokes about raping a dead Australian missionary and called the Popes mother a prostitute. He has also been called Dirty Harry, likened to the part played by Clint Eastwood in the movie of that name.

    On the other hand, Trump is an outsider with no political experience. Duterte has been Mayor of Davao City, the largest city on the island of Mindanao, for 22 years. He is both an Arts and a Law Graduate and was a practising attorney for many years before entering

    politics. He has also been an elected member of the countrys Congress and as such does not come to government without an elected pedigree. Duterte is an experienced leader whose crude and outrageous style hides a cunning political brain. His election has also revealed much about Filipinos despair with what are disdainfully referred to as trapos or traditional politicians. The outgoing President oversaw 6 per cent growth, one of the highest in Asia, but failed to convince ordinary Filipinos that he was improving their lives. In this way, Duterte mirrors Trumps appeal in that American people seem to be attracted to someone who has had considerable success in business and many believe he could do the same in Washington.

    The Philippines is a sovereign island country situated in the Western Pacific and has a population of 100 million spread over some 7,641 islands somewhere between 4 degrees and 21 degrees north of the Equator. It also has an additional 12 million people living overseas who make a major contribution

    to the strength of the economy with their remittances to families at home, a boost to the economy which has no comparator in any country that I have studied. Of considerable concern is the likely approach Duterte will have to foreign policy in general and to China in particular. The Philippines is a key US ally standing up to Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, where both Beijing and Manila claim ownership to the resource-rich Spratly Islands which are much closer to the Philippines than to China. The current President Benigno Aquino III who was ineligible for re-election, recently agreed to ramp up US troop rotations on Philippines military bases. Manila is vital to Washingtons rebalancing to Asia policy. The big question is whether America and the rest of the world can rely on someone who to date has shown himself to be a loose cannon, at least verbally, with little training to suggest he can play a straight bat to the meddling Chinese in a game in which he is unfamiliar.

    There are two good things going at the start of the Duterte presidency. First the macroeconomic fundamentals are very sound. GDP growth is at 6.2 per cent or better; inflation is less than 2 per cent, budget deficit and public debt are less than 4 per cent and 50 per cent of GDP and the country enjoys an investment grade credit rating in the worlds debt markets. Second, the eight-point economic programme drawn up by Dutertes economic advisers has been well received by the business community. He has made it plain that he will leave the management of the economy to professionals.

    To understand the Philippines one has to recognise the extensive gap between the rich and the poor. The elite rarely mix with ordinary folk, apart from maids, chauffeurs and farm hands. The share of Filipinos living below the national poverty line in the first half of 2015 was 26.3 per cent, the same as it was in 2009 before five years of considerable economic growth. It is against this back drop that Duterte has made his candidacy attractive. He most certainly understands the plight of the poor. The big question remains as to whether he can manage a country of 100 million people as well as he managed the City of Davao with 1.5 million people. It is a big ask.

    66 NI Chamber

    columnist

    A mAverick leAder

    Has tHe PHIlIPPINes eleCted aNotHer doNald trumP as Its PresIdeNt? Ian RaIney, cuRRent ceO Of MSL executIve RecRuItMent and fORMeR InteRnatIOnaL bankeR, assesses tHe PossIbIlIty.

    President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte has been likened to Dirty Harry, the part played by Clint Eastwood in the movie of that name. Picture credit: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock