The President's men

Mr Dominguez is not afraid of being disliked.
Mr Dominguez is not afraid of being disliked.
Mr Pernia intends to pursue policies that will disperse wealth away from Manila.
Mr Pernia intends to pursue policies that will disperse wealth away from Manila.
Mr Yasay does not believe in yelling.
Mr Yasay does not believe in yelling.

Dr No, the Professor and the Whistleblower. These are the men Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen to run the economy and steer his foreign policy. The monikers speak of how they are known, or hope to be known. Like their boss, these men are unafraid of rowing against the current. They have been tested by adversity, and are deemed to have the chops to do what they need to do. Philippine Correspondent Raul Dancel reports.

The man 'everybody hates'


People he has dealt with, and even his friends, say Mr Carlos Dominguez, the new finance minister, is not an easy person to work with.

He knows it but relishes being someone "everybody hates". It just goes with the territory, he said of his "bad guy" reputation, which he earned both as agriculture minister and CEO of various corporations.

Of his new position, he says collecting taxes and refusing to fund unnecessary projects do not win friends. "I think I'll soon be known as Dr No in the Cabinet," he said in a speech after he took the helm of the finance ministry.

"No government is possible without the secure flow of revenue. No revenue is possible unless someone steps up to the plate to be the person everybody hates. In this new administration, I guess that will have to be me."

Just a week into his new post, he has already put the brakes on one project: the finance ministry's proposed 4 billion peso (S$114.6 million) headquarters.

Mr Dominguez, 70, is a childhood friend of President Duterte. His presence in Mr Duterte's Cabinet has been a source of comfort among businessmen.

A businessman himself, Mr Dominguez owns one of the Philippines' largest hotel chains. He used to run flag carrier Philippine Airlines, is currently chief executive of PTFC Redevelopment Corp, a leasing company, and has been president of consumer merchandise firm Retail Specialists since 1991.

Among the other companies he has helmed are mining firm Lafayette Philippines, Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corporation, and BPI Agricultural Development Bank.

Mr Dominguez has also had experience in government. He was former president Corazon Aquino's agriculture minister from 1986 to 1989.

As finance minister, he said he will focus on tax reform and has his sights set on overhauling the internal revenue and customs bureaus, two agencies that Mr Duterte has derided as among the most corrupt.

'Perfect choice' for economic planner


Mr Ernesto Pernia is not an inspired choice; he is the perfect choice, analysts have said. He has a resume that fits to a tee the requirements of his new job as the Philippines' chief economic planner, having been a lead economist of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) from 1999 to 2003.

Mr Duterte, 71, had said that, as a lawyer, he prefers to prosecute criminals and corrupt officials, and would rather leave the running of the economy to the economists.

True to his words, the President has found an economist to chart the country's economic future.

Mr Pernia, 72, has spent much of his working life in academia. He had planned on being a priest but gave up this idea for a more worldly profession. He took up economics instead, eventually earning a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

From 1965, he worked his way up the ladder from instructor to professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines. Along the way, he had the stint at the ADB. In a profile that appeared in the online news site Rappler, Mr Pernia was described as "a deliberate person. He does not spew out his thoughts recklessly".

The link to Mr Duterte was through a brother-in- law, who is a first cousin of the new president.

But it was not affinity that drew Mr Pernia to Mr Duterte. In an interview with Nikkei Asian Review magazine, Mr Pernia said he backed Mr Duterte because he saw him as "impatient. He acts quickly and gets things done without corruption".

As for what he will to do as director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority, Mr Pernia said he intends to pursue policies that will disperse wealth away from the capital Manila.

"Because Duterte is pro-poor, that means the policy will be pro-poor. The budget will be pro-poor, pro-backward regions," he said.

Courage may be needed again


Mr Perfecto Yasay, 69, may be a place-holder foreign minister, but his one-year tenure will likely test his mettle to the fullest.

He is expected to shift Philippine foreign policy from the aggressive tone towards China taken by Mr Benigno Aquino, Mr Rodrigo Duterte's predecessor, to a more conciliatory one. Mr Yasay will have to do this while dealing with a momentous event that is expected to alter the geopolitical landscape in South-east Asia.

On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration will rule on a case Manila filed contesting Beijing's vast claims to the South China Sea. The dispute has stretched far beyond South-east Asia, embroiling the US and Japan, as the stakes involve control of waterways crucial to regional defence and world trade.

Many believe the decision may favour Manila. Mr Yasay will have to decide how the Philippines will persuade China to abide by the court's ruling, or sit down for talks on easing tensions in the South China Sea.

His every word is being listened to carefully. Last week, he said he was "averse" to having Manila issue a stronger statement about the dispute if the tribunal rules favourably, saying "there is no point for us to yell".

His show of courage in the past could be indicative of his ability to handle the hot potato of the South China Sea disputes. He was head of the Security and Exchange Commission in 2000 when he linked his boss, then President Joseph Estrada, to a huge stock market scandal run by a business crony of the President. His testimony helped build a case that led to Mr Estrada's impeachment and ouster in 2001.

Mr Yasay is seen as warming the seat for the President's first choice as foreign minister, his running mate Alan Peter Cayetano, 45. Mr Cayetano lost in his bid to be vice-president and so is barred by law from assuming a Cabinet post till one year after his run.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'The President's men '. Print Edition | Subscribe