Philippine elections

Time to deliver on bold promises

Presumptive Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte at a press conference in Davao on May 9.
Presumptive Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte at a press conference in Davao on May 9. PHOTO: AFP

As he starts to firm up his economic and political agenda, presumptive Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte faces the daunting challenge of delivering on his bold promises.

He has to deliver on his pledges to, among other things, end crime and corruption in six months, transition to a federal parliamentary form of government, liftrestrictions on foreign investments, create high- paying jobs, and conduct peace talks with rebels. He has to sustain investor confidence that helped fuel economic growth that averaged more than 6 per cent under outgoing President Benigno Aquino.

But first things first. Mr Duterte has to dial down the incendiary rhetoric and start talking about the boring details.

"For the business and financial community, it's important that he names people into economic advisory positions," said Philippine Stock Exchange president Hans Sicat.

Mr Duterte has started to do that. He has said he intends to name one of his oldest friends, Mr Carlos Dominguez, as his finance or transportation minister. Mr Dominguez served as agriculture minister under former president Fidel Ramos, who presided over a period of relative growth.

Mr Dominguez would likely be Mr Duterte's chief economic adviser, having been president of flag-carrier Philippine Airlines.

The big challenge Mr Duterte will soon face, though, will be prying the Constitution open for revisions, always a contentious issue. Two key planks of his platform rest on it: the shift to a federal parliamentary form of government and easing restrictions on foreign ownership of strategic industries.

"He has to pull that off within the first three years of his term while he still has popular support," said Mr Bobby Capco, press secretary of former president Gloria Arroyo.

Pulling that off will require forming a coalition that will control two-thirds of Congress. So far, the party of Mrs Arroyo and two others are on board, but Mr Duterte will have to convince members of Mr Aquino's Liberal Party as well.

The shift to federalism will be particularly difficult, said Mr Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. "The powerful elites in Manila who'll be affected by this system will definitely oppose this proposal," he said.

To his credit, Mr Duterte is aware of the challenges that lie before him. "For six years all I have to do is work," he told reporters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'Time to deliver on bold promises'. Print Edition | Subscribe