Duterte aims to transcend tough-guy image with building splurge
Philippine leader rebrands economic policies to win over skeptical public
CLIFF VENZON, Nikkei staff writer
MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte's ministers have launched an economic campaign dubbed "Dutertenomics," hoping to repackage the Philippines' firebrand leader as an infrastructure builder and not just a drug-buster.
The program is based on the government's 10-point socioeconomic agenda outlining Duterte's strategy at the outset of his administration last June, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said. The agenda includes a tax overhaul, infrastructure-building and social reforms.
An event marking the launch of the program on April 18 mainly showcased big infrastructure projects that Duterte vows to complete within his six-year term. The projects are part of what the administration has called the "golden age of infrastructure."
"I think it is very important that we show the actual projects and not just the theory," Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez told reporters at the event.
Dominguez said Duterte's economic agenda "is not well understood." The rebranding should spur wider discussion and broader public support, he said.
Dominguez went on to lament that "the media has not been focusing" on the president's economic program. But he stopped short of chiding the press for its extensive coverage of Duterte's war on drugs, in which more than 7,000 people suspected of involvement in the narcotics trade have been killed.
Duterte in February approved a five-year economic blueprint that aims to transform the Philippines into a high middle-income country by the end of his term. But his economic road map has not garnered the same attention as the drug war, which has drawn criticism from the West. The European Union is reviewing trade perks for Philippines, amid reports of human rights abuses under the anti-drug campaign.
Dutertenomics is the latest example of Asian leaders' infatuation with portmanteaus. Japan has the "Abenomics" of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing, and structural reform. India's "Modinomics," named for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tries to make growth more inclusive.
Under Dutertenomics, the government plans to splurge on infrastructure. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the administration will spend 8.4 trillion pesos ($169 billion) on infrastructure over a six-year period, and raise infrastructure spending as a share of gross domestic product to 7.4% by 2022, up from 5.4% this year, and nearly double the figure seen under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino.
At the launch event, attended by investors as well as domestic and foreign media, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said a $4.6 billion subway, the Philippines' first underground railway, will break ground in 2019, paid for with official development assistance from Japan.
Duterte has plans to roll out projects conceived by previous administrations, such as massive railway projects linking the capital to far-flung provinces, and a 2,000km railway on the southern island of Mindanao. Some of the building will be bankrolled by China.
A public jaded by delays under past administrations should put their faith in Duterte's "political will" and "audacious policymaking," officials said at the event.
"We are advised that projects that have to be initiated during the term of President Duterte must be completed within [his] term," Tugade said.