TOKYO -- Outgoing Philippine Secretary of Finance Cesar V. Purisima said he is optimistic that president-elect Rodrigo Duterte will bring the country into "the next stage of growth", citing the latter's track record of leadership and economic platforms that are "moving on track".
Purisima declined to comment on Duterte's more controversial public statements, which have earned the mayor of Davao the nickname of "Donald Trump of the Philippines". Instead, in a generally very positive assessment, he cited Duterte's achievements during 22 years of leadership of the city in the restive southern region of the Philippines and praised the strength of his electoral mandate.
"It was a battlefield where a lot of people were killed," Purisima told the 22nd International Conference on the Future of Asia, organized by Nikkei in Tokyo on Monday. "He transformed the city into a very progressive city. He is able to turn around a very difficult situation."
Purisima added that Duterte had a track record of "making things happen", and therefore he is optimistic the incoming president will be able to to implement his eight-point economic development program. This includes opening Manila more to foreign investment, reducing bureaucratic hurdles and increasing investment in education and agriculture.
The outgoing finance minister has prepared a range of financial and tax reform measures aimed at boosting government revenue by as much as $3 billion annually. Asked why such reforms were left to the very end of his tenure, he said that the Aquino administration had laid the groundwork for reforms to continue under the incoming administration. "Reforms come in sequence. It's not a super-highway," he told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview after his speech.
The Philippines also launched in mid-February a debt buyback and a global 25-year bond issuance aimed at further easing the government debt burden. The move comes as Indonesia, among other regional governments, is stepping up global bond issuance. Purisima brushed aside concerns that these issues will further dilute investor appetite for emerging market debt, saying "The market is big. In fact, the more we can create an ASEAN class of instruments, the better it is for us, because it will mean deeper regional markets and hopefully lower cost for all of us."
Additional reporting by Gwen Robinson and Shotaro Tani