The President remains controversial, and even criticized in the West for his outrageous statements and acceptance of drug-related killings. Yet Filipinos elected him because they’d had enough of traditional leadership, of endless promise with no follow-through. They wanted change. Well, they got it—a changed leadership style it certainly is. His outrageous statements scare, his mercurial shifts confuse businessmen, as well as those looking from afar.
But the people like him, 77 percent of them, in a Dec. 3-6 SWS survey. And business likes him, when they do meet. The person is quite different from the media image.
The President met up with members of the Wallace Business Forum on Dec. 12. It was a meeting to introduce business people to him, and him to them. It worked; they went away impressed—by his style (he swore only once in two-and-a-half hours, mildly) and knowledge of the business issues raised. Yet the media ignored it. There was not one word on the reassurance they got, no attempt to let businessmen outside know that their businesses, as he said, were secure in the Philippines. And that he’d be working to improve the environment for business.
The media, as typified by CNN, focused on only two things: his initial discussion on his war on drugs and his health. Maybe those make headlines, but they don’t inform the public. There was not a word on his initiative to meet with business—and discuss business.
So let me focus on his talk, the bulk of which was about business.
The President did talk about his war on drugs, and was passionate on the need to win the war against what he sees as a threat “to destroy the country and youth.” He explained his two ailments—Buerger’s disease and a pinched nerve in his spine from a motorcycle accident. Neither is life-threatening; he’ll be around a long time.
Then he went on to business and offered an open forum where the exchange became animated. He said he’d support business, as the administration believes in democracy and free enterprise. He wants the least intervention of government in business. The more regulation, the more temptation to corruption, and corruption must stop. He has told national agencies to approve business applications in a month or less, and local governments to follow the practice of Davao, where business permits are approved in three days.
He declared support for amendments to the Constitution’s economic provisions that would lift equity restrictions on foreigners, and allow greater foreign participation in the economy to generate jobs and other opportunities for Filipinos. But he is opposed to foreign ownership of land.
If the process starts in 2017, the plebiscite can be held in 2019 simultaneously with the midterm elections.
Emphasis was made on continuity of policy for business; if there was change it would only be for the better. The administration will guarantee its contractual obligations, unlike its predecessor. As long as you pay your taxes, your contracts will be honored. And if you’re honest in paying taxes, you won’t be audited.
There will be stronger focus on Asean and Asia, where greater interactive freedoms will be welcomed.
He was concerned, as am I, that there was too little movement in Congress on the emergency powers bill, which as I wrote last week, is needed with urgency. We need Congress acting on emergency mode to ease our daily suffering.
On mining, which has become unnecessarily controversial, he was somewhat conciliatory, but he said there would be no problem with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as long as companies follow the standards adopted by countries like Canada and Australia. The government will support responsible mining as long as everything is fair.
Much else was discussed that can’t fit here. It all came down to one thing: Mr. Duterte supports honestly operating businesses, and wants a free, competitive and stable environment in which they can operate.
It was a business meeting to reassure business. Per feedback from 70 executives, it worked. They went away confident their businesses were not under any of the threats that some in the media have foisted.
Merry Christmas to all.
E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com
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