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Admiration well deserved

/ 01:25 AM January 09, 2017

The world is coming around to appreciating Rodrigo Duterte as a political leader. Two commentaries in respected foreign journals last week underscore that.

Widely circulated Japan Times, in its Jan. 2 issue, carried a year-ender assessment titled “Sayonara to the year that was.” Curtis S. Chin and Jose B. Collazo jointly prepared the piece. Chin was US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank while Collazo is an analyst for advisory firm Riverpeak Group.

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The piece put President Duterte at the top of the “best year” list for 2016 not only for winning the presidential election by a surprising landslide but also for “subsequently upending, rethinking and reshaping the state of affairs.” The President’s controversial foreign policy stances were reassuringly considered by the authors as a “disruption of the old normal” rather than a “pivot to China.”

They see Mr. Duterte as “seeking to rebalance his nation’s ties, improve the life of the average Filipino and make the Philippines—a one time economic and trade powerhouse—great again.” This assessment, unlike the hysterical news portraying the Philippines as some sort of modern killing fields, is quite fair and sober. It balances off the shrill diatribes like those that Sen. Leila de Lima has managed to get on air abroad.

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Fortune International, for its part, carried a commentary prepared by Reuters. The title of that piece says it all: “Philippines’ President Rarely Mentions It’s Now One of the World’s Fastest Growing Economies.”

The commentary notes that while President Duterte focuses on busting crime and crushing corruption, he leaves the details of economic policy to a competent team of managers. It is an arrangement that seems to work well. Decisive leadership provided by Mr. Duterte and a relentless quest for good governance will be a boon to the country over the longer term.

The Philippines’ third-quarter growth rate, the report notes, is the second highest in all of Asia. Although there is some uncertainty about what some might consider “erratic behavior” on the part of the President, the national economy is expected to grow between 6.5 percent and 7.5 percent. That will make the country a growth driver for the global economy that is expected to grow at just over 2 percent this year.

The report recalls the outstanding performance of Davao City’s economy while Mr. Duterte served as its mayor. In 2014, for instance, Davao City posted a growth rate of 9.3 percent. The national economy, during that year, grew by 6.1 percent.

Mr. Duterte’s experience as mayor, the report seems to suggest, shapes his understanding of his role as the nation’s chief executive. The city adopted solidly pro-investment policies while the mayor ensured a good working environment for those doing honest business, including ridding the city of criminality and enforcing order among its citizens.

Whatever misgivings some might have about Mr. Duterte’s style of leadership and handling of key policy issues, the signs appear positive: “Consumer spending is strong, helped by $22 billion of remittances in the first 10 months (of 2016) from Filipinos overseas, a 4-percent rise. Unemployment was a record low at 4.7 percent in the third quarter, from 5.7 percent a year earlier.”

“He should deserve credit,” Reuters quotes Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez as saying. “Unfortunately,” Dominguez continues, “people are always looking at the controversial statements. But if you judge it, he has done an excellent job… the important thing is the trust and confidence of businesses in him is very high.”

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The Reuters report includes the SWS’ yearend survey that gave President Duterte “excellent” job approval ratings. Last week, Pulse Asia released its own yearend trust and approval numbers that even exceed the figures SWS provides. A vast majority, far more than the 16 million who actually voted for him, has invested trust and confidence in the freshly elected Chief Executive.

Clearly, President Duterte must be doing something right—something that somehow escapes his detractors.

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TAGS: admiration, Asia, foreign ties, Growth, opinion, Rodrigo Duterte
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