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A running start

The Duterte administration is off to a running start, and the business community is enthusiastically applauding.

The starting point is an economic team composed of experienced executives and professionals with impressive leadership qualities. Particularly notable are Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Neda Director General Ernesto Pernia and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.  What this team may lack in youthfulness, they more than make up with decades of senior-level experience—and the wisdom and confidence that that experience brings.

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A second key element is a willingness to listen and a keen ability to discern which issues really matter and are crying for attention. The consultation with business leaders in Davao City, organized by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry days before the Duterte administration was even sworn in, turned out to be an auspicious start for what the business community hopes will be a continuing collaboration with the administration. What gave meaning to the consultation was the inclusion of key recommendations made during the meeting in the administration’s 10-point economic agenda.

Thus, the 10-point agenda has itself become a key element in the administration’s impressive start. The aggressive stance on infrastructure development, the willingness to deal promptly with income tax reform, the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law, the determined efforts to cut red tape and improve the ease of doing business, and the declared intent to open up the economy to more foreign investments, on top of unwavering support for and possible enhancement of social programs in education, poverty alleviation, housing and health services, are just some of the key points that have struck a positive chord.

Of course, we must also give credit where credit is due. It is a fact that this administration inherited a strong economy, including an impressive growth momentum and a healthy fiscal picture with abundant recurring revenues that can be readily harnessed for priority projects. Add to this the Aquino administration’s cautiousness in project design and preparation and the professional quality of staff work at the National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Public Works and Highways, and PPP Center, and the new administration can find, I would surmise, a good number of critical projects ready for implementation without need for redundant review and redesign. This factor, if recognized, will contribute significantly to the early implementation of vital projects.

But while all the foregoing elements are important, what really sets the Duterte administration apart is this: It is a team that is willing to take risks, make hard decisions and get things done. It seems to be intimidated by nothing, and it seems pretty good at intimidating anyone and anything that may get in its way! It projects a tough, can-do, damn-the-torpedoes stance that so far has many believing that this toughness will translate into the effective implementation of its key projects and programs. Adding much to its credibility is the signing of the executive order on freedom of information on its 25th day! The President’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in the administration’s pursuit of peace with the CPP/NPA/NDF was another tough call. These, we must grant, are very impressive.

Coupled with its toughness, this administration also seems to have the uncanny ability to read the public pulse and address issues that affect daily lives, initially through what columnist Boo Chanco calls common-sense governance. If vital public works projects in Metro Manila cause immense traffic jams and public inconvenience, why don’t contractors work 24/7 on these projects and get them completed much earlier?  If the public is inconvenienced by the overly frequent need to renew driver’s licenses and passports, why not extend their validity to double the present periods? If the airport’s sole runway is severely congested, causing serious daily flight delays, why not disallow small private aircraft from using it and divert them instead to Clark or Sangley? Simple common-sense solutions to longstanding problems affecting so many lives!

But what about the campaign against illegal drugs? On one hand, it is this campaign that gives the new administration the tough image which may be a valuable weapon in the pursuit of its priority programs.  It has also given rise to the “Duterte effect”—the welcome phenomenon of drug pushers and users surrendering by the hundreds nationwide as they fear for their lives. Many would agree that this campaign is probably our best shot at largely eradicating the drug menace in our country.  On the other hand, it has also given rise to the apparent summary execution of hundreds of human beings suspected or accused of being drug pushers or users.  It is this that requires constant vigilance, and cannot be condoned as we note the President’s commitment at his inauguration: “My adherence to due process and the rule of law is uncompromising.” We pray that he stays true to his word.

What then is our verdict on the first 30 days?  Like many, we choose to view the situation for now as a glass that is half-full, accentuating the positive and hoping and praying for this administration’s success, which will benefit us all. And with this comes a commitment from us in the business community to be a productive partner in filling the nation’s glass until it overflows.

Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. ([email protected]) chairs the Makati Business Club.

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TAGS: business, ceasefire, drugs, NPA, Rodrigo Duterte
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