Has change come with Duterte?

“CHANGE is coming.”

This was the campaign promise of then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to over 100 million Filipinos that earned him the presidential seat on June 30.

As the country’s chief executive nears his 100th day in office this Oct. 8, Cebu’s business leaders have looked back at the performance of the nation’s 16th president. Generally, they commended Duterte’s fight against illegal drugs, yet at the same time raised some concerns.

Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) president Melanie Ng and Glenn Soco of the Mandaue Chamber (MCCI) said that while it is still early to judge the president based on roughly three months in office, they separately noted Duterte’s focus on the drug menace.

“His relentless campaign to improve the peace and order situation of the country, particularly his fight against drugs, is his biggest accomplishment within his first 100 days in office,” Soco said.

In addition, the businessman took note of the administration’s success in advocating its strong message for “change”, which he said is being absorbed by the people, cutting across all sectors of the society. Local government units, companies, private organizations and even individuals have even adopted it as their new mantra, he added.

Likewise, Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) Cebu president Robert Go underscored the importance of the Duterte administration’s drug war.

“President Duterte’s war on drugs seems to be positive since the problem is really deep, specially down the ranks. Many businesses might not know it but the prominence (of drug use) down to employees in urban areas and provincial towns are almost growing by half, (particularly among) young people,” Go said.

However, the local retailer pointed out that many hoodlums are instead taking advantage of the war on drugs. As a result, this has raised the problem on extrajudicial killings and even alarmed the international community, and local human rights groups.

Economic agenda

Ng said that while addressing the drug menace has been Duterte’s top agenda, the businesswoman emphasized that it is not the only aspect needed in nation building.

“I do hope that we will see remarkable progress on the 10-point agenda in the months to come,” she said.

The 10-point socioeconomic agenda of the Duterte administration are the acceleration of infrastructure development with special attention to the role of public-private partnerships; rural and value chain development in agriculture; improvement of human capital investments including health and education; and social protection through conditional cash transfers.

“We can say that the Duterte administration’s planned reforms and agenda are still on the brewing stage. We want to see this administration pursue its 10-point socio-economic agenda and continue its fight against criminality and corruption,” Soco stressed.

Ng said she wants to see infrastructure projects implemented in Cebu to address problems on traffic and flooding.

International trade

As the President is scrutinized for his foul remarks against the United Nations, US President Barack Obama and the European Union, and recently, his comparison of himself with Adolf Hitler, local business owners have expressed concern over its effects on trade and the economy as a whole.

“The business sector is on a wait-and-see (stance) due to fast turnout of events. There seems to be drastic changes going on and nobody knows what’s next. Recent international events are also a concern of business sector since economic outcome are starting to be affected,” Go said.

The Philippine peso retreated to its weakest level in seven years breaching the P48 mark to the dollar, and the stock market has experienced huge foreign selling.

Some attribute this largely to Duterte’s foul-laced remarks while other analysts point to a global economic slowdown and the impending interest rate hike by the US Federal Reserve.

“(The) pullout of investors affects long-term economic situation such as increase in dollar exchange, which affects consumer prices, inflation, gasoline price, basic goods. There might be effects on bank lending rates and, if it escalates, to slashes on aid from US and other countries, economic fundamentals might change. So there is uncertainty on business outlook. Business sector feels uncertain on our government reactions on international situations,” Go said, calling for improved international relations under Duterte.

International community

Likewise, Soco seeks an improvement on Duterte administration’s communication strategy.

“Our participation and relations in the international community is also key in achieving our economic goals. While we open alliances with other countries, we also do not want to burn bridges with our allies. Of course, the function of communication will lay down the message of the president and make it acceptable to all the stakeholders, foreign and local,” the Mandaue business leader said.

In the coming years, Cebu business leaders expect more from the President, including enhanced relations with the international community.

The peace situation in Mindanao is also one of their major wishes to attract investments in southern Philippines.

In Manila, George Barcelon, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the business community has felt improvements in the country three months into the Duterte presidency.

“We’re beginning to see improvements along this line. We are very positive about what we’re seeing,” Barcelon said, noting that the President had been able to deliver his promises to address the needs of the Filipino people.

Donald Dee, chairman emeritus of the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines, said that unlike the past presidents, Duterte was “serious” in addressing the problems in the country.

“It was just a hundred days, I have seen presidents come and go. But the 100 days that we are experiencing today, you know, has borne more fruits,” Dee said.

Red tape

Barcelon said that the reduction on bureaucracy in some of government agencies was among the current administration’s accomplishments.

As for the government’s campaign against illicit drugs, Barcelon said it was “reasonable” for Duterte to seek a six-month extension to curb the drug sale.

While Barcelon acknowledged the President’s accomplishments, he admitted that first three months in office is “really a very short time” to determine Duterte’s success.

He also noted that even some business companies were not satisfied with what the Duterte administration had so far achieved.

“People talked about they haven’t seen any impact to this government… But I would tell my friends in the business community that we have to be patient. We have been patient before in previous administration. I think we owe it to this government that they’re only in for three months and we would like to give them more time to work out things,” Barcelon said.

Barcelon likewise confessed that some had expressed concern over the President’s remarks that made international headlines but said that he had told them that what was more important is that Duterte “loves his country and his people.” With Sunnex
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