MANILA—If there’s one thing that all business owners and industry leaders agree on, it is that the Philippines has the flexibility to work with whoever the voters will elect as the country’s next chief executive on May 9—weathering what analysts see as “short-term” market jitters from election uncertainty.
With the Philippines’ young demographic, stellar remittances figures from overseas Filipino workers, surge in foreign direct investments, and strong household spending, business leaders agreed the country’s economic growth performance is not tied to just one politician.
Even the chairman of the Philippines’ largest phone carrier said that all the five presidential candidates are “pro-business,” and that the Philippines will be able to deal with any president.
“Let’s just deal with whoever is the next president…I think all of the candidates are pro-business,” Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) chairman and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan said on the sidelines of a media briefing in Makati City last May 2.
Pangilinan’s remarks were echoed by Globe Telecom, Inc. chief commercial officer Alberto de Larrazabal, who said local businesses have “the flexibility to work with the people’s choice.”
“What I just hope for is a peaceful and honest election,” de Larrazabal said in a mobile phone reply.
The Philippines’ pivot from “Sick Man of Asia” to “Southeast Asia’s Strong Man” will not be possible without the reforms made under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
In his 6-year term, the Philippines saw a surge of implemented public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure deals, an average of above 6 percent annual gross domestic product growth rate, and stellar investment -grade credit ratings, among others.
“I think growth will, more likely than not, continue,” Ramon del Rosario Jr., chairman of the Makati Business Club, said during the Economic Journalists of the Philippines forum with ING Bank NV Manila in Makati City.
But in the long run, the management style of the next Philippine president will impact the pace of growth, del Rosario added.
He said market jitters could wane or continue depending on the policies of the next administration.
“I think the anxiety will be shortened depending who the choice is. Let’s not assume there’s only one possibility on May 9,” del Rosario said.
It is a five-way presidential race today among front runner Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Sen. Grace Poe, former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II, Vice President Jejomar Binay, and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago.
Some analysts last week mainly blamed the decline in Philippine stocks on the comfortable lead of tough-talking Duterte in the polls, saying investors are worried about his economic policies.
“If the winner on May 9 is either Senator Grace Poe or Secretary Mar Roxas, I think the market reaction will be quite positive and there will be less hesitation moving forward,” del Rosario said.
He added that market players are worried about the state of the local market should Binay or Duterte get elected.
“The two are unknowns, quite honestly. Binay is known, but the charges of corruption against him are very negative. But Mayor Duterte is the one that is not very well known. That’s why we were hoping in the Makati Business Club he would have talked much more about his economic policies and programs but he chose not to so he is still unknown, therefore there is still some anxiety about him,” del Rosario said.
For Sergio Ortiz-Luis, president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Incorporated, the country’s long-term economic growth performance will be significantly dependent on the policies of the next president.
“I will not vote for a candidate who thinks he or she is above the law, is unethical, steals money from the public, performs extra-judicial killings, and talks without integrity. I will vote for someone who can help the electronics industry elevate growth, has a proven track record, and is for economic growth,” Ortiz-Luis told Rappler in a phone interview.
For the unimpressed businessmen, Duterte said he will hire economic minds should he be elected as the next president.
Admitting that economics is not one of his strengths, the Davao City mayor said he would even match the salaries of competent economic experts in the private sector to entice them to work for government.
Duterte is known to seek advice from UP economics professor Ernesto Pernia and former finance minister Cesar Virata.
PLDT’s Pangilinan, who does business in Davao, said he did not encounter any problems with the administration of the Davao City mayor.
“I won’t say we are friends, but we’ve known each other for many years. Whenever he hears I’m in Davao City, he would ring up and say, ‘Can we have coffee?’” said Pangilinan, who is also the chairman of infrastructure conglomerate Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC). MPIC has a 34.82 percent stake in Davao Doctors’ Hospital.
“We have no problems with the administration of Davao City with Mayor Duterte. None in respect to our hospital, none in respect to our hotels also,” Pangilinan said.
For Former Finance Secretary Roberto De Ocampo, businessmen’s top priority is to have credible elections.
“If then Duterte wins, so be it. Next thing to do is to see whom he appoints to key Cabinet positions and whether his vaunted decisiveness will be channeled as well towards relieving bottlenecks in infrastructure, delivery of public services, and excessive bureaucratic processes,” De Ocampo, who is also a representative of Bankers Association of the Philippines, told Rappler. (First published in Rappler.com and printed here as part of a content-sharing arrangement between Rappler and Sun.Star Publishing)(Chrisee dela Paz of Rappler.com)