Philippines businesses broadly welcome Duterte's election win

Manila // With two of his major rivals, including the incumbent Benigno Aquino’s bet, already conceding defeat and an insurmountable lead in partial and unofficial poll results, Rodrigo Duterte is effectively the new president of the Philippines.

The business community is taking the results of the presidential polls positively in general. This is despite the influential Makati Business Club (MBC) saying prior to the elections that Mr Duterte lacked “substance, especially on the economy and doing business”.

For investors looking for stability, it is crucial that the transfer of power is as smooth and as credible as possible.

The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) praised the likely result. “We look forward to working with the next president on increasing investment and jobs in the Philippines,” John Forbes, a senior adviser at AmCham, told The National. Investors seemed equally magnanimous – following early election polls, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) index surged by more than 183 points, to the highest for the year.

Despite the market and business community’s overall optimism, investors are still closely watching Mr Duterte’s next moves on the economic front, including his choice of advisers.

But the reality of elections is that it is a race without a finish line. As gruelling as the past five months of campaigning and convincing the country’s 55 million voters were for the tough-talking Mr Duterte, the real hard work will begin when he formally assumes office on June 30.

While GDP under Mr Aquino grew fast – at 6.2 per cent annually in the past six years – it has not translated to significantly improved social conditions even as the wealth of the country’s billionaires is surging.

“Daring policy choices are needed to give substance to Duterte’s presidency,” said the Manila think tank IBON Foundation. The group identified raising the national daily minimum wage to 750 pesos (about Dh59) as among the urgent first steps that the Mr Duterte administration should make.

Initial data shows that Mr Duterte also enjoys wide support among Filipino overseas foreign workers (OFWs), many of whom are based in the Middle East. Remittances from these OFWs are treasured for their contribution to the Philippines economy which spurs local household spending.

But while Mr Duterte rode a populist wave of support for his uncompromising stand on drugs and crime, realities that have long plagued the country and its people, the problems besetting the nation of some 101 million, of whom more than a quarter are poor and 2.6 million jobless by government standards, are far more complex.

Lack of economic opportunities for the people, the future of the economy and how to make it inclusive are major issues that Mr Duterte did not articulate much during his campaign.

However, ordinary workers are also optimistic. “He promised to end crime soon,” said Jerome Pascasio, 25, a construction worker. “We’ll see if what he did as mayor, he can also do as president,” he said referring to Mr Duterte’s controversial cleaning up of the country’s third-largest city Davao, of which he was mayor for more than 22 years.

During his seven back to back elected mayoral stints, Mr Duterte gained notoriety by going after criminals, although he was accused of carrying out hundreds of extra-judicial killings.

This earned him the nickname “Duterte Harry”, a reference to the Clint Eastwood movie character with little regard for rules.

Mr Pascasio was more pragmatic. “Let us also hope that there will be more jobs this time.”

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