Duterte’s biggest challenge
When Rodrigo Duterte ran for Philippines President, he campaigned on a platform of securing peace and order for the country. His main focus was the creeping drug menace in society. It was a topic every Filipino could relate to, for who doesn’t know any addicts? If not relatives or friends severely hooked on shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride), dubbed the “poor man’s cocaine,” they know the occasional user going to the bars and partying, and downing ecstasy or snorting high-grade cocaine. At home, they even hear of complaints from their laundrywoman who has a husband pushing narcotics, and how many times she has pled with him to go find a safer, more honest job.
So despite his potty mouth and sick jokes about raping dead women, Duterte won the presidency with 16 million votes. It was not a clear majority, as there were four other candidates who split the rest of the 40 million votes. But between him who seemed to have a clearer vision on how to solve the country’s seeming basic problems and the other candidates who could only talk about how to grow the economy further, Filipinos chose the cussing, don’t-take- prisoners candidate.
His supporters got their wish. Three months into office, more than 3000 Filipinos have died, accused as either addicts or pushers, and killed by the police in raids on drug dens, or while under police custody, but largely, the deaths have been due to extra-judicial methods. No one has been arrested yet for any of the extra-judicial killings.
And no one really talks about the innocent victims who have been caught in the crossfire of this war on drugs. Like the 5-year- old Danica May Garcia, shot by two men riding on a motorcycle, who was after her grandfather. Only days before, the grandfather turned himself to the police to clear his name, having been tagged a drug user.
Duterte’s frequent outbursts against governments and entities overseas as well as the killings have not escaped the notice of foreign investors.With a 7-percent average growth in gross domestic product in the last two years, the Philippines has been highly regarded as a new emerging economic star in Asia.
Inflation has been well-managed at below 2 percent and its gross international reserves is at $85.8 billion, enough to cover over 10 months' worth of payments of goods and services.
But the foreign funds have fled, leaving the stock market in the doldrums. On Sept. 23, the Philippine Stock Exchange Index fell to 7,723.60, nearly 5 percent lower than 8,102 points recorded on Duterte’s 21th day in office.
From being a star performer in Asia, the Philippine currency is now one of its worst. The Philippine peso averaged 47.835 against the greenback on Sept. 23, nearly 2 percent off the 47.007 average on Duterte’s first day of office. While it may seem favorable to the country’s 3-million overseas contract workers, a weak peso makes imports more expensive, making it harder for companies to engage in business and expand operations.
And while credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s affirmed its investment grade rating for the Philippines at BBB on Sept. 21, it has warned investors of “rising uncertainties surrounding the stability, predictability, and accountability of its new government.”
With only $5 billion in foreign direct investments recorded in 2015, one of the lowest in the Asean, the Philippines cannot afford any investor pullout.
Yet for all his bluster against investors having second thoughts about sinking their monies in the Philippines, Duterte may find that his biggest challenge as a president is not really the drug menace, but how to keep businesses afloat and ensure that Filipinos will keep their jobs.