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  • President Duterte’s rating remains excellent after a hundred days. But if I were to use one word to describe it, that would be… worrisome.

    Murder She Wrote?

    More than anything else, the President’s war on drugs has defined his first hundred days. It’s all he talked about and now he is in danger of becoming labeled a one-issue President if he doesn’t start talking about something else.

    The amount of negative coverage about the war on drugs is simply staggering. Never mind that, based on some statistics, the rate of EJK today is actually lower than the past dispensation. Or that the PNP reports a 45% drop in crime; 700,000 addicts have surrendered themselves for rehabilitation; and some large scale drug rehab facilities are scheduled to be opened in time for Christmas. Never mind all that.

    What has gotten everybody in a fighting mood is that he is portrayed as a psychopath encouraging vigilantism. Civil society is worried of course, but the reality is that, consistent with the thinking of the President, the only thing that criminals understand is fear. And for the first time, the criminals are worried.

    Worse, Congress has become a stage for unlimited character assassination. It pains me because I used to work in the Philippine Senate. The Senate hearings are used to discredit the President by painting him as a mass murderer, and the House hearings aim to discredit Sen. De Lima as a sex-starved mama-san of illegal drugs. And it’s all in the guise of civil rights, social justice, due process “in aid of legislation”. But what this has shown is that both sides can be capable of the same indecency, vulgarity and shallow thinking that they accuse each other of.

    Thing is, the critics who now scream human rights violations are also partisan to either the past administration or their losing admin-backed candidate. So where’s the credibility in that?

    The supreme irony is that while everybody says these hearings are in search of the truth, the same people are also saying it’s all “lies, lies and more lies.”

    A Time to be Boring?

    Media can’t be all to blame for all the negative publicity the President has been getting. After all, he obviously enjoys talking about his drug war, and it looks like he’s winning. But this is overshadowed by the entertainment value of his dramatic soundbytes.

    I don’t think it is the obligation of the media or the public to interpret the President’s statements. After all, his statements, while dramatic and sensational at times, are clear enough. So, to say that we should use our “creative imagination” to interpret his statements, or the retort that, “We elected a President, not a Stateman,” are feeble attempts at damage control. To spin the Presidential utterances after the fact has only created confusion, not clarity.

    That the media will put a slant on his utterances is already a given. The President sometimes does get into a wild frenzy that ends up insulting everybody, so why are we piqued that the media picks this up and ignores everything else?

    I’ve had experience with press conferences and the only way to avoid a misquote is to be careful and thoughtful as you speak. Sadly, presidential pique has replaced policy. Expletive has replaced explanation.

    There are times when the President needs to be boring.

    Cautiously Optimistic?

    That’s business euphemism for worried.

    Our financial markets are western-oriented. While China is going gaga with our President right now, our traditional partners from the west are worried.

    From what I gather, the sentiment is becoming increasingly cautious, despite positive macroeconomic fundamentals. But investment is more than just sound fundamentals; it’s also about emotion and sentiment.

    External factors considered, equity foreign investors are watching on the sidelines; locals switching to fixed income. Flow wise, there’s not much activity from local funds. It’s a wait and see how the President will deal with government spending, taxation, foreign exchange, trade balances, debt repayment, even consumption, BPOs and OFW remittances.

    We can debate if the President’s rants against the US, EU, UN, and the Jews are causing enough instability, uncertainty and therefore higher risk, resulting in the recent unabated foreign selling in the equities market and a weaker Forex rate. But one thing is sure: it’s certainly not helping.

    We all know that investors don’t like risk. The worse that can happen is foreign funds shifting to Indonesia and Vietnam as they view its political scenario more stable. We’re more or less on the same economic growth trajectory as them.

    My view is for as long as President is able to continue with economic growth, the West wouldn’t care who he curses. In the meantime, he needs to explain his economic agenda more and more, giving us further details on how he intends to grow the formal sector: business, industry, commerce, and banking. He needs to talk about the boring stuff too.

    Silence in the House?

    Here’s an example of business and economic uncertainty.

    As a businessman doing affordable housing, I’m worried about his silence on a mass housing agenda. As of today, only two of the six key shelter agency heads have been appointed: the HUDCC Chair and the GM of NHA. Is the President not interested at all in housing?

    His silence about housing makes other sectors bolder in proposing economic policies detrimental to housing. Like a 2-year DAR moratorium on conversion, DA’s indefinite suspension of clearances, imposition of VAT on housing sales, or the removal of tax incentives for housing by the Board of Investments.

    I’m worried that the President’s silence on housing means that his economic agenda may not consider the sector as a vital component of growth, economic development and social inclusivity. I hope I am wrong on this one.

    Dimsum Diplomacy?

    All roads lead to China. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. China has replaced the US as the largest economy in the world. In his first hundred days, the President has made China fall in love with him and Philippines. Suddenly, China endorses the President’s war on drugs, increases banana exports, talks about trains, infrastructure, and so many other things. The problem is we’re just not used to a strong China policy.

    What’s fascinating about the President’s unconventional foreign policy moves is that it seems to be effective. A bit risky but effective.

    Now that the President has made it clear that he will not be a lackey of the US in this part of the world, and he has cursed to prove that point, it is now the US who is defending US-Philippine relations. And it’s working. For the first time, the US has to earn its historical “most favored nation” status. Or at least pay for it.

    The issue of the Shoal makes for good discussion.

    The past administration’s response against China’s incursion was to sue them in international court. That’s western litigious thinking. Of course we win because the west has always been suspicious of China. And this is where it becomes interesting.

    We have a new President who would rather not rub the decision in the face of the Chinese, but allow them to save face – which by the way is an important Asian value – by giving in to bilateral talks.

    Of course Beijing loves it and, given the sudden increase in US assistance despite the President’s rants, I’m sure Washington is worried too.

    The President doesn’t need to hop on a jet ski to plant the flag in the Shoal. He’s planting our flag in Beijing.

    At the End of the Day.

    There are certain givens about the good mayor coming into the Presidency. One is that he loves his country and the Filipinos. The other is that he is a social democrat and hates all things elitist.

    How we judge the President’s administration will not depend so much on what he has or has not done, but more on our expectations of him and how well we have managed those expectations.


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