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June 30, 2016

President Rodrigo Duterte starts his six-year term today.   I wish him luck and good health, good health most especially because of his advanced age.  I see a strong-willed, damn-all-the-torpedoes kind of leader with a clear—well, more or less— understanding of the nation’s problems.  A natural-born leader, from what I sense, the role of leadership should fit him well, and, at 71, the oldest yet to become Philippine President, he should have the added advantage of the respect and deference normally accorded older people.

Despite all the flak he was getting lately for his roguish ways and wayward mouth, we are hearing enough admiring testimonies about the man from good, reputable people.   He also has a remarkable track record to boot.  These are enough for me for now. But just to be clear, I did not vote for him, well, not for anyone actually, because I skipped the elections altogether.

Let me make some cursory comments on a few things:

I think the China problem will be one of the most intractable and most difficult challenges. But maybe, just maybe–I laughed aloud when this idea came to me–his womanizing ways could actually help him navigate the waters.  If you could balance between three to four women at a time, all of them happy to share between them you, maybe you too have the natural skill to deal with two world superpowers trying to woo you into their side. As it is, we are at a precarious balancing act between two powerful countries, and for the Philippines, the best position is to be able to stay in the middle, friendly in our own terms to both powerful nations, much like being the object of desire of two competing women who are taking care to be in your good favor.  Huh, if Duterte could do that, it would be a great feat in diplomacy.

Poverty, this problem that has been with us for the longest time, should finally get its real solution.  The designated NEDA chief, Dr. Ernesto Pernia, was talking about investment-led growth as the goal.  Finally someone who understands… Most of poverty is actually due to lack of jobs or opportunity to earn enough means to pay for the high cost of living.   So, it’s really all about job creation and job creation is a function of investment.  More investment, more jobs; more jobs, less poverty. It’s an oversimplification in a way, but it helps to make plain one simple underlying science of it that is somehow often lost in too much theorizing and analysis.

I remember Duterte’s novel proposal about offering our numerous uninhabited or sparely populated islands as exclusive autonomous investment havens  to big investors.  I like the idea.

War on drugs?  He will most likely fail in that area because it’s the law of supply and demand.  Tighter drug prohibition would only serve to constrict supply  and up the price of the commodity some more. The higher the price, the more profitable, though more risky, the business becomes. The more profitable the business goes, so do its size and wealth. Bigger and wealthier, more brute power and  influence to battle the government. Like The Prohibition in the 1920s, it will only lead to more blood and violence in the streets but the industry would flourish nonetheless.   The alcohol and cigarette of those years are the equivalent of our prohibited drugs today.  The same social and economic forces are at work, no more, no less, and look at where alcohol and cigarettes are being sold today.   But, hey,  I am willing to be disproved.

President Duterte has taken personalities of varied, even opposing, persuasions into his Cabinet.  I am wondering just by what magic could he meld such divergent personalities into one working team, instead of one squabbling bunch.

I am also amazed at how he is taking everybody into the fold:   Joma Sison and the communists,  Nur Misuari and the separatist Muslims, the human rights victims, leftist radicals, the Marcoses… wow!

There’s just so much in one plate: war on drugs, war on criminality, war against corruption, war against poverty, bureaucratic reform, economic reforms, peace talks with the communists, peace talks with the Muslim rebels, constitutional revision, parliamentary form of government, federalism, and more…

But Duterte should be wary of the Yellows.  The Yellows genuinely believe that he was voted into office by a misguided, ignorant minority.  They also believe that they are duty-bound to put things back in order by whatever means necessary. They are the ones who are happy about the way things are and are opposed to change. They are the ones agog over the developments over the last six years.  They are the ones who want continuity and are against the disruption and reordering of things that Duterte had promised to make.   Make no mistake about it, they are the enemies who are lying in wait for his fall…

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