A pragmatic president

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

He certainly was far from foolish, even with his loose language that could ruffle the more callous of men. Instead, I would say he was the absolute pragmatist who knew his own limitations and strengths, and likewise that of the country he served for six years as president.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte, throughout his public service life, was known for his out-of-the-box solutions to problems. He liked to be in charge, shining brightest during his many terms as Davao City mayor and his most recent, as the top man overseeing a 110-million-people country.

To resolve a long-standing peace and order problem in Davao City, he was known to employ the language that outlaws, hooligans, activists, and others who threatened to defy law used: force, either by brute strength, guns, laws or a combination of all.

His stewardship of Davao City, spanning several three-year terms and disrupted only by local office tenure limitations, was rich in stories that could fill a book on urban legend style. If ever any of the incidents were true, very few dared to actually file complaints against a city mayor who loomed larger than life.

Most of Davao respected, admired, loved or even feared him, and as the 16th president of the Philippines, was regarded similarly, even by the business sector. Despite all his shortcomings, many of his accomplishments certainly define him as a leader who stepped down doing his best.

BBB ambition

Duterte was a leader who believed that the Philippines was in a development crisis because of a lack of infrastructure, and his P8-trillion Build Build Build (BBB) ambition started the ball rolling towards the construction or improvement of more roads, bridges, ports, irrigation systems, classrooms, and transportation networks throughout the nation.

He has been quoted as saying that time was his enemy, that six years in office had not been enough. While he rarely or never implied the pandemic as a cause for project delays, the reality in Philippine governance is that huge flagship infrastructure projects take time to get off the ground and be completed within a president’s six years.

Duterte’s role was to move his assigned people to work against targets, and to perform to the max. While many of the original projects in the to-do list had later been removed, to be replaced by smaller ones, the total number of projects and the corresponding amount can be regarded as admirable by any administration within a six-year time frame.

It would be a shame if the next president shows less of a commitment to infrastructure building as a major platform to economic growth. Many of the original BBB projects that were shelved simply needed more studies, usually on the technical side or a confirmed budgetary appropriation.

The country needs more infrastructure to sustain economic growth to achieve middle-income status during the next six years. Food security, inclusive growth, poverty reduction, and improved per capita incomes will only happen if there is continuous support to infrastructure building.


As a seasoned politician, Duterte relied on economic policy guidance from his economic team led by Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez III. DuterneNomics during Duterte’s first year of office strove to promote the state’s fiscal health through a 10-point agenda that centered on tax reforms and fiscal incentive restructuring.

Dominguez is experienced, both as a businessman and a public servant, the latter in his capacity as an appointed official in various government agencies even before his stint as Finance Secretary under Duterte.

Dominguez and Duterte both have bonds that go way back to their Davao days. Confidence and trust in each other have smoothened their relationship to a point where Dominguez was practically running the whole economic show to the last day.

Duterte, who graduated law, was well aware of his weakness when it was about the more complex juggle of statistics and economic projections. He was a president who knew what battles to fight, and which to leave to others. His choice of Dominguez to head his economic team was perhaps one of his brightest moves.

Under DuterteNomics, several landmark laws were passed that helped maintain strong investment sentiment in the Philippine economy, as well as in keeping our credit ratings with various international agencies on solid standing.

Steering clear of corruption

Corruption is a scourge that can severely weaken the state’s leadership, and Duterte knew only too well what damage it can bring. He joins a limited list of past presidents who left office keeping their personal names relatively unscathed by monetary scandals.

While he is regarded as the only president who has been able to get away with not declaring public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) starting in 2019 till the day he left the Palace, association with graft issues have been almost negligent.

Even his daughter, now holding the vice president position, was reputedly removed from “commission” solicitations in awarding government projects or in meddling with permit approvals of businesses during her term as Davao City mayor.

Extrajudicial killings

Ironically, Duterte’s rise to fame and acceptance as president comes with an acceptance of indiscriminate killings in Davao City while he was mayor, and on the campaign pledge to wipe out drug lords and users during the first six months of his term if elected.

To this day, he offers no apologies to those that had been hunted down and killed. He believed that drugs were a security threat to the lives of Filipinos, and in true local chief executive style, did what he felt was what he had to do.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at [email protected]. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.


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