Comparing PBBM and PRRD: Who is the better leader?

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

In 18 days, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will be celebrating his second anniversary as President of the republic. How has he fared? For me to do a personal assessment could be contentious. So rather than go that route, I thought it better to simply compare the policies and outcomes of President Marcos against those of ex-president Duterte. Who has done better in managing the Chinese threat, managing the economy and in overall governance? You be the judge.

On China’s territorial grab, aggression and coercion

Mr. Duterte led the country to pivot to China even when all national censuses showed that our people harbor deep distrust for the communist nation. He forged ahead anyway, driven by his own bias.

He adopted a policy of appeasement which was suppose to be strategic – but took it to the extreme. He acceded to Xi Jinping’s many demands, no matter how treasonous. Among them were not to invoke the legally binding decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration which ruled in the Philippines’ favor in the West Philippine Sea row. Mr. Duterte even belittled the Hague ruling, calling it “just a piece of paper.”

While the patriots among us fought tooth and nail for Philippine sovereignty and patrimony, our very own president scoffed at our efforts whilst defending our tormentor. This is unforgivable.

Mr. Duterte’s years of servitude to China yielded little positive outcomes. Beijing never stopped its illegal annexation and militarization of the disputed waters, rather, they accelerated it. Neither did it find reason to make good on its multi-billion investment commitments.

PBBM surprised us all in this respect (in a good way). Immediately after assuming office, he restored our relations with the US and re-established our place in the axis of democracy. We now have agreements for economic cooperation and defense with Japan, Australia, South Korea and others. The move merited the people’s approval, as validated by surveys.

In no uncertain terms, PBBM defined his position on the WPS before the international community. He condemned China’s illegal occupation and militarization of our sovereign waters and vowed to enforce our victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. He insists that the rule of law must prevail. Under Marcos, both the government and the supermajority of society speak as one in fighting for what is ours.

China has since doubled down on its aggressive behavior, to which PBBM responds with bravery and strategic restraint. The Philippines is the only nation that has had the courage to publicize China’s bad behavior to the world. PBBM has also defined the Philippines’ red line (which is the willful killing of a Filipino). To cross this will cause him to invoke our defense treaty with the US. Philippine bravery has earned the admiration of the international community.

PBBM is utilizing whatever is in his toolkit to manage China’s aggression. This includes embarking on a diplomatic offensive, forging defense alliances with like-minded countries and aggressively capacitating the armed forces.

In the global sphere, PBBM is emerging as ASEAN’s vanguard as he rallies the group to confront the US-China rivalry squarely. He contends that ASEAN must assert itself more to maintain the peace and openness of our sea lanes.

Under Marcos, the Philippines is finally acting its size – not as a meek nation but as a genuine middle power. This was affirmed at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue where he declared that the Philippines shall not be a sideshow of the US-China rivalry but an active actor in the formation of outcomes.

On the economy

To Mr. Duterte’s credit, the economy clocked-in at an average growth rate of 6.6 percent from 2016 up until the Wuhan virus struck in 2020. He removed sectors from the foreign investor’s negative list and amended the Public Service, Foreign Investment and Retail Trade Liberalization Acts. These statutes opened the economy more.

Mr. Duterte accelerated the country’s infrastructure development and gave teeth to the Anti Red Tape Authority. All these resulted in an uptick in investments, which decreased unemployment and poverty rates. Household incomes also increased.

President Marcos continued many of the programs of the Duterte administration, including the modernization of infrastructure and reforms relating to ease in doing business.

The difference, however, is Marcos’ efforts to promote investment-led growth (as opposed to growth fueled by consumption and government spending under Mr. Duterte). He installed a credible economic team and embarked on a worldwide roadshow to attract investments. The roadshow has yielded $72 billion in commitments so far. But turning these into hard currency is another story. To this, the President created the position of Special Assistant for Investments and Economic Affairs to ensure that these commitments are realized. It has not happened yet.

PBBM ratified Philippine participation in RCEP and pursues more free trade deals, including one with the European Union. These will be a boon to Philippine participation in global supply chains. He also opened up the mining industry.

The Philippines remains ASEAN’s fastest growing economy two years running.

In governance

Mr. Duterte was a bully to his own people but mousy to the Chinese. Under his leadership, corruption, impunity, nepotism and an abasement of our basic freedoms were back with a vengeance. The Philippines became a global pariah with an atrocious human rights record for a drug war that was an utter failure. And with his guttural behavior, Mr. Duterte was an embarrassment to us all.

Marcos has so far upheld the tenets of democracy and our basic freedoms. And while corruption is still rampant, it does not match the scale of Mr. Duterte’s time. There has been no PhilHealth or Pharmally-like scandal so far. As for his demeanor, Marcos is hands down the more dignified, respectable leader.

I can speak for myself. PBBM is the better leader by spades.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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