Interview: President Rodrigo Duterte

In what ways does the administration plan to pursue economic growth that is inclusive and accelerates rural development?

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE: Our full-year GDP growth of 6.8% for 2016 is a testament to our strong and robust economy. Our National Economic Development Authority notes that the Philippines is the fastest-growing economy in Asia, even beating other fast-growing economies like China and Vietnam. The government strives to sustain or even surpass this by prioritising infrastructure development, investing in human capital, developing the regions, protecting the most vulnerable sectors and building a government that works. If we achieve this, we will be able to lay the foundations for inclusive growth and a globally competitive economy.

I am determined to keep my election campaign promise to make our robust economic growth felt by every individual Filipino. A number of government agencies are already working hard to make sure that this happens. For example, the Department of Agriculture has given almost P1bn ($21.2m) worth of machinery, equipment, tools and farm inputs to thousands of farmers and fisherfolk across the country. Several livelihood projects were also undertaken so they don’t have to depend on one source of income alone.

Our economic development and planning agency has also approved 17 major projects on agriculture, irrigation and transportation that will help us achieve our goals. We will allocate 5% of our GDP yearly to these infrastructure projects to hasten growth.

We have already transferred several thousand families hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (known internationally as Typhoon Haiyan) to resettlement sites so they can immediately rebuild their lives and contribute to our economy. We have specifically tasked the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas to hasten the delivery of shelter services.

The Department of Trade and Industry is also trying to end the exploitative money lending scheme called “5-6,” which preys on micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises. We are replacing it with Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-asenso, or P3, which is designed to bring down interest rates and to ultimately put these loan sharks out of business. We have begun implementing this in some of the poorest provinces in the country. An initial funding of P1bn ($21.2m) has already been allocated, with another P19bn ($401.9m) earmarked to come over the next five years.

The Department of Health has inaugurated its newest CT Scan Facility in the Moro-dominated Maguindanao province, the first in the area. This will give our countrymen in that far-flung area access to this advanced medical facility, when they previously had to travel hundreds of kilometres to large urban centres to do so.

How will the ongoing efforts to address criminality and drug addiction impact the country’s development and the lives of its citizens?

DUTERTE: The problem of illegal drugs is not only a national security threat, it is also a public health concern and a poverty issue. It is all interconnected. That is why my government agenda is anchored on the fight against illegal drugs, criminality and corruption. Addressing these concerns will alleviate poverty, keep the peace and boost economic development; and so far, we are succeeding. Because of our campaign against illegal drugs, supply has been cut drastically.

A significant decrease in index crime volume was also noted since we began our war against drugs. The current prices of shabu (methamphetamine) has increased from P1200-11,000 per gram ($25-233) in June 2016 to P1200- 25,000 ($25-529) in 2017, thus, making it more difficult to access among the majority of the population.

More than 1.1m people involved in the drug trade have also surrendered to the authorities, seeking reform and rehabilitation. It is noteworthy that our previous problem of drug-related crimes has now become a problem in drug rehabilitation, which is an interesting development. With the help of local and private partners, we have opened several drug treatment facilities across the country. Military camps have also been tapped in this effort.

There is a brand new 2500-person Mega-Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, inaugurated in Nueva Ecija province in Luzon in November 2016. Another facility opened in a military camp in Mindanao. For those seeking treatment in private facilities, PhilHealth, the government’s national health insurance programme, also covers its members’ drug rehabilitation. So far, the Filipino people approve of my actions. More than 85% of Filipinos are satisfied with the current drug war, according to the latest surveys. A recent survey conducted by Pulse Asia shows that 84% of Filipinos also appreciate this administration’s methods of handling of criminality.

To what extent can the Philippines minimise or eradicate corruption in government, and what strategies would best serve this purpose?

DUTERTE: When I was still a presidential candidate, I promised that when I got into office, corruption would stop. I intend to keep that promise. One way to achieve this is to improve and streamline the delivery of government services, because whenever inefficiency arises is when corruption usually starts. For one thing, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has simplified the system of processing tax clearances and certificates authorising registration for real properties and shares of stock. We also decreased processing times from several weeks or months, to only three to five days. The BIR also expanded payment options for taxpayers to encourage tax compliance. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has launched online streaming of CCTV footage in and out of the main BOC building to deter and reduce opportunities for corruption.

The Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) has also opened a one-stop service centre in its offices for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to provide relevant services to OFWs. The DOLE has abolished all unnecessary permits and procedures for OFWs, such as overseas employment certificates, travel taxes and terminal fees. These will make the lives of our OFWs, who contribute greatly to our economy, easier.

For it’s part the Department of Transportation, through the Land Transportation Office (LTO), has also extended the validity of driving licences from three to five years. The extension in validity will reduce the long queues, as well as avenues for corruption, in LTO offices nationwide. The Office of the Cabinet Secretary, in partnership with the Civil Service Commission, has launched the 8888 hotline, where people can air their complaints and expect an answer within several days.

What are the expected benefits of the country’s proposed switch to federalism?

DUTERTE: For years, previous administrations have poured the majority, if not all, of their resources into Manila, while many of our regions have been left underdeveloped. This caused a lack of livelihoods for our citizens, resulting in poverty. Therefore, in order for the country to attain inclusive growth and reduce poverty, resources must be distributed equitably among each region. Federalism is the sharing of power from the national level to the federal states; it is the adoption of policies and programmes that address the specific needs of a particular state — whether economic or cultural. Federalism, therefore, allows local governments to create and adopt policies that cater to the actual needs of their people. The switch to federalism will benefit the country greatly by allowing for inclusive growth, participatory governance and the better exercise of democracy. More importantly, federalism is key to the cessation of hostilities, particularly in conflict-ridden Mindanao, as we will be able to address historical grievances as well as give every group the chance to chart their own destiny through greater autonomy.