Fatal distraction

April 29, 2016 at 17:00

Philippine politics

Fatal distraction

The danger of personality-driven politics

April 30, 2016 | The Economist

FOR too long the Philippines was the sick man of Asia—cheerful, democratic but a chronic underperformer. In recent years, though, its fortunes have begun to turn. Much of the credit should go to the outgoing president, Benigno Aquino. The economy is booming and investors are flocking in. The country has gained in geopolitical importance, too, thanks to its resistance to China’s expansionism.

But Mr Aquino’s achievements risk being squandered by an old weakness at the heart of Filipino politics: its love of showmanship and personality over policy and administrative ability. Boxers and film stars project themselves into public jobs while the diligent and competent too often languish. This year’s presidential campaign is no exception (seearticle).

The foundling and the beast

Ahead of the ballot on May 9th, the field is narrowing to two leading candidates. One is Grace Poe, a foundling, adopted daughter of an action-man actor (the late Fernando Poe junior, a failed presidential candidate), and now a telegenic senator. She promises continuity with Mr Aquino’s pro-business policies, but her CV is thin and her campaign lamentably vacuous.

The front-runner, Rodrigo Duterte, is downright alarming. The mayor of the southern city of Davao, he likes to play the hard man. He has spoken approvingly of vigilante killings of suspected criminals, and promises to clean up the country by executing 100,000 lawbreakers and dumping their bodies in Manila Bay. Mr Duterte sneers at the trapos—short for “traditional politicians” and a pun on “old rags”. He appeals to those who have not shared in the boom. He is a proponent of a barely defined “federalism”. If he does not get his way within a year of being elected, he says he will declare a “revolutionary government”. He made unforgivable remarks about wishing he had been among those who gang-raped an Australian lay minister who died in a prison riot in 1989. When American and Australian officials objected, he dared them to sever ties.

The leading candidates thus present voters with a ghastly choice between vapidity and vigilantism; neither shows any sign of being up to tackling the many serious issues facing an archipelago of some 100m people. The economic to-do list is long. For all the rosy growth figures, almost one-third of Filipinos, especially rural folk, live on less than $3.10 a day (a measure of poverty for middle-income countries). Cities remain crippled by gridlock; graft is still endemic. And despite Filipinos’ enthusiasm for democracy (the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, was evicted by a “people power” revolt in 1986) politics remains dominated by a few wealthy families—including Marcos’s son, a leading vice-presidential candidate.

A serious geopolitical threat looms in the South China Sea, where disputed rocks and reefs are being built up provocatively by China into what are almost certainly new military bases. The Philippines has filed a closely watched lawsuit at an international tribunal in The Hague, and is forming closer military ties with America, Japan and Australia. Mr Duterte, in particular, risks damaging these vital friendships if he is elected.

President Aquino (the son of a former president) has endorsed Mar Roxas, the competent interior minister (and grandson of an ex-president), in an attempt to institutionalise some sort of party system. Alas, Mr Roxas is a hopeless campaigner and is far behind in the polls.

What should Filipinos do? This newspaper’s view is that the dull but diligent Mr Roxas would make the best next president. But if on May 9th he obviously has no chance of winning, then they should swing behind Ms Poe. Better the novice foundling, surely, than the beast of Davao.

Source: www.economist.com

  All rights to the stock images are owned by Getty Images and its image partners and are protected by United States copyright laws, international treaty provisions and other applicable laws.
Getty Images and its image partners retain all rights and are available for purchase by visiting gettyimages website.

Arangkada Philippines: A Business Perspective — Move Twice As Fast | Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines