The Philippine Star

Among the country’s two past presidents and one incumbent, only Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can claim to be a true economist. (She had her graduate degree in economics from Assumption College, her masteral from the Ateneo de Manila University and doctorate from UP Diliman.)

Arroyo is no doubt a president who could comfortably carry on a conversation about the nation’s gross domestic productivity with colleagues from international organizations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank which all carried some say on how the country’s economy was to be run.

She was sharp with her numbers and was known to impatiently wave Cabinet members to skip with their preliminary facts and go straight to their summaries and recommendations. And yes, she also had that reputation for spotting errant figures projected on the screen.

Inheriting a fledgling but already recovering economy largely from a past president, Fidel V. Ramos (graduated with a degree and masters in engineering, as well as a masters in business administration from Ateneo), Arroyo was able to steer the country to almost a decade of uninterrupted growth.

Her last year, in 2010, was a record setter as the Philippine economy forged a 7.63 percent GDP growth achievement amid the general malaise affecting the world economy as a result of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Note: As a refresher, Arroyo took over from impeached president Joseph Estrada for crimes of corruption on his third year of office after a mass protest that became to be known as EDSA Revolution of 2001 forced the incumbent to vacate his position.

Doing nothing

Past president Noynoy Aquino and current President Rodrigo Duterte both never feigned to know much about economics, and left the running of the state’s economic policies to a team of able gentlemen. But as they say, a herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo.

In the case of Noynoy, it was a slow, slow train. Perhaps it was the fear of getting embroiled in corruption charges that pulled him back from actually doing anything.

Note: A little more than a year after ending her 10-year term, Arroyo was incarcerated first for electoral fraud, and subsequently for misuse of $8.8 million in state lottery funds. She was only cleared and released during the first months of the Duterte administration.

Still, Arroyo’s term was marked by explosive stories of corruption by people associated with her and her husband, Atty. Mike Arroyo. With two of his predecessors jailed for corruption charges, Noynoy was consequently extra careful about entering into new, big projects.

Hence, Aquinomics is marked by a marked restraint on appropriating any government funds for projects, notably for infrastructure, that would act as a catalyst in supporting the takeoff of vital government economic programs crucial to sustaining the country’s future growth.

Instead, to build new or improved roads, bridges, seaports, airports, telecommunication networks, power plants, hospitals, and many other crucial multi-million-peso undertakings, the government relied on PPPs, or public-private partnerships, where investments came largely from the private sector.

Some would say, astutely, that Aquino was dead scared of ending up like his predecessors, of being sued and incarcerated for malfeasance that could be real, contrived or associable. For him, doing nothing meant making no mistakes.

Microcosm economics

In contrast, Duterte – perhaps derived from his Davao City mayorship experience – knew how crucial it was to have good roads and highways, adequate bridges, well-functioning ports, enough power supply, and many other infrastructure projects to support economic growth.

In a sense, this was microcosm economics, one where a case of what’s good and effective in my town would and should be good for the whole country. He may have carried the dictum a little too enthusiastically (in the case of his drug war), but there’s some sound logic to it when it comes to economic policy making.

And yes, Duterte is not one to be scared of corruption accusations that would throw him out of office. He has promised a corruption-free term, and has been known to be quick at dismissing erring public officials from their office.

Businessmen, on the other hand, are generally comfortable with the incumbent president’s track record of a corruption-free governance as Davao City’s mayor, and are expecting him to behave similarly as the country’s chief executive.

Real change

What better way of showcasing Dutertenomics than baring it just before the opening of the ASEAN 50 Summit. It could also be the perfect political foil to the plea filed before the International Criminal Court to investigate the killings of over 1,400 in Davao City during the President’s term as mayor, and the more than 7,000 deaths during the President’s nationwide war on drugs.

The promise of Dutertenomics – a golden age of infrastructure keyed on the completion within the next five years of such projects as the NLEX Harbor Link, Luzon Spine Expressway, PNR North and South Rails, and the Metro Manila Subway – is enough to make many Filipinos “forgive” the President for the extra-judicial killings.

Like most Americans, Filipinos want to see real change away from what they had been seeing the past years. Projects like the NLEX Harbor Link (although this was started during the last years of PNoy’s term) promise an elevated road from the metro harbors to the North Luzon Expressway that will speed up travel of container vans as well as keep them off the at-grade roads used by motorists and commuters.

We need more of these win-win projects like the Philippine National Railway trains that will assure travel of Filipinos from Tutuban to Clark and Calamba to Bicol or the underground trains from Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City to Bicutan and the Metro Manila airports to be more accessible, comfortable and reliable.

Dutertenomics may change and pave the way for a bigger deficit in the annual budget, as well as a deficit in the current accounts (which had been in the surplus for the longest time now). There would also be more taxes coming our way to pay for all these big projects.

Filipinos, including businessmen, seem to gloss over these “inconveniences” so long as government will be accomplishing what needs to be done – and as long as corruption is kept at bay. After all, who doesn’t want real change.

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