A tale of two Philippines
January-March 2017
By: Andrew Phelan

Controversy follows Duterte. During the election campaign, he joked about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary in Davao. When the Australian and American ambassadors to Manila at that time rebuked the mayor, he angrily responded that they weren’t Filipino and should shut their mouths. I wonder what he would say if he had the opportunity to meet the slain woman’s parents? I wonder how he would feel if the same thing had happened to his daughter and someone had made the same “joke.”

During last year’s election campaign, he was often seen fraternizing and joking with sex workers, and made comments to the effect that the industry was OK, perhaps even providing some kind of social service, as if criminal syndicates drew a clean line between prostitution and drug trafficking. As president, he has continued his pattern of foul language and comments, notably calling US President Barack Obama “a son of a bitch.”

It seems there are two Philippines. One if you are a member of a ruling family and another if you are a member of the masa ¬– the masses. Even to the casual observer, there is an obvious laundry list of urgent things that need to get done.

At the top of the list is opening up the economy, especially to sectors such as telecommunications, where cellphone and Internet coverage are among the worst in Asia, and where calls frequently disconnect. Then there are other sectors such as energy. Electricity bills in the Philippines are among the most expensive in the region. Neither of these sectors is mentioned in Duterte’s 10-point economic agenda. Neither is land reform, which is crucial to the advancement of the people, specifically. Instead, there are vague platitudes such as to “continue and maintain current macroeconomic policies” and “invest in human capital development.” To be fair, Duterte has articulated many things the country is in dire need of, such as reducing bureaucracy, increasing infrastructure spend, implementing the reproductive health law and so on.

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