Divining Digong: Dutertenomics in the Time of Brexit

DIVINING DIGONG:  Dutertenomics in the Time of Brexit

By J. Albert Araneta Gamboa


D-Day 2016 – the inaugural date of the Philippines’ 16th President, Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte – fell on a rainy Thursday, the 30th of June.  Unlike his predecessors, then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III did not declare a national holiday, supposedly in keeping with his successor’s low-key style.

Duterte had convincingly won the May 9th presidential election with 38% of the votes cast. Results were known in a matter of hours, thanks to automated voting machines. Senator Grace Poe showed amazing grace by immediately conceding defeat on election night, followed by former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas the next day. It took then Vice President Jejomar Binay some time to concede, while to date, former Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago hasn’t.

Conflicting media advisories indicated Duterte, who was still Mayor of Davao City at that time, would be flying to Manila and claiming Malacaňang on the days immediately following the most divisive presidential election in recent memory. But weeks passed and he was still ensconced in Davao, save for a day or two in Cebu.

In the interim, Duterte conducted midnight press conferences in the so-called Panacaňang or Malacaňang of the South, a presidential guest house in Panacan, Davao City. Eventually he tangled with the Manila press and vowed never to talk to all media entities till the end of his term.

Meanwhile, his Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez convened a consultative conference on inclusive growth with representatives of business organizations from all over the country the week before the inauguration. “Sulong Pilipinas: Hakbang Tungo sa Kaunlaran” was held at the SMX Convention Center in Davao’s Lanang district.

Organized jointly with the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the June 20-21 summit drew almost 500 captains of industry and entrepreneurs who participated in workshops, town hall meetings, and site visits to pro-people projects of the Davao City government such as the Central 911 and the Public Safety & Security Command Center.

Plenary sessions included an eco-briefing from Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, who is concurrently the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General. He set the stage by telling the conference delegates where the Philippine economy was at the end of the Aquino administration and what to expect under the Duterte government.

PCCI honorary chair Donald Dee hailed the conference as a seminal event in Philippine business history. “This is the first time we are being consulted by an administration even before it assumes office, and we helped put this together because this is the most comprehensive consultation that you can ever see,” he said, citing the range of attendees coming from provincial, regional, national, and international business chambers.

Incumbent PCCI President George Barcelon said: “Having the government and private sector sit down to discuss and reach a consensus of what needs to be done is a very positive development.” He said the PCCI is supportive of the broad-based socioeconomic agenda because “they’re talking agriculture especially in the rural areas, and that has an encompassing impact on poverty.”

Lawyer Mike Toledo, media bureau head of the MVP Group of Companies, expressed bullishness about the economy under the Duterte presidency. “Sonny Dominguez is saying all the right things for business, such as respect for contracts,” he said. Toledo, who is also Philex Mining Corp.’s senior vice president for public and regulatory affairs, pointed out that “these are what the business sector would want to hear, and it’s a good sign that they’re already reaching out even prior to their takeover as a new administration.”

MinBC President Vicente Lao, Foundation for Economic Freedom President Calixto Chikiamko, Davao-based businesswoman Joji Ilagan-Bian, and Wallace Business Forum founder Peter Wallace agreed that reaching out to the business sector through Sulong Pilipinas is a good start for the Duterte government.

Lao said: “For the first time in our political history, an incoming administration is immediately consulting with the private sector, and I’m quite confident it’s going to address the issue of inclusiveness.”  Chikiamko believes that “getting opinions from a diverse set of participants will enable the next government to come up with policies that would make sense to everyone in all the regions.” He said the socioeconomic agenda lacks specifics and needs to be fleshed out, but found the statement of Dominguez that “the environment will be good for business” heartening to know.

Bian said Sulong Pilipinas is a signal that Duterte will have a people-focused administration. She said “if you look at the six regions of Mindanao, the growth has not really been inclusive, and the proposed economic agenda is doable if there’s political will.” Wallace thinks the incoming Chief Executive’s consultative approach is very impressive, saying “it shows he realized business creates jobs and employment generation is absolutely what matters.”

DIVINING DIGONG:  Dutertenomics in the Time of Brexit

Duterte SMALL

In his keynote address, Dominguez batted for wide-reaching “coalitions for change” that would enable the country’s growth streak to continue. He said both the private and public sectors need to jointly build such reform coalitions behind the next administration’s socioeconomic agenda.

He also called on the business sector to help the incoming government draw up new metrics to understand how economic expansion could be more meaningful to majority of Filipinos. These standards are meant to measure how the socioeconomic targets are beneficial to low-income families.

“I challenge the business community to build coalitions for change in every sphere of our social life,” he said, adding that these partnerships are “not just for projects but to transform our national community into a cooperative enterprise that brings out the best in everyone and delivers the best for all.”

Wallace and Lao expressed concern that at least 25% of Filipinos still suffer from poverty, which is the second highest in Southeast Asia next only to Myanmar. Lao lamented that “from the NEDA presentation, I noticed that poverty incidence has not improved at all, and it means the macroeconomic advantages enjoyed by the previous administration is not really filtering down to the masses.”

As part of the more than 100 local and international media contingent that covered the event, I witnessed the unveiling of the Duterte administration’s proposed 10-Point Socioeconomic Agenda.


  1. Continue and maintain current macroeconomic policies
  2. Institute progressive tax reform and more effective tax collection
  3. Increase competitiveness and the ease of doing business
  4. Accelerate annual infrastructure spending to account for 5% of GDP
  5. Promote rural and value-chain development
  6. Ensure security of land tenure to encourage investments
  7. Invest in human capital development
  8. Promote science, technology, and the creative arts
  9. Improve social protection programs
  10. Strengthen implementation of the reproductive health law


The business leaders were split into groups of eight to discuss the 10-point agenda and their comments were posted on a series of 10 boards inside the cavernous session hall. Then they came up with the top 10 issues they considered of highest priority for the Duterte administration to address.



  1.  Adopt a comprehensive tax reform package
  2. Implement a national ID system
  3. Streamline the bureaucracy
  4. Improve internet and telecom services
  5. Provide support services for farmers and fishers
  6. Ensure value-added and responsible mining
  7. Develop regional industries
  8. Upgrade infrastructure and transport networks
  9. Review the conditional cash transfer program
  10. Remove PPP bottlenecks and respect contracts


Highlighting the conference was the presentation of the businessmen’s wish list to Duterte, who responded that “it’s all doable, it’s just a matter of doing it.” He told the business community he would consider the suggestions and refer them to the concerned Cabinet officials while reiterating his campaign promise to fight corruption, which he said “makes me sick.”

During his inaugural address at the Rizal Hall of Malacanang Palace, the newly-minted President immediately acted on the third top issue on the wish list by ordering all government agencies to cut the so-called bureaucratic red tape.

In this time of Brexit and anti-elitism, the work is cut out for the new government to make poor Filipinos truly experience inclusive growth.


JAG pic (1)


JAG to his friends, J. Albert Gamboa wears multiple hats – business journalist, management consultant, headhunter, CFO, and book editor. A banker and stockbroker in his previous life, he is currently a columnist of Business World, Manila Bulletin, and Manila Times who threatens to join the government soon.