Philippine President-Elect Aims For Economic Continuity

President-elect Rodrigo "Digong" Duterte has said he plans to continue his predecessor's economic policies in the Philippines. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

By Neil Jerome Morales

DAVAO, Philippines, May 12 (Reuters) – Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte will continue his predecessor’s macroeconomic policies focusing on higher infrastructure spending and fiscal efficiency, aides said on Thursday in a bid to end uncertainty around his growth agenda.

Duterte ran on a single-issue campaign focused on law and order for a presidential election on Monday, and while an official winner had not been declared, an unofficial count by an election commission-accredited watchdog showed he easily won.

Duterte will accelerate infrastructure spending by speeding up outgoing President Benigno Aquino’s flagship public-private partnership program, Carlos Dominguez, former agriculture minister and a member of Duterte’s policy team, told a media briefing.

Dominguez said the 71-year old crime-busting Davao city mayor would maintain a government target to raise infrastructure spending to 5 percent of gross domestic product from 3 percent in 2014.

Under Aquino, average annual economic growth has topped 6 percent, but critics say the improvement has not translated into jobs or better livelihoods for millions of poor.

Duterte’s spokesman, Peter Lavina, said high growth would be the main priority but the new government would try to ensure the benefits trickled down to the poor.

“We want to check the bottlenecks, why it is not trickling down. We want these economic benefits to reach the poorest. That’s practically the theme of these measures,” Lavina said.

Dominguez said the conditional cash transfer program would be “expanded and improved”.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said annual economic growth of 7-8 percent – which Duterte’s spokesman said would be the new president’s aim – was “doable” on the back of public spending.

Duterte plans to reform tax revenue collection and streamline bureaucratic processes within main tax agencies to shore up revenues, Dominguez said.

Duterte said on Monday he would seek to ease restrictions on foreign ownership in all industries to help attract foreign investment.

“He’s retaining a lot of from the previous administration so this will be great for continuity,” said Nicholas Mapa, economist at Bank of the Philippine Islands in Manila.

“If Duterte can implement where the previous administration struggled, this will definitely instil confidence in the economy,” Mapa said.

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