Recent yeas have seen Boracay Island, located 315 kilometres from Manila, go from a haven of beautiful beaches and resorts to what President Duterte described as a “cesspool”. Local businessmen and oligarch resort owners have flooded the island with waste, including raw sewage, due to the fact that while many new tourist accommodations have been built (many of them illegally), there has been no private sector investment into environmental protection and basic sanitation.
With mounds of waste in makeshift dumping grounds making life hell for locals who have not seen the benefits of the millions of tourist dollars which have flowed into the island, President Duterte has threatened to declare an official “state of calamity” which would close all tourist resorts on Boracay until the environmental disaster is solved.
Duterte has not been shy about blaming business oligarchs and other opportunists setting up illegal tourist facilities for the disaster that has befallen a location once known as an idyllic setting that has become popular with international tourists. Speaking of the decline of Boracay, Duterte stated,
“If they (business oligarchs) refuse to cooperate and begin to protest, you were responsible for the damage all these years, as well as the local officials who are all nonchalant of the problem there, I will arrest you all. And if you put up a fight I will charge you for sedition, preventing government to do what is good for the Filipino people”.
Duterte’s criticism of irresponsible, unethical and law breaking business owners on Boracay is a microcosm of what Duterte has been doing to such individuals throughout the country. For years, a combination of corrupt or indifferent local and national officials in The Philippines, have led a business culture to spring up wherein businessmen seek to profit from anything they are able to, without any consideration for the long term future of the country. From black markets, to illegal buildings, to a refusal to cooperate with government officials about crucial infrastructural and environmental issues, to hiding monetary assets from the government, the business environment in The Philippines under Duterte’s predecessors had been something of a nightmare.
Duterte has changed a culture of politicians taking bribes from and otherwise fearing oligarchs, to a society in which oligarchs fear the President. This is one of the many reasons that The Philippines under Duterte has recently been named as the number one investment destination in the world by US News and World Report.
Duterte appears to understands the valuable lessons of controlling an exploitative class of business oligarchs that has historically effected even superpower nations. In the 1990s, Russia’s once highly regulated internal market became a vulgar free-for-all, as corrupt oligarchs purchased formerly state owned industries that were sold off for virtually nothing by corrupt officials of the Boris Yeltsin regime. Against this background, wages for most Russians were lowered while prices continued to inflate to ridiculous levels, while mafioso bandits working for billionaire oligarchs held corrupt officials ransom while the country experienced a catastrophic health epidemic. All of this was compounded by an exponential rise in youth suicide, a drug culture, a prostitution culture and a culture where the elderly froze to death on the streets.
Beginning in the year 2000, newly elected President Vladimir Putin turned this around. By putting the fear of government in the hearts of oligarchs, Putin was able to crush high level corruption while making arrests of those who failed to comply with the new rules and the first time enforcement of old rules which were neglected by the Yeltsin regime. Police tackled drug and alcohol abuse while wages rose and industries became more effectively managed through responsible public/private partnerships.
Today, Duterte has had to confront a similarly damaging culture that has sprung up in The Philippines, particularly since the late 1980s when so-called ‘liberalising’ reforms ended up creating a new class of oligarchs whose wealth never flowed into the hands of ordinary working Filipinos. Duterte has welcomed clean foreign investment from countries like China, while modifying tax laws to shift the burden of fiscal responsibility from the people to the oligarchs, thus freeing up young entrepreneurial citizens to take the future of Philippine business into their own hands, rather than the hands of a corrupt elite.
Just as Putin saved Russia from total oblivion in the early 2000s, so too is Duterte working to not only save his country but to transform it into a ASEAN leading, world class investment destination. Duterte’s ‘Build, Build, Build‘ initiative is modernising infrastructure, all the while creating an environment in which healthy businesses can function at their maximum potential.
One should not underestimate the ability of a strong patriotic leader with original ideas to transform one’s nation. Prior to the arrival of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore was a colonial swamp that did not generate any significant wealth for its citizens. Today, Singapore is a leader in global business, investment, education and has some of the cleanest and most modern streets in the world. Likewise, prior to China’s leader Deng Xiaoping, Chinese cities languished under a combination of old rotting buildings and a few bleak concrete towers. Toady, China’s cities are the most modern, sophisticated and breathtaking in the world because of the reforms Deng set in place.
Like Putin, Lee Kuan Yew and Deng Xiaoping, Duterte has moved to radically change the way his country is run. This will soon change the way his country looks, operates and generates wealth for its citizens. Transformative leaders come along once in a generation and today, The Philippines has its own such leader in the form of President Rodrigo Duterte.