Most of Rodrigo Duterte’s critics cannot understand why the President’s popularity remains at historically high levels and why the public approves of his performance despite the brickbats thrown his way and the scathing criticism he receives from them. One of the most lethal they accuse the President of is the “anti-poor” nature of his illegal drug advocacy. This, they say, has allowed the big-time drug traffickers off the hook but has taken a toll on the retail end of the narcotics industry.
Never mind that a former Cabinet official from the Aquino administration when the drug problem had nearly transformed our economy into a virtual narco-state is currently facing drug trafficking charges. Her detention as she awaits trial has effectively taken her out of the illegal drug chain’s linkages.
Segueing from this accused drug trafficker to her political party colleague, in the last midterm elections one of the platforms adopted by a losing senatorial candidate focused on the economy where he claimed that runaway inflation was victimizing Filipinos at the retail marketplace level, citing the cost of tomatoes and other non-basket items as his proof. Not only did he lose in that race but he reminded everyone why he had also lost to Duterte the presidential race of 2016.
Many forget that the platform of the government was not simply a peace and order advocacy which involved the anti-illegal drugs campaign. Instead, it was principally one characterized by empathy for the poor and the needs of the general public. It was in direct contrast to the elitism that blanketed previous presidencies and the elitist candidates whether running for the presidency or a senatorial seat. What Duterte brought to the table was populist, anti-elitist leadership that placed people above profit and monetary gain.
Centering on the six million lifted out of poverty by this administration, in this analysis we will show how such empathy has not only been consistently shown in Duterte’s signature economic programs but exactly where in the mathematics of his economics these have exhibited the greatest leaps in terms of a fulfilled objective to achieve economic inclusion.
First the numbers. And then their significance as proof of empathy conspicuously absent in previous administrations.
Poverty incidence was last reported at a low 16.6 percent from a previous 23.3 percent in the last year of the Aquino administration. This translates to approximately 5.9 to six million Filipinos lifted out of poverty from Aquino’s final year to today.
Note that in 2018 as the midterm election campaigning was getting underway, headline inflation had reached a high of 5.2 percent due to the temporary increase in world oil prices as a result of uncontrollable geopolitical tensions. This was aggravated by the increase in staple prices in our basket of goods that resulted from current poor agricultural management and endemic weaknesses in the rice subsector.
While inflation tends to increase poverty incidences, albeit temporarily, the Duterte administration responded with bold income-generating countermeasures. These ranged from the increase in the disposable incomes of minimum wage earners from the tax rebracketing provisions under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law, to cash transfers and the creation of better paying jobs. The impact for those in the bottom third of the population was a historic increase by 31.9 percent of their mean per capita income. In other words our bottom third where poverty lay was richer by almost 32 percent thus lifting them above the poverty line.
This is what is meant by inclusion. It validates our thesis that the more relevant statistic is neither the ballyhooed credit ratings nor gross domestic product. Inclusion means higher paying jobs where, after 2016, wages had increased by as much as 22.8 percent. It also means more people employed and more people lifted above the poverty line.
Duterte may have the roughest edges a Filipino president has ever had, but these numbers prove that he has that elusive empathy others lack.