By Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines re-branded its economic agenda on Tuesday and promised “audacious policymaking” by President Rodrigo Duterte under an ambitious program named “Dutertenomics”, showcased at a high-profile event he did not attend.
Duterte’s ministers said the Philippines had lagged its Southeast Asian peers largely due of its dilapidated infrastructure and high taxes, but a big-spending overhaul was underway that would draw investment, create jobs and help rebuild its manufacturing sector.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez praised Duterte’s decisive leadership and said “Dutertenomics” was about creating more public discussion of reform plans and a reaching a “broader base of support”.
Dominguez did not elaborate on why the government needed to better explain its plan. It was not clear why Duterte did not attend.
The move comes as he pushes Congress to pass a tax reform program aimed at attracting businesses and boosting private spending.
“This is the time to move decisively. Fortunately, we have a leader capable of much audacity,” Dominguez said in opening the event.
“We have a leader of vision and intense love of country. All the favorable factors are present. It is time now for a breakout.”
The Philippines is one of the world’s fastest growing economies and expanded 6.9 percent in 2016, its quickest pace in three years. The 2017 forecast is the midpoint between 6.5-7.5 percent.
The maverick former mayor Duterte by his own admission takes a hands-off approach to the economy, leaving it to what he calls the “bright guys” in his cabinet.
His presidency has so far been defined by a war on drugs that has killed thousands of Filipinos, and profane diatribes against high-profile critics at home and abroad.
His economic chiefs are pinning growth plans on infrastructure works to create jobs, stimulate the economy and attract manufacturers put off by high power prices and poor roads and ports that create transportation bottlenecks that eat into profits.
The government has targeted infrastructure spending of 5.4 percent of GDP this year, rising to 7.4 percent of GDP by 2022, through highways, bridges, ports, ports, airport upgrades and rural and city train lines.
Dominguez said public-private partnerships would be expedited by having the state build projects itself, then later transfer operations to the private sector.
But much of that rides on the a tax reform bill which may face resistance, particularly for its proposed hiking of duties on fuel.
Dominguez told reporters the infrastructure plan was the only way forward, but it could be derailed if the tax measures were not passed.
“Do they want the country to move forward or do they want us to stay in the shadows?” he said of Congress.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said “Dutertenomics” was neither a new concept, nor an attempt to deflect attention away from Duterte’s war on drugs, to which opposition has been slowly building at home.
“This is really a question of focusing on what has really been happening since day one,” he said.
“It’s always been there, except that people have decided to focus on other things.”
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Kim Coghill)