Rodrigo Duterte has a commanding lead in opinion polls ahead of Monday’s election, much to the dismay of business chiefs, investors, and diplomats who see him as a clown with no clear economic policies and a possible liability for the country.
Brash and openly scathing of the political establishment on the campaign trail, he has been likened to Donald Trump.
Duterte’s supporters point to his past to argue that as president, he would not be the disaster that critics fear.
As mayor of Davao city in the south of the country, they say, the 71-year-old former prosecutor waged war on drugs, crushed crime rates, lifted investment levels, improved health and education, and delegated policy issues to technocrats.
“He communicates in a very rough way, but he has a policy group, he consults, he listens, there’s mitigation after his speeches,” said Jesus Dureza, a former congressman who went to school with Duterte and is now involved in his campaign.
Eurasia Group, a global risk research firm, said in a report this week that the Philippines is likely to continue on the pro-growth and reform-oriented path set by outgoing president Benigno Aquino, regardless of who wins the election.
It said while Grace Poe, a senator who was at one stage the frontrunner in polls, appears more engaged and knowledgeable on economic policy, Duterte defers to capable advisers and is likely to pursue infrastructure development, administrative streamlining, and openness to foreign investment.
Last week, members of the country’s leading business club were stunned when Duterte addressed them in his usual style, threatening to kill criminals and making risque comments about Viagra use and his sex life, but shedding little light on the economic policies he would pursue as president.
“Sometimes, more often than not, we hope that the candidates will do as they promised,” said Ramon del Rosario, chairman of the Makati Business Club.
“I think this is one time when I am hoping that this particular candidate does not do what he is promising to do.”
Mayor of Davao seven times since 1988, Duterte was nicknamed ‘The Punisher’ for his crime-busting crusade there.
The narrative is that what he did for Davao he can do for the country of 100m people.
Government data show that the Davao region’s economy grew by 6.6% on average in 2010-14 compared with 6.3% for the whole country.
According to a 2011 World Bank survey, it took 27 days to start a business there compared with 38 days in Manila, the capital, and the average setting-up cost was far lower.
However, a 2015 Crime Situation Report released by the national police said that from 2010-15, based on total incidents, Davao was top among 15 cities for murder, number two for rape, and third for robbery.