Filipinos’ Next President
In Manila, the air on the streets seems different on this afternoon, a few days before the presidential election. It’s not the heat and humidity, which are unceasing. It is the anxiety of people going about their days. Filipinos will elect a new president this Monday, May 9th. They are ready for an end to the old administration; they are ready for the start to the new one. The identity of Filipinos’ next president has become all too clear.
The official statistic for the Philippines is that a quarter of the population of 100 million lies below the poverty line. But many more Filipinos who live above the poverty line do not, in fact, earn their salaries in their home country. They emigrate to another country, go to work, and, periodically, return to their homeland and their families. These overseas foreign workers, as they are called, provide for their families in the Philippines only by deserting them for long periods.
Current President Benigno Aquino III has done much to improve the state of his nation’s economy. In fact, during his term, from 2010 to 2016, Aquino has overseen an annual average growth in the nation’s economy of 6.0 percent, second highest in Asia behind China’s slowing but still steady expansion. Foreign investors these days look kindly on the Philippines, after ignoring it for years.
But if Aquino has helped wealthy international investors make money for themselves in the Philippines, he has not helped his own people improve their lives. In many parts of the island nation, people would say life is becoming more difficult. Rising inflows of direct foreign investment reach few Filipinos below the top tier of society.
The reason lies not only in the nation’s economics but also in its politics. As the economy grows, the political system concentrates more wealth in fewer hands, forcing both professionals on salary and workers under contract into increasingly worse conditions. The system rewards the owners of capital but appears to punish everyone else.
Filipinos’ Next President: Out with the Old
Four significant candidates now are vying for the presidency. But only one has seen his poll ratings rise steadily during the past few months, carrying him to the status of favorite. He is Rodrigo Duterte, the long-time mayor of Davao City, capital of the southernmost, and most impoverished, Philippine island: Mindanao.
Duterte promises new economic and political structures for the Philippines if he wins the election. He says he will divide the country into a collection of semi-autonomous regions, each of which will control its own budget. Also he says he will out-law the practice of contractualism, the hiring of workers in both the middle class and lower class on short-term contracts with no job security and very few benefits.
Growing numbers of Filipinos have decided what they want from their next president. The choice is simple: if they feel financially comfortable, they will choose a candidate who represents the past; if they’re struggling to get by, they will choose one who, they hope, represents the future.
On Friday afternoon, at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, a taxi driver, Ricardo Palencia, 57, offers his opinion: “Duterte is the best candidate, for sure. He will change our country. He has my vote.”
In the lounge at the airport, a young woman, Jennifer Arpafo, 28, a mother of three girls, says she will cast her vote for Duterte as well. Then, she notes, “But after voting, I will travel to Saudi Arabia. I will work in a hotel gift shop on a two-year contract. I will be gone for two years. I have no choice.”
When she comes back, she will likely find her home is different. Filipinos’ next president promises to change it.