Top Philippine CEOs: Businesses don't need to worry under Duterte

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala says he agrees with the President demanding results from the private sector, while Enrique Razon says nothing has changed in Philippine business under the new leadership

Natashya Gutierrez

Published: 6:25 PM December 1, 2016

Updated: 6:30 PM December 1, 2016

'NOTHING DIFFERENT.' Enrique Razon says nothing has changed in the Philippine business environment under President Duterte. Photo by Rappler

JAKARTA, Indonesia – All eyes are on the Philippines after the election of President Rodrigo Duterte, but some of the most successful Filipino businessmen believe there's nothing to worry about.

At the Forbes Global CEO Conference here, questions swirled around the new president and his impact on Philippine businesses. For Ayala Corporation's Chairman and CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, and Enrique Razon, Chairman and President of International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI), the Philippine business environment is doing just fine.

“Definitely, our new president is a populist at heart,” Zobel de Ayala said at a panel on Wednesday, November 30.

“Around the world, we’ve seen a resurgence of voters who feel they have been left out from the development agenda,” he added, before emphasizing that compared to the United States, “it is a different situation in our [country].”

“Globalization that made so many lose in the US made so many win in a country like ours,” he said, before citing the Philippines' burgeoning BPO industry and the growing service industry as some examples of opportunity brought about by technology.

Zobel de Ayala then said he does not see anything wrong with the business climate under Duterte, so far.

“He is a president that is demanding results and addressing large gaps that exist in the society. He is correct in targeting that of the business sector,” he said.

“His point of emphasis on these points is a very valid one and one that I agree with,” he added.

Duterte won the presidential elections in May after pledging to kill tens of thousands in his war on illegal drugs, warning that anything less would turn the Philippines would turn into a narco-state.

Since assuming office, he has called on police and even civilians to kill drug users, but would also clarify that he was only "threatening" to kill anyone involved in the illicit trade.

Duterte, who came into office in June, has been criticized by rights activists for his bloody war on drugs. The death toll from his controversial crackdown climbed above 4,800, or roughly an average of 30 deaths a day since it began 5 months ago.

Along with his war on drugs, local and foreign media and widely covered Duterte's populist leanings. But while the Philippines peso dropped to its lowest against the US dollar in 8 years, the Philippine economy continues to be among the fastest growing in the world.

Bloomberg says most currency strategists predict a rebound once investors see beyond Duterte’s words. 

No difference

In a one-on-one interview with Rappler Indonesia, Razon echoed Zobel de Ayala’s sentiments.

“As far as the business environment, the economy as you can see with the 3rd quarter, is still doing very well,” he said, but added that it remains to be seen what policies the government will put in place to sustain that kind of growth.

He also said the peso drop was due to the "dollar zooming," which is affecting many countries, not just the Philippines.

“President Duterte has so far been okay for the economy. We haven’t seen any policy or any real change. He’s focused really on his drug campaign, and he’s been quite effective there. I guess if he wants to focus on other things he’ll be equally as effective.”

Razon said that the thawing of relations with China has even helped at least one of his businesses – Solaire Resorts and Casino – which has seen an increase in Chinese tourists.

“The Philippines is a lot more interesting than it’s been portrayed outside the Philippines. And this happens to many countries. The picture is much worse from the outside than it is inside,” he said. “The Philippines is still the same Philippines as it was in the last two or 3 years.”

The man considered by Forbes as one of the wealthiest in the Philippines also acknowledged that Duterte has moved fast on his drug war, and that the “President now is doing a very serious job with what he’s promised to do.”

“No one can fault him for delivering all these promises," Razon added.

“Some people are justified to be concerned,” he admitted. “But I would say I’m more concerned about global risks now, external risks now than internal risks,” he said, referring to the unpredictable global economy.