Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday he was taking steps to open up the economy to new players and foreign investors, including in power, energy and telecoms, to share its wealth and limit graft and protectionism. He spoke minutes after his arrival home from a summit in Peru of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the leaders of which issued a joint statement committing to fight “all forms of protectionism”.
The outspoken former mayor has shown no qualms about confronting oligarchs and conglommerates who dominate the Philippines economy, which is growing at one of the world’s fastest rates, buoyed by consumption and remittances. “The only way to make this country move faster to benefit the poor is really to open up communications, the air waves and the entire energy sector,” he told a news conference in his home city of Davao.
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“Or else, you can count on your fingers the power players of this country. I would not say that they are the elite.” He added: “I would like just to send this strong message: it’s about time that we share the money of the entire country and to move faster, make competition open to all.”
Investors in the Philippines have complained often of regulations that can restrict foreign investment in various areas, among them telecoms and utilities. Numerous sectors of the economy are dominated by local tycoons, with foreigners absent in many areas. “The only way for deliverance of this country is to remove it from clutches of the few people who hold the power and money,” Duterte said.
His comments suggest he intends to follow through on threats to stamp out protectionism, having warned the telecoms duopoly of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co (PLDT) and Globe Telecom to shape up, or face new competition.
Philippine mobile Internet and voice services are ranked among Asia’s slowest and most intermittent. “We are finalising our plans to open up the information and communications technology industry to new players in order to promote competitiveness and quality of service,” Duterte said in a prepared statement. “We are now also looking into regulatory requirements and institutional arrangements to hasten the entry of new players into the power industry and energy sectors.” Duterte further said he had received assurances from his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that the implementation of a slew of investment deals agreed in October would be accelerated.