Philippine Candidates Seen as Best to Run Economy Trail in Polls

  • Roxas, Poe lead in Bloomberg survey on economic credibility
  • Infrastructure, battling corruption ranked as top priorities

A first-time Philippine senator and a former minister endorsed by the current president were selected by analysts as the most credible candidates in next month’s election to run the economy, according to a Bloomberg survey. Both are trailing in opinion polls.

Grace Poe, a senator and adopted daughter of a famous local actor, and former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas scored the highest support of the five main candidates in a confidence survey of 10 economists. Both ranked ahead of Rodrigo Duterte, the firebrand mayor of Davao city who is leading in the latest poll by Pulse Asia Research Inc. to win the May 9 presidential vote.

Grace Poe

Photographer: Marlo Cueto/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

While all the contenders are championing reforms started by outgoing President Benigno Aquino to boost infrastructure and create more jobs, Poe and Roxas are viewed by economists as the most capable of delivering on their promises. At stake is an economy that’s been among the fastest growing in the world and a stock market that’s more than doubled since Aquino took office in 2010.

“From a business perspective, the priority is simple: continuity of reforms,” said Jonathan Ravelas, chief strategist at BDO Unibank Inc. in Manila. “Poe and Roxas are perceived as the most similar to the present administration. It might not be what the popular vote wants.”

Duterte has won support from locals by transforming Davao from a city battling crime and gangs in the 1980s to one of the nation’s safest. A controversial figure, Duterte is facing a backlash for comments he made last week joking about the rape of an Australian missionary in 1989.

Duterte was ranked third on confidence in running the economy, followed by Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is facing corruption charges. Miriam Santiago, a senator who is battling health problems, was rated the lowest. The survey was conducted in late March to early April and respondents were asked to rank candidates from best to worst in steering the economy.

Mar Roxas

Photographer: Veejay Villafranca/Bloomberg

“Rodrigo Duterte is somewhat of an outlier with a limited economic track record,” BMI Research said in a note to clients.

Philippine growth averaged almost 6 percent in the past five years, the best performance since the 1970s. Aquino’s policies helped the country win its first-ever investment-grade credit rating, while his campaign to end corruption has yielded better governance scores.

The top economic priorities of the new president should be infrastructure investment, combating corruption and making it easier to do business, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

“Growth of more than 7 percent or even 8 percent can only be sustained in the medium term if adequate infrastructure is provided, bottlenecks to doing business eased and structural reforms including tax reform are put in place,” said Emilio Neri, an economist at Bank of the Philippine Islands in Manila.

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