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Pacific News Minute: After Cancer Scare, Philippines President Duterte Has Economic Worries

Presidential Communications Operations Office
Wikimedia Commons

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Indonesia earlier today to attend the annual ASEAN summit. He left rumors of serious health problems swirling in Manila, but the controversial leader does have one serious problem for sure – the economy.

Inflation in the Philippines rose to 6.7 percent – a nine year high.

According to the New York Times, prices for vegetables, fish and meat are soaring. But the biggest problem is the country’s staple. Rice is so expensive that President Duterte lifted restrictions on imports this week, a measure enacted decades ago to protect Filipino farmers. 

A new opinion poll shows that 52 percent of Filipinos now consider themselves poor, that’s up 10 points over the past six months. In a Manila market, Lilian Gomez told the Times, “500 pesos feels like one peso now. All the prices have gone up since Duterte became president.”

While critics cite mismanagement, Duterte blamed a conspiracy among rice dealers. “Consider yourselves warned,” he declared, “or the full power of the state will be upon you.” 

Credit KING RODRIGUEZ / Malacañang Photo Bureau / Philippines Presidential Communications Operations Office
Philippines Presidential Communications Operations Office

Last week, the president also said that he might have cancer; after a second colonoscopy, he told a news conference that tests were negative. Heath rumors started a year ago when Duterte vanished for a week, and spiked again after he missed two public appearances last week.

If the president dies in office or becomes disabled, the constitution specifies that the vice president take his place – that’s Leni Robredo, a leader of the opposition. The Vice President is elected separately in the Philippines. Duterte frequently scorns his vice president as too weak and said that he’d prefer a military junta.

TheAssociated Press cites senior military officials as saying that they would follow the constitution.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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