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Duterte touts innovation investments at Boao

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President Duterte (left) during his expanded bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (center) after the two-day Belt and Road Forum here. -- AP VIA PHILSTAR

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte expects the Philippines to join the world’s most innovative economies by the end of his term in 2022, citing initiatives to upgrade worker skills and raise the competitiveness of small businesses.

“We are investing in innovation — in government processes, in technology and in human development. By 2022, the Philippines sees itself as joining the top one-third [in] the Global Innovation Index. We will empower more Filipinos with better skills and expertise and with our Innovation Council under the Department of Science and Technology, we will improve the competitiveness and productivity of our MSMEs,” the President said in his speech during the opening ceremonies of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) in Hainan, China on Tuesday.

With greater access to technology and financing, according to Mr. Duterte, the Philippine government “will apply Science, Technology and Innovation in agriculture and the [service] industries.”

“We will invest in improving research and development and intensify international cooperation in this area. We are willing to learn from others,” he added.

The President also stressed that his administration is “slowly making the Filipino dream a reality.”

“As we strive to [push] our economy forward, we encounter challenges. But we will not be deterred. We seek to partner with responsible businesses, home-grown and foreign based, to drive the progress we envision.”

Mr. Duterte said he continues to target illegal drugs, which he called “pernicious and rotten social diseases that devour my country.”

He added that the Philippines “will do more” to encourage investment in “infrastructure, innovation, and interconnectivity.”

“Our milestones are ambitious: We will spend 5-7% on infrastructure. We aim to reduce poverty from 22% in 2015 to 14% by 2022. We intend to achieve growth of 7-8% every year up to 2022.”

The President said he is confident that the infrastructure program will provide a “solid backbone” for the economic growth of the country.

“This will continue to upgrade the infrastructure, connect more people and communities and create more jobs. Already we have started a three-year rolling program amounting to over $69 billion until 2022,” he added.

Before his flight to Beijing on Monday, April 9, the President said he was flying to China “thinking about money because in truth, (he) needs money.”

In his interview with ANC on Tuesday morning, former ambassador Jose Apolinario L. Lozada, Jr. said Mr. Duterte’s words “were not really flattering to so many people who were listening.”

“But I think he was trying to get China’s attention, so that he will be given the best deal when he talks to him (President Xi Jinping). It’s a gamble. That’s how he looks at it, and we can only hope that his gamble will pay [off],” he added.

The “gamble,” according to Mr. Lozada, is that “the money, which has been promised to us as loans or whatever arrangements made by the President and China in the past, will start flowing into the country so that our projects can start to take off. Because right now, it is true, we have no money to really finance all of these ‘Build, Build, Build’ projects.”

“The only fear that I am having there is that will China really continue to support us even after President Duterte’s term? I think the most important thing that the President will be able to get from this initiative is to be assured of China’s continuous support for the Philippines even after his (Mr. Duterte) term. So, it is really important for the President, right now, to really show to the Filipinos who is going to succeed him,” he added. — Arjay L. Balinbin