Manila stocks shame region 

The Philippine stock exchange has climbed more than 1 per cent to a record high, led by industry and real estate, while its controversial president has moved to axe a key drugs watchdog. 

The positive economic news comes as Philippine parliamentarians loyal to President Rodrigo Duterte voted to allocate just 1,000 pesos (US$20) in next year’s budget to the Commission of Human Rights (CHR), the key official agency criticising his bloodthirsty drug war.

The CHR had a budget of 749 million pesos (US$15 million) this year and requested for it to be approximately doubled next year. The tiny budget requires senatorial approval.

Duterte has frequently criticised the commission, which has taken a stand on the thousands of police killings since he took power last year.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a Duterte ally, told the media that the CHR deserved a minuscule budget for being a “useless” organisation.

“If you want to protect the rights of criminals, get your budget from the criminals,” the Speaker said. “It’s that simple. Why should you get budget from the government and yet you are not doing your job?”

Duterte has said he was “happy to slaughter” millions of drug users and dismissed the killings of children as “collateral damage”.

Meanwhile, the financial sector had more positive news. Manila’s index rose 1.3 per cent to 8,155.6 as it it is on course to secure a third straight session of gains. SM Prime Holdings at 3 per cent and SM Investments Corp, with 2.1 per cent, drove the index.

“It seems money is now coming back after the ghost month. But the volume is not significant, so it’s too early to say that this is sustainable,” said Joseph Roxas of Manila’s Eagle Equities.

Luis Gerardo Limlingan, managing director at Regina Capital Development, said: “There’s an added boost from Wall Street and some investors are also hopeful that the senate will pass the tax reform measures next month.”

Congress’s lower house passed the tax reform bill in May aimed at funding a multibillion dollar infrastructure programme. The bill still needs to pass through the senate.

Morgan Stanley this week upgraded the Philippines to “overweight”, recommending it as Asean’s top investment, praising infrastructural projects and tax reform.

Thai shares rose around 0.3 per cent and were on course for their 10th session of gains.

Singaporean stocks fell by up to 0.3 per cent, weighed down by the giant DBS Group Holdings which dropped 0.6 per cent to its lowest level since June 28. Singapore said total employment in the second quarter fell by 7,300.

Manila’s financial sector is prospering despite the archipelago’s turbulent politics. Picture credit: Wikimedia