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Philippine history circles back with continuity president

Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr addressed his supporters during a campaign rally in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat province, March 28, 2022. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

FERDINAND “BONGBONG” R. MARCOS, JR., 64, won the Philippine presidency by a landslide based on a message of unity and not much anything else.

He skipped debates, wary of traditional media known to bring up his father’s two-decade autocratic rule and leaving both his staunch supporters and critics guessing about how he really plans to run the country once he’s in control.

Mr. Marcos will start his six-year rule on June 30, heralding the return to power of the country’s most notorious political family that was driven out by a popular street uprising in 1986.

He’s widely seen as a continuity president, picking up from where President Rodrigo R. Duterte left off, including his infrastructure program that was delayed by a coronavirus pandemic and reviving remittances and a consumption-based economy.

“While these programs led to some measure of success during President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s time, it can prove disastrous when these are applied now,” said Leonardo A. Lanzona, who teaches economics at the Ateneo de Manila University, citing the Philippines’ rising debt.

He also said Mr. Marcos should address corruption that had slowly crept in the final part of the Duterte administration. “Unless corruption is checked, further declines in credit ratings are expected, making it more difficult to access funds from abroad.”

Mr. Marcos faces a tricky balancing act of supporting economic recovery and containing the country’s rising debt, Oxford Economics Lead Economist Sian Fenner and Assistant Economist Makoto Tsuchiya said in a recent note.

The Philippines’ budget deficit widened during the pandemic, as revenue collections remained lackluster.

The Philippine economy grew by 8.3% in the first quarter, slightly faster than government expectations, and that could give Mr. Marcos time to adjust and think of his game plan.

But analysts said growth remains unstable, with consumer spending likely to be stunted by rising inflation, worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Like Mr. Duterte, Mr. Marcos is likely to pursue closer trade and investment ties with China, even if a shift away from the United States is unlikely and will be frowned upon by Filipinos wary of China.

Aside from continuing Mr. Duterte’s infrastructure program, the public should expect an economic recovery that highly relies on a 1980s labor export policy and consumer spending, said Emy Ruth Gianan, an economist at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines

There are heavy trade-offs for these macroeconomic solutions, which might no longer be responsive to the changing times, she added.

“Filipino labor export could worsen our brain drain suffering, while prioritizing infrastructure over equally important human capital investments is also not good,” Ms. Gianan said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

She also expects Mr. Marcos to continue Mr. Duterte’s tax agenda that sought to further lower income taxes, though “lower corporate taxes could mean a greater burden on individual taxpayers because we will be doing much of the economic heavy lifting.”

“Marcos Jr. did not really lay down a platform of governance,” Ms. Gianan said. “To what criteria can we make him accountable if there is no benchmark to begin with? Our expectations are set so low that any meager change can be construed as an improvement.”

Mr. Marcos faces serious economic obstacles, and economists said his lack of experience in policy making is unlikely to inspire confidence.

“Economic managers are going to be critical for the next several years because of the pandemic and economic crisis, something that we are looking at very carefully,” Mr. Marcos told reporters days after an unofficial count showed him headed for a landslide victory.

With old names being tapped to be part of Mr. Marcos’ Cabinet, economists and political analysts worry that his government might fail to respond to the changing times.

“It seems that the basis for choosing the member of the Cabinet is one’s proximity to the people in power,” said Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo. “The closer or more loyal you are to the president the higher you get into the political ladder.”

“The Marcos administration has no choice,” he said in a Messenger chat. “They don’t have the support of many of the pool of highly educated and respected leaders, emerging generation of new technocrats, known governance specialists, veteran reformists and progressive professionals needed for public service.”

‘ANYTHING HE WANTS’Mr. Marcos has named Arsenio M. Balisacan his Socioeconomic Planning chief, Benjamin E. Diokno as his Finance secretary and Felipe M. Medalla as his central bank governor. Amenah F. Pangandaman, a central bank assistant governor, will become Budget secretary.

Mr. Balisacan, an Ilocos native like his boss, held the same post under the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III -— the son and namesake of the dictator’s political nemesis.

Former Labor Secretary Bienvenido E. Laguesma and Filipino worker advocate Susan V. Ople have also accepted the offer to head the Labor department and Department of Migrant Workers, respectively.

Ms. Ople is the daughter of the late Senator Blas F. Ople, who served as labor minister of Ferdinand E. Marcos for 17 years. Mr. Marcos’ running mate, Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio, will head the Education department.

“Given that your government will be filled with people who are more of a loyalist than a technocrat, expect that their participation in the government will be more about realizing the objectives of their patron than pushing for long-term reforms and changes needed in our society,” Mr. Aguirre said.

Mr. Marcos has not hinted at reforming the country’s political system dominated by dynasties, and some political analysts expect him to push constitutional changes that could benefit the Marcos dynasty.

“I don’t expect this government to be that serious in supporting political reforms such as banning political dynasties and reforming the electoral system, among other things,” Mr. Aguirre said.

He will have a “legitimacy ticket” to do anything he wants, Jan Robert Go, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said in a Messenger chat. “He might initiate some policies, but these would more or less preserve the status quo, if not exacerbate the deeply oligarchic nature of our politics.”

“Marcos did not run with a progressive political change platform,” said Robin Michael U. Garcia, a political economy professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific. “We should not rule out the possibility, but I think he will not walk down that road.”

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