Borrowing a page from his father’s book
It would be very difficult to find a better set of economic managers than Arsenio Balisacan, Benjamin Diokno, and Felipe Medalla (all from the UP School of Economics, one must point out), all really superqualified, all professionals, nary a political ambition between them, nor a desire to enrich themselves or their kin.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (BBM) is borrowing a page from his father’s book—who chose the likes of Paeng Salas, Cesar Virata, Placido Mapa, Bong Tanco, Gerry Sicat, Jimmy Laya, OD Corpuz, all eminently qualified, to serve in his government. In spite of this, the Philippines ended up as the basket case of Asia—because not all the technical, financial, economic expertise in the world can succeed if the top man falls prey to power and its corruption. Add to that a spouse who did him one better: an insatiable appetite for jewelry and fame.
Marcos Sr. had all that. Will his son follow in his footsteps? That’s the key question. I sincerely hope not, but only time will tell.
So let’s not get carried away, Reader. Although the temptation to rejoice is great, given the very low expectations for the new administration, BBM’s choices to head the budget department (that is the fourth man in the economic team), as well as the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue will be crucial. If he listens to the advice of his economic managers, who have no axes to grind, then and only then can we be assured that the Philippines will most likely overcome its economic problems, the legacy of the Duterte administration, at the earliest time.
I hate to further rain on the parade, but I should also like to remind ourselves that economic crises are not the only Duterte legacies. There are, to name a few, the education, energy, health, justice, and poverty crises, all of which I have discussed in previous columns. At no other time in the Philippines has it been more important for the next president’s men and women to be the best and the brightest, not the most well-connected and dynastic.
The good news is that the poverty crisis — the proportion of poor Filipinos rose from 16.6 percent in 2018 to 23.7 percent in 2021 (first half) — is in good hands. Arsy Balisacan, the new National Economic and Development Authority chief, is not only a poverty and economic development expert, he is an agriculture economist as well. And an advocate of social justice.
But BBM has appointed his vice president to be the secretary of education, which apparently was not her choice (she apparently wanted the defense portfolio), so BBM will have no one to blame but himself if she flops. Unlike the above appointees whose qualifications to their positions are unquestionable, there is obviously a problem here. Sara Duterte must surround herself with experts not only on education, but on management, because the education bureaucracy is itself a part of the problem.
And Justice has been placed in the hands of a politician and a dynast, who will likely place his political and family interests above the reforms needed by the people, if push comes to shove. While we are on the subject, will the current justice secretary please show enough spine to withdraw the charges against Sen. Leila de Lima? Show some backbone, for heaven’s sake. That it was his predecessor’s fault does not make him any the less responsible.
The worst may yet be to come: The grapevine has it that (shudder) Mikey Arroyo will be appointed energy secretary, as part of the payback for Gloria Arroyo’s help in getting Sara to be BBM’s VP. His qualifications for the job? He supposedly owns a small power company. Reader, the country’s energy requirements for power, for transport, etc., will have to be met if our growth and development are to be sustainable. Bringing in a politician with vested interests to do the job is a surefire recipe for failure. I hope the rumors are false.
We still do not know who are to handle health, agriculture, agrarian reform, environment and natural resources, and, of course, the budget. May BBM choose them the way he chose the economic team of Balisacan, Diokno, and Medalla, and other notably deserving Cabinet appointees Susan Ople, Alfredo Pascual, and Bienvenido Laguesma. And may he not succumb to the lust for power and greed that were the hallmarks of his parents’ regime. God bless him and his wife Liza. And please, God, bless the Philippines.
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