A positive first step
The greatest concern about the return of the Marcoses to power was what kind of leadership would the son exhibit. An early indication would be his choice of Cabinet. Whatever you may think of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and there are certainly very divergent opinions, his selection of his Cabinet has, with only a few exceptions, been impeccable.
His five core economic team members are ones, if asked, we would have recommended as a first choice.
Ben Diokno, as the lead in the Department of Finance, was named the Global Central Banker of the Year 2022 by The Banker, an international monthly economic and financial magazine, for his “efforts to help stimulate economic recovery and growth for the Philippines amid the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.” I mean you can’t do better than that, can you?
Arsi Balisacan, who heads the National Economic and Development Authority, is the former chair of the Philippine Competition Commission, the first person to hold the post. He was also Neda chief under P-Noy.
Fred Pascual heads the Department of Trade and Industry. He was director for private sector operations and advisor for public-private partnership at the Asian Development Bank. He just stepped down—from the presidency of the Management Association of the Philippines and as independent director in several publicly listed companies. He was president of the UP system from 2011 to 2017.
Felipe Medalla, who serves as governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), previously headed Neda under Estrada.
Amenah Pangandaman who is the secretary of the Department of Budget and Management had previous experience in the BSP and DBM, and even in the legislative branch.
What’s fascinating to me as an outsider is that all of them studied at the University of the Philippines with Pascual as its president in more recent times. UP can feel rightly very proud. It shows what a fine education it provides.
All of them have an educational background well suited to the job, three of them have doctorates. When you go outside the core into the areas we are involved in: business and the health of the economy, Mr. Marcos has also chosen well.
At the top of the list is the one critically important for our future, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). Here, Mr. Marcos appointed Ivan Uy who had a similar role as chair of the Commission on Information and Communication Technology (the precursor of the DICT) under P-Noy. He also served as chief information officer at the Supreme Court in the early 2000s. He’s passionate about IT.
Manny Bonoan at the Department of Public Works and Highways has been there before under three previous presidents. Jimmy Bautista headed Philippine Airlines with demonstrable skill in running a very complex business profitably. This is why the Department of Transportation fits right into his competencies. Benny Laguesma has held the post of secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) under Estrada.
Toots Ople follows an illustrious father, Blas, who was secretary of DOLE under Marcos Sr. She was labor undersecretary under Arroyo, and has been fighting for the welfare of overseas Filipino workers for years.
Still missing are the critical health and energy leaders.
To support this group, what I’d like to see is for the President to regularly meet his Private Sector Advisory Council who can informally and frankly, which it would have to be effective, comment and discuss with him economic and business-related issues.
I don’t have expertise on the societal or legal side so can’t discuss the choices there. But they are equally important, so I hope someone will guide us. I do know that corruption is a substantial reason why the Philippines fails to take off the way it could. It was estimated by Deputy Ombudsman Cyril Ramos that the government lost P700 billion each in 2017 and 2018 due to corruption. This is equivalent to 20 percent of the national budget.
Just think what truly beneficial things could have been done with that amount. The poor may no longer even be poor. So I hope the Department of Justice secretary and the Ombudsman will be up to the task and are the kind of people that will go after the corrupt ruthlessly, with no quarter given. The big guys first.
It’s a fine, well-chosen team. What we have now to see is whether Mr. Marcos will do a “Duterte.” Duterte also chose an excellent core economic team led by Sonny Dominguez. And then did the one critical thing: listened to them, agreed with them, supported them, and actively campaigned into Congress for them. It resulted in a firmly growing pre-COVID economy that was increasingly open to all. Mr. Marcos needs to do the same. And ignore the sycophants and cronies that will inevitably emerge looking for personal gain.
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