Issues beyond 100 days
Except for some minor hiccups that attend every change in regime, it was “so far, so good” for the first 100 days of the Marcos Jr. administration. But a myriad of problems, both external and domestic, lie ahead, mostly centering on how effectively the government will steer the economy amid the headwinds caused by a global economy at risk of recession and lead the nation through a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.
President Marcos Jr. started on a positive note, with the appointments of key economic officials who are welcomed by the business community sending a clear signal that the economic recovery is getting top priority. Battered by more than two years of difficulties brought on by the health crisis, the economy takes center stage in the P5.27-trillion budget for 2023, the administration’s first full year in office. Except for questions on the huge intelligence funds and some lump sums tucked into it, the 2023 budget shows the top priorities of the new administration are education, infrastructure, food security, health care, and clean energy.
Economic diplomacy, a hallmark of the Ramos administration in the 1990s that saw the entry of more foreign investors, is likewise off to a good start for the new administration. In his first 100 days, Mr. Marcos has already brought the Philippine story to Indonesia, Singapore, and the United States where he invited businessmen there to take a look at the various opportunities in the country, especially with the recent moves to liberalize their entry in more economic sectors. He secured $14.36 billion worth of investment pledges in his state visits to Indonesia and Singapore, while his trip to the United States is seen to generate close to $4 billion in investments. The administration’s successful debut in the foreign debt market last week, where it borrowed a total of $2 billion (about P117 billion) in bonds, is also a validation of how the international business community positively views the Marcos Jr. presidency.
On the other side of the first 100 days record, however, are the controversies on sugar imports that led to the resignation of key agriculture officials, and the secrecy that attended the President’s trip to Singapore to watch the Formula 1 race. The Palace could have avoided the social media furor had it informed the people beforehand that the President was invited by Singaporean authorities and he simply agreed to attend. Then came the resignations of Commission on Audit (COA) chair Jose Calida and press secretary Trixie Cruz Angeles, and the announcement that former executive secretary Victor Rodriguez was officially out of the administration. While this may indicate a turf war in the Palace, it can be viewed as good in terms of vetting appointees, sending the message that Cabinet secretaries are not the type who would hold on to their positions no matter what. Another criticism being thrown at the administration is the continued lack of a health secretary, something very vital given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Stakeholders also push for a full-time agriculture secretary who can devote his or her full attention to addressing concerns on food supply and the welfare of farmers and fisher folk.
A hundred days do not really make a presidency. A lot of challenges still await the Marcos Jr. administration, especially in 2023. If the latest Pulse Asia survey is any indication, the government needs to work on at least three of the crucial concerns of the people. Nearly seven out of every 10 Filipinos were most concerned about the soaring prices of food and other basic commodities and services, a national issue for which the Marcos Jr. administration received its lowest approval rating, according to the Pulse Asia Sept. 17-21 survey. Inflation, which rose to a four-year high of 6.9 percent in September, was a concern of the majority across all geographic areas: 81 percent in Mindanao, 71 percent in the Visayas, and 68 percent in Metro Manila. It was also the concern of the majority of the poor, or those in Class D and E, at 71 percent and 58 percent, respectively. The main challenge among Class ABC is increasing workers’ pay at 55 percent. Reducing poverty is also considered a major issue by about a third of the respondents. The other top urgent national concerns that emerged in the survey included increasing the pay of workers (44 percent), creating more jobs (35 percent), and reducing poverty (34 percent). Respondents were least concerned about national territorial defense (5 percent), protecting the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (4 percent), and terrorism (2 percent).
The Marcos Jr. administration has outlined an ambitious policy agenda to boost economic growth and lift millions out of poverty. During his term, Mr. Marcos is aiming to expand the country’s economy by as much as 8 percent a year, to keep it among Asia’s fastest-growing nations, and halve the poverty rate, which stood at 18.1 percent in 2021. It can start achieving this agenda by focusing on the major issues that worry the people most now—inflation, employment, and poverty.
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