INDEED, Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr.’s (PFRM) May victory was nearly a walk in the park, and as early as December last year, I wrote a column that the election in 2022 was likely to be the “first-ever boring election for two of the highest posts of the land.”
Backed up by data from surveys, I concluded that Bongbong would be getting the huge votes from Filipinos satisfied with the performance of President Duterte, as he was, even if unannounced, his political heir.
He would be getting votes from those damning the three Yellow regimes as well and who consider his father as one of the country’s most vilified yet best presidents ever. PFRM also projected himself as a statesman and qualified for the presidency. And, of course, PFRM was lucky, the opposition candidate was the worst candidate for the Philippine presidency ever.
After the glory of the inauguration and the hangover, perhaps, of the inaugural party, PFRM must have wakened up in the morning, realizing the huge and hard task ahead — to run a government spectacularly, which is the only way to vindicate his father so demonized by three Yellow regimes and the West.
Having been in government for five years, and in a rather privileged post, as a staffer (spokesman and then, chief of staff) in Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s cockpit, as it were, I can say with confidence that running the state involves basically two major dimensions.
First is the task of delivering efficiently to the people the services a government is supposed to deliver. This includes such things as peace and order, easy access to public utilities at reasonable cost, health services (free in most socialist-inspired states) and education.
Duterte spectacularly succeeded in the peace-and-order task through his war against illegal drugs and his campaign against the communist insurgency. Subsidized and free hospitalization and tuition-less tertiary education have also been his notable achievements.
Duterte also performed well in undertaking that primordial task of a government, which is to protect its citizens. He led us in weathering the Covid-19 pandemic, something so horrendous the last time a similar one occurred was from 1917 to 1918.
However, I think he did practically nothing about lowering the cost of communications and power — which not so coincidentally are really under the control of foreign entities.
Second is the state’s task of undertaking new, major programs to improve the economy and reduce poverty. Duterte’s Build, Build, Build program and his reform of the tax system are examples of this. While free tertiary education is an investment for the poor for them to eventually climb out of their poverty and subsidized hospitalization a safety net for them, I don’t see any major, innovative program from the Duterte administration to reduce poverty.
In both of these tasks, it is essential for the state to be able to resist oligarchs’ pressures in meddling with these in order to make unjustifiable profits. In Marcos’ Cabinet appointments so far, two department heads come from, at present or in the past, tycoons’ conglomerates. They have to demonstrate — sooner rather than later — that they are totally independent of their former bosses.
Manila Standard columnist Charlie Manalo reported in his column yesterday that a shipping tycoon, Christopher Pastrana, has been appointed to head the regulatory body, the Philippine Ports Authority, which would be supervising his and his daughter’s companies. The regulator regulates himself. Great.
Maybe he’ll claim nothing worrying about that since his boss, Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista, after all is a former Lucio Tan man.
To evaluate PFRM and his Cabinet’s performance, watch out if they undertake or announce new programs for undertaking these two aspects of running a government.
One immediate problem I see is the following. PFRM had announced that his priority — other than agriculture — would be helping and developing the country’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs). I agree with him: Taiwan’s economic growth — in contrast to those of South Korea and Japan — was due to the vitality of its SMEs, with the government setting up a number of SME associations according to their particular products.
The Taiwanese government established firm and close links with these associations, so it could immediately solve the problems their industries faced, and to even distribute subsidies, with the associations policing their ranks in the use of these funds.
I wonder if this kind of work would be the cup of tea of PFRM’s pick, Alfredo Pascual. His expertise has been in finance, and his work mostly has been as director in the boards of big businesses. He was, of course, president of the University of the Philippines from 2011 until 2017, when the Reds consolidated that place practically as its Mao Zedong School.
I am wondering why PFRM hasn’t yet announced his choice for Energy secretary, which I think is one of the most important posts because of the state the country is in.
The past months have shown how vulnerable we are to global events, that the free-market system President Fidel Ramos put in place, can’t work in the case of those crucial commodities — petroleum products. Our electricity prices are the most expensive in Asia and Africa, as well as in several advanced countries like the US and Canada. The Energy secretary will have to deal with the most powerful willful tycoons in the country, the likes of Anthoni Salim (aka Manuel Pangilinan), Dennis Uy, the Lopezes (yes, they’re still in power generation), Ramon Ang, and recently the very aggressive Enrique Razon. PFRM’s Energy secretary must have the stature, audacity and intelligence of his father’s energy minister, Geronimo Velasco. I can’t think of one.
He also hasn’t appointed a secretary of Agriculture. I wish our President all the luck, but his idea of concurrently being the Agriculture secretary, as I explained in a recent column, won’t work. He should drop the idea. He’ll just be overworking himself, while being in practice a part-time president and a part-time Agriculture secretary, to the detriment of both responsibilities.
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