With just a month and a half to present a complete Cabinet, the administration of presumptive president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. still can’t seem to attract many talents in the executive branch to run the state of affairs for him.
So far, he has formally named just two—his presumptive vice presidential partner, Sara Duterte Carpio for the Department of Education (although reports have it that she really desired the Department of National Defense) and Benhur Abalos, his campaign manager, for the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Speculations are his screening committee wants (civil) Engr. Manuel Bonoan (from San Miguel tollways group) to the Department of Public Works and Highways and banker Jose Arnulfo “Wick” Veloso for the Department of Finance. As to whether these two people have accepted or have been vetted for the job is something the Marcos camp has been silent about.
Foreign (and local) investors have been on a wait-and-see stance for quite sometime now, pending the announcement of the economic team (and the kind of policies it would adopt) before it decides whether to pull out their money or stay.
Another point to consider for them is how the Supreme Court would decide on the disqualification case raised to it against the presumptive president.
Getting talents into the Cabinet is a very tough decision, which requires checking on the history, the expertise and their depth of knowledge about current crises facing the country. Unlike in the outgoing administration and the previous ones, the Cabinet picks were made on the basis of support given them in the elections, whether they are provincemates, classmates, relatives or friends of relatives and other personal considerations, which led to constant juggling of people within the executive branch because many of the appointees were unfit and bungled their jobs.
Concerns that Cabinet must address
To borrow some thoughts from the column of Victor Andres Manhit in the Star last May 10, “under a new political environment, we can expect three things to happen to our social and business relationships. There will be pockets of change here and there. Either more sustainable reforms will be realized, or the status quo will persist.”
The new government must keep in mind that the issues confronting the nation have numerous dimensions and must be addressed on multiple fronts. This should dictate what solutions are needed, and how these will be set in motion to achieve recovery and growth, more than two years after the pandemic first reached our shores.
These issues are known intimately by no less than the people themselves. In Pulse Asia’s February 2022 survey on the “Most Urgent National Concerns for a Presidential Candidate to Address,” the five top-of-mind concerns of the people were “Controlling inflation” (48 percent), “Improving/Increasing the pay of workers” (38 percent), “Reducing poverty of many Filipinos” (33 percent), “Fighting graft and corruption in government” (32 percent), and “Creating more jobs” (29 percent).
I wonder how the new administration would control inflation considering that this headache is shared across the globe. Returning to price controls (as Marcos Sr. did) is a band-aid solution that in the long-run would lead to supply gaps because of lower productivity.
Manhit said that inflation is primarily driven by the economic scarring caused by the Duterte administration’s mismanagement of the health crisis and the sustained increase in oil prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war.
As to the rate of joblessness, the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that an additional 1.64 million employed individuals have been added to the employed population of 45.33 million in March 2021, as the labor participation rate marginally increased to 65.4 percent in March 2022.
Improving workers pay would be easier for big companies, but not for the struggling small and medium enterprises, who comprise the bulk of employment but whose financial conditions are not stable enough to warranty any further cost.
Reducing poverty of Filipinos—outside of the nutribun (that Marcos Sr. resorted to) or cutting the price of rice to P20 per kilo (would only exacerbate the problem of rice producers—farmers who are themselves so poor and struggling with high inputs cost) and again lead to supply gaps. If government’s answer would be to import rice, then all the more local farmers would die sooner than later.
As to fighting graft and corruption, this would be a gargantuan task for Marcos Jr. to assure considering a distrust for his family brought about by the massive corruption during his father’s tenure. Would he be any better (than his dictator-father) is the common question people would ask.
Offhand his solution to creating more jobs is to continue the BuildBuildBuild program of outgoing President Duterte and to cozy even more with China, in the hope that it would make good on its promised investments in the Philippines. But at the price of our territorial waters?
Rebuilding the much-battered nation
Manhit said the incoming administration’s priorities to rebuild our much-battered nation could best be captured by the following:
First, pandemic management should always consider the economic and social consequences of any decision. The past two years have shown how feeble the country’s healthcare and social protection systems are. The poorer, more vulnerable segments of society suffered from these gaps. An enhanced social protection system will provide a bigger cushion for externalities and disasters.
Second, an enabling and stable environment should be laid down for the private and non-government sectors.
The past administration’s whimsical and arbitrary decisions and pronouncements created the culture of animosity between government, the private sector, and civil society. The initiatives of the private sector and civil society in alleviating the crisis and reinvigorating the economy were downplayed.
Without this, the private sector could have accomplished greater deeds. If it were only seen as a valuable partner by the government, it could have done more to uplift the economic and social lives of the people.
With the new political set-up, a three-way trusting relationship between government, the private sector, and civil society will be essential in the promotion of business operations, social relations, and national recovery and development efforts.
Third, the state-centered approach of the past administration should be relaxed, if not put to rest. More significantly, it would be much better if the new government became more citizen- responsive. The delivery of public services could be more effective and driven by Filipinos’ most urgent concerns.
Rebuilding the Filipino nation, corroded by the COVID-19 pandemic and management gaps, needs the establishment of a socio-economic consensus toward post pandemic recovery and growth. To which I agree.
There must be a meeting of minds between the new president and the different stakeholders and sectors of society. Only this will guarantee an inclusive and sustainable national development.
With good wishes and aspirations for the Filipino people, let us all tread past the old order and move forward to a new direction and future.