Marcos Jr.’s first week: focus on economy woes

In his first Cabinet meeting last Tuesday, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced that economic recovery takes precedence over all concerns under his administration and that his economic managers would set the “central policy.”

The next day, during a Malacañang press briefing, the economic team head, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, gave a limited preview of a “Medium-Term Fiscal Framework” that would “set the tone or will be our game plan for the next six years.” While saying that he could not disclose details because Marcos Jr. would outline the plan in his State of the Nation Address on July 25, Diokno disclosed the following:

• In light of the rising inflation, “we will continue the grant of the fuel subsidy to the affected parties like the drivers, the farmers and the fisherfolk…. [and] will continue the importation of products which are in short supply, as has been done before.”

• The new administration aims to achieve “upper middle-income” status for the Philippines, by attaining a per capita income of $4,046 by the end of the administration’s term in 2028. (The World Bank says the country’s per capita income in 2021 was $3,548.80.)

• Target annual economic growth rate from 2023 to 2028 would range from 6.5 percent to 8 percent, assuming this year’s growth would be 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent. Diokno bragged, “The consensus [of the economic managers?] is that this will be the highest growth rate among all ASEAN Plus Three this year and next year.”

• The administration aims to reduce poverty incidence from 17 percent before the COVID-19 pandemic to 9 percent by 2028.

• The plan is also to reduce the country’s national debt ratio to gross domestic product from the current 63 percent to 60 percent by 2025. (The international benchmark for a safe debt-to-GDP ratio – involving the country’s capacity to service its borrowings – is below 60 percent.)

Having decided to hold the agriculture portfolio “in the meantime,” Marcos Jr. met on Tuesday with senior Department of Agriculture officials and ordered them to ensure the country’s food supply for the rest of 2022, especially for rice, corn, pork and chicken.

Besides ensuring sufficient supply, he stressed that the prices of these food items should be affordable to all Filipinos: “It is useless to have food if you cannot afford it anyway.”

He also asked the DA officials for an assessment of the implementation of the rice trade liberalization/tariffication law, and a “short memo” on their position regarding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) treaty, “whether or not we should ratify it.”

Furthermore, he asked them to craft a multi-year plan to “really reconstruct” the country’s agricultural value chain, “starting from our scientists and our researchers all the way to the Kadiwa store.” (He was referring to a food-distribution scheme set up by his late father, the dictator Ferdinand Sr., along with “operationalizing” the latter’s rice-production method called “Masagana 150” and “Masagana 200,” as supposedly proposed by former DA Secretary William Dar.)

On the reorganization of the Executive, Marcos Jr. called for “streamlining” the bureaucracy to improve its services to the people. He rejected proposals to reduce the number of government workers as means of cutting down expenditures.

However, he gave his Cabinet members a “relatively free hand in deciding who you want to hire and how you want to change the structure of your department, if indeed that’s what you want to do.” But do it soon, he emphasized, “because we have work to do and we have to go to work immediately.”

Saying he was thinking of calling two Cabinet meetings every week, he explained: “It’s important to me that the entire Cabinet understands what it is we are trying to do, how we are going to do it, what the timetable is and how it all fits together.”

Marcos Jr. issued his first two executive orders (EOs) on reorganization:

EO No. 1 abolished the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) whose jurisdiction, powers and functions were transferred to the office of the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs. EO 1 also abolished the office of the Cabinet Secretary, placing its secretariat under the direct control and supervision of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).

EO No. 2 put the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) back under the Office of the Press Secretary and abolished the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson.

The PACC was created, in 2017, by Rodrigo Duterte to investigate graft and corruption allegedly committed by presidential appointees in the Executive domain.

On the other hand, the Office of the Cabinet Secretary was mandated to assist in providing “timely and organized” information to the Cabinet on issues and problems submitted for decision/action by the latter; to provide conference and administrative support services to the Cabinet; and to conduct technical research and special studies on specific policy issues.

“In order to achieve simplicity, economy and efficiency in the bureaucracy without effecting disruptions in internal management and general governance,” the EO 1 states, “the administration shall streamline office processes and procedures by reorganizing the Office of the President proper and the various attached agencies and offices, and by abolishing duplicated and overlapping functions.”

While abolishing the two above-cited offices, EO 1 created a new one: the office of the Presidential Adviser on Military and Police Affairs (PAMPA).

No details of its powers and functions have been provided, except that the new office would be administered by the office of the Special Assistant to the President (SAP). (Under Duterte, the SAP was Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, who was the president’s gatekeeper and general go-for man. The new SAP is former Davao del Norte Rep. Anton Lagdameo.)

People are wondering how the newly created office (to be based in Malacañang) will differ in powers and functions from those of the National Security Adviser (now headed by retired UP professor Clarita Carlos), the Defense Secretary (who oversees the military establishment) and the Interior Secretary (who has authority over the police forces)?

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Published in Philippine Star
July 9, 2022

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