One hundred days into his presidency, Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is welcomed by a multitude of economic issues that require urgent action. The administration’s policies in the short-term is a deciding factor on how the country revives its pandemic-stricken economy. With the promise of bringing back the “golden age”, there is a lot to expect from Marcos Jr. in his first three months in office.
In his inaugural speech, the president maintained a positive outlook for the growth of the Philippine economy and projected a 6.5 to 8 percent increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of his term. Marcos Jr.’s economic team revealed its eight-point economic agenda that puts public health, employment, and inflation at the forefront of the administration’s priorities.
High Prices, Weak Peso
Controlling inflation, or the rise in the prices of goods and services, topped the list of economic issues that the public wants the President to address immediately. Welcomed by boiling inflation and a depreciating peso, Marcos Jr. pledged to stabilize prices and maintain an exchange rate of P51 to P53 during his inaugural address.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that the economy was already heating up due to shocks in global commodity markets. From the 6.0% inflation rate tallied in June, prices continued to skyrocket months into the administration, sizzling to 6.9% in September after Super Typhoon Karding worsened supply problems in the country.
This prompted DTI to issue a new suggested retail price (SRP) list with upticks ranging from P3 to P5 for basic necessities and prime commodities (BNPCs) such as, but not limited to, canned and other food products, bottled water, dairy, and common household or kitchen supplies. LTFRB also increased fares by P1 to P2 pesos following the surge in fuel prices. Starting October 3, commuters now face a minimum fare of P12 - P14 for public utility jeepneys (PUJs) and P13 - P15 for buses.
The peso continues to set record lows in 2022, with the peso-dollar exchange rate depreciating to P59 last October 3, causing the BSP to raise interest rates by 50 basis points to 4.25%. Although many Asian countries are experiencing depreciation, Marcos Jr. remains destitute in enacting policies that alleviates the ill effects of high prices and weak peso.
With independent pollster Pulse Asia Survey reporting 4 out of 10 Filipinos’ disapproval of the administration's response in combating inflation, this may be a sign that Marcos is failing to hold up to his agenda to “protect the purchasing power of Filipino families”.
Worsening Food Security
One of the main reasons behind the boiling prices is the country’s huge reliance on food imports, worsened by the pro-importation policies of the Duterte regime, with the Philippines being a top importer of rice with 2.719 million metric tons (MMT) worth of imports from January to August of this year. To undo the country’s food trade deficit, Marcos Jr. appointed himself as the Head of the Department of Agriculture, giving him a front seat in monitoring food prices and executing necessary interventions and fiscal strategies.
So far, the Philippines is lagging behind other ASEAN economies in enacting policies that address food security especially in the short-term. While other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia are quick to implement policies such as price controls, fuel and fertilizer subsidies, and food nationalism in an effort to stave off food and fuel price inflation, the Marcos administration has yet to formulate a comprehensive program that contains all the interventions needed in the agriculture sector. At this rate, Marcos Jr.’s proposal of bringing rice prices down to P20 remains as an empty promise.
The President continues his calls for unity–a key platform in the elections–both here and abroad. In his first 100 days, Marcos achieved his first steps towards “securing a lasting peace in Mindanao” with the unification of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under one autonomous government in Bangsamoro. He also led the oath-taking of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) and urged the institution to legislate measures that center on growth and development in the South.
Marcos Jr. also vowed to appoint the “best and the brightest” in his cabinet. Critics and supporters are optimistic with the strong economic team composed of accomplished technocrats, with Felipe Medalla serving as governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Benjamin Diokno as Secretary of Finance, and Arsenio Balisacan heading National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). While Marcos Jr. is head of agriculture, VP Sara Duterte took the reins of the Department of Education with the priority of bringing back ROTC in schools. The Vice president and Education Secretary faced criticism over the provision of confidential funds amounting to P150 million and nothing for learners with special needs (SPED)–an inconsistency in the administration’s agenda of ensuring “inclusivity”.
And yet, rifts in unity also manifested before Marcos’ 100th day in the seat with the resignation of Vic Rodriguez as Executive Secretary, Jose Calida as chairperson of the Commision of Audit, and Trixie Cruz-Angeles as Press secretary.
Setting a different tone of leadership
Contrary to Duterte’s harsh anti-American stance, Marcos is rekindling the long-standing relationship between the United States and the Philippines. Relationships with other countries in ASEAN are also being strengthened early into his term. Marcos traveled to Indonesia and Singapore in the hopes of attracting foreign investment deals, which proved to be successful as the Philippines secured PHP804.78 billion (USD14.36 billion) worth of investment pledges. The bilateral deals aim to create jobs and develop the sectors of renewable energy, e-commerce, agriculture, and government housing in the country.
The presidential trips later became controversial following an unannounced trip to Singapore for the Formula1 (F1) Grand Prix, with citizens demanding full transparency regarding the funding of the luxurious trip, an issue later downplayed by Malacanang as "irrelevant".
With his father and predecessor ruling with iron fists, his stance on human rights issues will not only shape Marcos Jr.’s legacy but also Philippine democracy. Marcos Jr. has promised a shift in the campaign against drugs by emphasizing on prevention and rehabilitation rather than law enforcement. However, the President has rejected the proposition to rejoin the International Criminal Court and open up investigations on Duterte’s war on drugs. Although Malacanang maintains that it is open to dissent and criticisms, there is no mention of press freedom in the first SONA. The recent killing of Filipino Journalist and Marcos critic Percy Lapid adds to grim cases of media suppression in the country.
Opinion is divided in the performance of the administration one hundred days into the presidency. While allies were impressed with Marcos Jr.’s achievements, critics argued that what the president has done so far is only the “bare minimum”. Marcos Jr’s. failure to decisively address the most pressing economic issues is a burden to the public that is in need of a swift response to ease their woes. The lack of urgency in enacting policies in the short-term is a question of the commitment that the President made to millions of Filipinos aspiring for better lives under his leadership. While 100 days is not enough to fulfill all his promises, the country remains distant from achieving a “return to the golden ages”.
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