Philippines Report

Marcos’ economic message leaves businesses wanting for more

Marcos' economic message leaves businesses wanting for more

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. repeated his calls for “unity” as he promised in his inaugural address to rebuild the economy with his “all-inclusive plan” that, up to this point, remains obscure.

In a speech on Thursday that lasted for almost 25 minutes, Marcos vowed to “find a way” to solve the country’s energy crisis; give food security a “preferential treatment”; and present a “comprehensive infrastructure plan” that will make sure projects that have already started will finish on schedule.

“The pandemic ravaged bigger economies than ours. The virus is not the only thing to blame. What had been well built was torn down. We will build it back better,” Marcos said.

But even after completing his economic team, the newly-inaugurated leader’s economic vision is still unclear, leaving businesses looking for guidance on what the government intends to do to ensure that the economy can sustain its recovery.

“From the business side, still a lot of concrete steps that needs to be done for us to pick up,” George Barcelon, president of Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the largest business group in the country, said in a phone interview.

Specifically, Barcelon said businesses wanted to hear the new administration’s clear-cut plans to attract more foreign direct investments and improve the country’s broadband infrastructure, which are both crucial to pandemic recovery.

To be fair, Marcos himself acknowledged that “the immediate months will be rough.” While the economy already returned to pre-pandemic level in the first quarter, red-hot inflation is threatening to derail the nascent recovery by crimping consumption, a major growth driver.

At the same time, Marcos would have to tackle a huge debt pile that was left by his predecessor and bridge a large budget deficit that could cripple his administration’s ability to spend on new reforms and social programs. Incoming Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Wednesday said fixing the state’s balance sheet and reducing poverty are the new government’s priorities, although he has yet to reveal a comprehensive plan to achieve these goals.

“Of course, the inaugural rhetoric is brimming with messages of hope for the future, but the reality on the ground will show serious difficulties in government spending in the short-term,” Terry Ridon, convenor of Infrawatch PH, an infrastructure-oriented think tank, said in an e-mailed commentary.

But apart from his repeated calls for unity, Marcos’ inaugural address was also meant to assure the public that he has the ability to right the country’s economic ship. This, as his massive support base are likely to feel the sting of inflation and other economic problems more than anyone else.

And while Marcos’ inaugural speech left businesses wanting for more, Anthony Lawrence Borja, political science professor at De La Salle University in Manila, believes the president’s supporters were likely satisfied with his economic message “because of their leader-centric tendencies.”

“For his supporters, it was reassuring enough because he pinned down the most crucial problems, pandemic recovery, energy crisis, and food security, thus, showing that he can grasp pertinent problems,” Borja said in an interview.

“His repeated appeals to a better future and promises of a more active government also adds a measure of reassurance,” Borja added. 

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