“The new president wades into office with a clarion call for unity, but in truth, it will be in the anvil of crisis where his call for unity will be forged.”
I resume column-writing on the day after our commemoration of Independence Day.
In the frenzy of the last campaign and thereafter, while observing the first actions and pronouncements of the incoming administration, many of us seem to have overlooked that today, as I write, is the 124th anniversary of the Aguinaldo proclamation in Kawit, Cavite.
Friends in the diplomatic circle keep telling me that ours is still a young nation, that political maturity and a culture of nationhood takes time.
They sometimes point to the experience of their own countries as examples. The French consider the Fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 as the day they began the long and arduous, at times violent experience with democratic governance.
Spain, with a long monarchical history and even conquest by Islamic rulers, briefly flirted with a republican system for five years in 1931 until a civil war where thousands died ushered in the Franco dictatorship, and not until 1976 did the country transition to a parliamentary democracy.
Closer to home, Singapore became an independent nation only in 1965, after being divorced from the Malay federation that was borne after imperial Britain gave up its Southeast Asian colonies.
And while “democratic space” is restricted, Lee Kuan Yew, armed with vision and political will like no other in the region’s contemporary history, transformed his tiny nation into a world-class economic powerhouse.
Do these examples show that we are indeed a “young” nation, still grappling with a sense of identity, trapped in paroxysms of “change” that become nothing more than a return to a feudal political set-up and an oligarchic economic praxis?
Or is there something deeply aberrant or damaged, one might say, with our own culture?
But enough of these for the moment.
For now, the victors of May 9 rejoice at their unprecedented triumph, and the president-elect is carefully choosing the men and women who will steer the country with him for the next six years. And so far, so good.
Assembling a group of experienced technocrats from different previous administrations to form his economic team shows that President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. realizes quite well the enormity of the economic crisis facing the country.
Ben Diokno of Cory, Erap and Rody comes with a wealth of experience in economic planning and public finance.
Arsi Balisacan, who became P-Noy’s NEDA director-general and later sat as chair of the newly-formed Philippine Competition Commission for all the six years of Rody, shares the same economic thinking as Ben.
So does Philip Medalla who was Erap’s NEDA director, and has been a Monetary Board director since then through three successive administrations.
Former UP President Fred Pascual is a respected trade relations specialist and able administrator, and is a great fit for the Trade and Industry portfolio.
Christina Garcia-Frasco is well aware of the practical aspects of tourism, coming as she does from a family that has governed Cebu well for many years, and recognizes tourism as its main economic driver.
I have always maintained that tourism can be, and should be, considered a major economic pillar, given our islands’ natural beauty and the innate hospitality of most of our people.
Having a young local executive who can combine right policy directions with effective use of LGU’s could well be the spur we need to boost tourism, and catch up with Thailand, Malaysia, even Vietnam.
We await with bated breath who Marcos Jr. will name to the agriculture, energy and transportation departments.
These three, along with DICT (where the new appointee, Ivan Uy, is an excellent choice) and DBM are vital cogs in the economic management team.
Not only are the previously named departments the most important implementing arms of economic policy; they are also the immediate answers to an economic crisis like no other we have experienced in our lifetime.
The new president wades into office with a clarion call for unity, but in truth, it will be in the anvil of crisis where his call for unity will be forged.
This paper has been persistently stressing the problem of food insecurity more than any other in traditional media, pounding into the national consciousness the need to prepare for what this writer described as a “perfect storm” in an article published here last May 23.
This will be the new government’s big headache in the coming months, well into the next two to three years, as no less than the United Nations has warned.
Even before the Russo-Ukraine war started, the signs of impending food crises were already staring us in the face.
The effects of climate change on food production, several outbreaks of swine and bird disease, logistical problems on top of the impact of the lockdowns brought about by the pandemic, have now been exacerbated by the economic impact of four months of conflict in Eastern Europe.
Aside from petrol and its derivatives like fertilizers, wheat, maize, cooking oils, sugar prices have shot to the roof in recent months.
Its cascading effects on the production of food are incalculable.
Its slow but sure substitution impact on the price of rice and pulses has begun.
Our major source of rice imports, Vietnam and Thailand, are in talks about a “common price” for the major Asian staple food, and these two supply 90 to 95 percent of our rice imports, which in turn constitutes 15 percent of total consumption requirements.
And while increasing agricultural output, especially of rice and corn, is the long-term solution to realize food security, this cannot be achieved in the short-term.
In truth, we are expecting lower palay harvests this coming season with the tripled cost of inorganic fertilizers and the diseconomies of scale in our farm sector. Expect the same in sugar, in vegetables, in meat and poultry, even in fish.
It will not be easy to look for a perfect fit for the Department of Agriculture.
And there are fundamental problems of economic philosophies between our economic team and the agricultural sector.
Who can best balance these interests and policy approaches will need likewise competent team support in the Bureau of Plant Industry, Bureau of Fisheries (BFAR), the NFA, the Food Terminal, both of which Marcos Sr. founded, likewise the Bureau of Animal Industry and ancillary agencies.
Of course, there is the immediate problem of fuel, which impacts on everything, electricity and mobility most of all.
While the Department of Energy has no power to stop the tidal wave of world crude shooting up beyond $120 per barrel, it can do much to incentivize more power plants, especially alternative clean energy projects, something we have failed to do in the last decade or so.
Again, we need experienced and effective managers in the energy sector, including the Energy Regulatory Commission.
Much has been said about our huge public debt.
That would certainly dampen our ability to borrow more, so that government can stimulate the economy and answer pressing public needs.
To our relief, most of that debt is domestic rather than foreign.
But rising interest costs will discourage both domestic and foreign investments, even as massive inflationary pressures will require constrictive monetary tools.
President-elect Marcos Jr’s newly-formed team of financial managers are up to the task, which has given the business community both relief and assurance.
It’s the devil and the deep blue sea insofar as balancing growth versus tempering inflation, but, mercifully, we are far from being a Sri Lanka, a Cuba, an Argentina or Brazil.
Consumer spending is not expected to increase, another sign of stagflation which even now may already be upon the economy.’
What some call “revenge spending” after repeated lockdowns is true only for the moneyed.
The poor never got their “revenge,” with their livelihood up-ended by the lockdowns. The middle class have seen their savings dry up. And OFW remittances, while steady, will be eaten up by food and fuel inflation.
In the just concluded political campaign, the Marcos-Duterte kept repeating the mantra of “unity,” as if it were a magic wand.
That was both a safe and effective message, as the results would show.
But Marcos Jr. knows that unity is neither easy to achieve in a nation of tribes separated not just by archipelagic waters but also by dynastic political interests, and neither is it a palliative that can address the day-to-day problems of survival, the “politica del estomago”—or the politics of the stomach—as his Latin American counterparts keep saying.
And before unity becomes palpable, the immediate crises will need to be solved, or at the very least, mitigated.
The super majority in Congress and the LGUs should arm the new president with ample means to turn the economic crisis into opportunity.
At that, all Filipinos must wish this new administration well, temper great expectations in the face of grave externalities, and row together towards safer shore.