The Manila Times : Stable hands and challenges ahead

14 June 2022

By Ma. Lourdes Tiquia | The Manila Times

WE are down to 16 days in our countdown for the 16th president, who is about to end his term, and the 17th has made some good recruits and some let-us-hope-for-the-best ones in terms of Cabinet appointees.

One of the most welcomed and applauded appointments of the 17th president is that of his economic team, composed of four males, all from the University of the Philippines: Ben Diokno, Felipe Medalla, Arsenio Balisacan and Fred Pascual. A Maranao lady joins the economic team in the person of Mina Pangandaman, a product of Far Eastern University and University of the Philippines (UP).

The economic team has given stability in the transition with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) governor taking over the finance portfolio. Dr. Diokno was budget and management secretary to Duterte and Estrada and Usec under Aquino I, so he can cross the aisles as the Marcos 2 administration builds the fiscal road map for the next six years. Diokno is not just a pure economist but is grounded in public administration and political economy. Diokno is also instrumental in controlling the ballooning expenses due to the pandemic. The fiscal discipline was there at the very beginning when the Duterte administration chose to fund the pandemic from existing funds and not pass a supplemental budget. This has served us in good stead, securing provisional advances from the BSP and paying the same before the maturity date and the end-of-the-Duterte-administration comes into play.

The national government (NG) paid in full its outstanding P300 billion provisional advances to BSP in advance of its June 11 maturity date. The provisional advances "is a temporary measure under Section 89 of RA 7653 that allows the BSP to extend short-term financing to the NG in the amount of up to 20 percent of the latter's average annual income in the past three years."

Incumbent Monetary Board member and former NEDA director general Dr. Felipe Miranda takes over the unexpired term of Diokno, or until July 3, 2023. Miranda was NEDA head under the Estrada administration. Dr. Balisacan is the first chairman of the Philippine Competition Commission and was NEDA head during the Aquino 3rd administration. An Ilocano, Balisacan used to be undersecretary for agriculture and chief negotiator in the World Trade Organization and an institution builder at Southeast Asian Center for Research and Graduate Study in Agriculture. Antitrust and agriculture will have additional boosts in the national agenda.

Pascual has chemistry and MBA degrees from the UP. He was the president of the UP from 2011-2017 under Aquino 3rd and current president of the Management Association of the Philippines and trustee of the Institute of Corporate Directors which advocates for good governance. He was a senior investment officer in the private sector department of the Asian Development Bank before becoming the 20th president of UP.

Pangandaman, who worked closely with Diokno in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and BSP, was the technical head of the finance committee in the Senate under the late Sen. Sonny Angara and later, under Sen. Loren Legarda. She did liaison work for DBM with Congress.

Among these five individuals rest the future of the nation in the next six years. Diokno, Medalla and Balisacan have gone around several posts across different presidencies. Pascual brings the private sector mindset while Pangandaman brings the executive-legislative knowhow to push budget reforms into the open.

These individuals will have to find options and solutions to the top three problems of the country: economy, jobs and education. In doing so, they would also need to address rate of electricity, pushing exports more than imports, enhancing agriculture and food security, creating value chains outside of NCR (lessons we got from the pandemic), reviving manufacture, equity considerations in social safety nets and rolling out the triumvirate laws (RA 11595, or the amendment of the Retail Trade Law; RA11647, or amendment of the Foreign Investment Act and RA11659, or the Public Service Act) that President Rodrigo Duterte signed in order for the country to gain more FDIs and lessen the oligarchic hold on the domestic economy.

The naming of the first woman national security adviser (NSA) is also another excellent development because it brings to the fore an expanded view of national security, no longer limited to military but allowing a growth mindset, nurturing care but hard-nosed sense of fairness. Of course, there are flashpoints in our security as a nation but let us focus more on the domestic because from there we can evolve as a strong nation if our domestic security concerns are addressed well. The prolific policy papers and studies of the National Security Council during the time of Jose Almonte were strategic because they were used heavily in public policy formulation and program management. During the time of then NSA Alex Aguirre, national security was redefined to include economic, social, political, apart from security. Under NSA Roilo Golez, the WPS issue drove concerns, insisting lawfare rather than warfare. Dr. Clarita Carlos brings much more into the national security sector by highlighting human security as a key foundation. Top of mind in the parlance of national security is the FEED Security Initiative. FEED means food, environment, energy and digital. Part of the arsenal of Dr. Carlos is political psychology and strength in comparative foreign policy. She likewise served as the first female and first president and 16th president of the National Defense College from 1998 to 2001 where most of the generals today got their schooling for their first star.

Exciting times and high expectations, rightly so because we will have the first absolute majority president and vice president in the country post-EDSA. The first tandem officials of the nation were then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro. Marcos Jr. and Duterte-Carpio are the next generation of leaders coming from strong leaders like their fathers. Marcos Jr. will be compared to his late father and the outgoing President. Quite hard to follow their footsteps while Duterte-Carpio will be judged according to how she behaves as part of the team and helping out this administration, of offering solutions rather than being the problem, of caring for the nation rather than shaming it because of differences in approach.

Both will be judged by their actions and the ability to make the lives of Filipinos better. The first 100 days will give us a hint if we have elected leaders ready to make those hard decisions or if it will set us back to some distant past. Where unity echoes, the nation will be a lot better.