The Philippine Star : PBBM’s economic team is a winner

By Ambassador B. Romualdez | The Philippine Star

A select number of people – whose only intention is for the good of the country and to see president-elect Bongbong Marcos succeed – have been assisting him in choosing a solid roster of Cabinet secretaries, most especially his team of economic managers. The choice for finance secretary was foremost in their minds, and among the names floated include Cezar “Bong” Consing, Lorenzo Tan, Walter Wassmer and Wick Veloso.

Bong Consing is well-known in the world of banking and finance, having been the longtime president and CEO of the Bank of Philippine Islands and was president of the Bankers Association of the Philippines. Lorenzo Tan, who is president and CEO of the House of Investments under the Yuchengco Group of Companies, is also a well-known figure in the banking industry, having also been president of BAP and the Asian Bankers Association. Tan also served as president of UCPB, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and the Philippine National Bank – vastly improving the performance of these banks into profitability, earning for him the moniker of “Mr. Turnaround.”

Wick Veloso, known for being the first Filipino president and CEO of HSBC Philippines and now the president and CEO of PNB (which posted a net income of 57 percent for the first quarter of 2022), was also considered, and so was retired Banco de Oro senior executive vice president Walter Wassmer, who was a classmate of president-elect Marcos in La Salle Greenhills. Unfortunately, for some reason – reportedly because of citizenship issues – Walter had to back out.

In the end, the choice zeroed in on the one who was considered the most experienced: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Ben Diokno. Of course, this had to take some doing, so to speak, because Ben still has over a year on his fixed term as BSP governor.

But being a real Filipino and as someone who has always thought of the country, he opted to leave the BSP and take on the job of finance secretary of the incoming administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. In the words of Governor Diokno, it was “the call of duty” that prevailed, admitting that it was difficult to refuse “the president who was elected by 31 million Filipinos.”

No one can question Ben Diokno’s credentials. He is highly regarded in the global banking and financial communities, having been recently recognized as the “Global Central Banker of the Year” by the London-based international business and financial magazine The Banker which is owned by the Financial Times.

I have known Ben Diokno well enough to confidently say that he is a solid and humble individual. We spent a lot of time together when he served as budget secretary during former president Joseph Estrada’s term. He is well respected by global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and, on various occasions, would take part in the economic briefings the embassy would help co-organize with American business groups in Washington, D.C.

No one will argue the economy is one of the biggest challenges the new administration will face, especially now when we need to double up our economic recovery efforts after the pandemic. Ben Diokno brings with him a wealth of experience that is complemented by the other members of the economic team he would be working with – namely Felipe Medalla who will take his place as BSP governor, Arsenio Balisacan as National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) chief, former University of the Philippines president Alfredo Pascual as trade secretary and Amenah Pangandaman as budget secretary.

Medalla and Balisacan are notable economists who are also highly regarded by the academe, having been professors in the UP School of Economics, while Pascual – currently the president of the Management Association of the Philippines – is a development banker and finance expert who also served as president of UP. Pangandaman, who is currently BSP assistant governor, brings to the table her experience as former budget undersecretary and her familiarity with the Legislative branch, since she was the late Senate president Ed Angara’s chief of staff.

Returning senator Loren Legarda described them as “the best team to steer the economy through its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic” – and apparently, the choices of the president-elect have been met with a lot of enthusiasm not only by the local business groups but by the international community as well.

As noted by analysts from the New York-based think-tank GlobalSource Partners who project Philippine economic growth to hit 6.8 percent this year, “A new administration with an exceptional majority electoral mandate will take office on June 30. So far, it has handed the business community what it wanted, a knowledgeable and experienced economic team that could hit the ground running,” adding this is true enough for even those strongly opposed to the son of former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. to give the president-elect “the benefit of the doubt.”

By choosing the best and the brightest for his economic team, BBM is following his father’s dictum in choosing the best and the brightest technocrats to serve in the Cabinet – notably Cesar Virata who was finance minister, Bobby Ongpin as trade minister and Gerry Sicat who became the first NEDA director-general and was also minister of economic planning.

With his Cabinet shaping up and the choices being made, both friends and foes alike are beginning to see president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. poised to “hit the ground running,” knowing fully well the weight he carries on his shoulders: the hopes of 31 million Filipinos who overwhelmingly voted him into office.

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