Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has lofty ambitions for the country.
He actually outlined his plans, focusing on the economy, education and health, particularly on the long-neglected agriculture sector.
About 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the farm sector but six years under the Duterte government saw a decline in food production.
There was inadequate rice production and the hog industry was nearly decimated by the African Swine Fever (ASF). Some areas were also affected by the avian flu, affecting the chicken and egg supply.
As Duterte focused on his drug war and campaign to defeat the Maoist-led insurgency, he forgot the economy, which was ravaged by his draconian lockdown policy to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The country plunged into recession for the first time in more than 30 years, unemployment rose to record levels and the national debt doubled in just two years to nearly 13 trillion pesos.
At the same time, there were no revenues to collect from the unemployed workers and closed businesses.
Marcos was unlucky to inherit the problems left behind by Duterte—galloping inflation, heavy debt burden, slow-paced economic growth and fewer job opportunities here and abroad.
Marcos recognized these problems, which he blamed not on his predecessor but on the situations outside the country which were beyond the government’s control, like the conflict in Ukraine, the strengthening US dollar, the rising global crude prices, the pandemic, and disruptions in the global supply chain.
But, Marcos remained optimistic the country could pull through all these things, summing up the state of the nation as “sound.”
Perhaps, Marcos was not talking to the 31 million Filipinos who voted him into office in May. His 78-minute address to a joint session of Congress was directed at foreign and local businessmen he wanted to partner with the government to continue the “Build, Build, Build” program of the past administration.
He wanted to focus on the country’s railway systems, airports and seaports, and a network of farm-to-market roads to help farmers bring their produce easier to the urban centers and bring down prices. The road networks could also connect local and foreign tourists to untouched destinations across the archipelago.
These are ambitious six-year plans that could entail trillions of pesos in investments, money which the government does not have at the moment and would come from borrowings and direct investments from the private sector.
He did mention several tax measures but failed to elaborate on how much these revenue measures would generate to finance his megaprojects, including specialty hospitals for the heart, lungs, kidney, and children in the regions.
Much of his ambitious projects will be completed long after he is out of office, particularly infrastructure for transportation, healthcare, education, agriculture, and energy.
Marcos’s success depends largely on the cooperation of two chambers of Congress. At quick glance, Marcos has unprecedented control of both houses with his super majority under his cousin, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and his ally, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Congress would be very eager to work with Marcos during the first half of his term until 2025 but the last half could be problematic.
Some of the items in Marcos’s legislative agenda were taken from Duterte, like the Land Use Act, which is difficult to pass because it runs counter to the interests of most lawmakers who are wealthy landlords.
On paper, Marcos appeared to have a comprehensive plan for the next six years. He has, perhaps, translated into a blueprint his very ambitious aspirations.
In his inaugural address three week ago, he said the ordinary Filipinos’ dreams of a peaceful and prosperous country were similar to his own dreams. He has put some flesh and bones into his rhetoric but something is still lacking.
Where will his government get the much-needed funding for these programs and projects? How much money will be generated from the tax measures he had proposed?
In his address to Congress, Marcos forgot how he would tame inflation, reduce debts, and stimulate the economy to raise revenues and generate jobs.
He also failed to address widespread corruption in government. About P300 billion is lost annually on corruption and the situation worsened in the last two years of the Duterte administration when money, probably borrowed from abroad, ended up in several luxury cars and buildings owned by Chinese-Filipino businessmen from Davao City as a Senate probe later found.
Not a single person was punished and lawmakers close to Marcos refused to sign a committee record to run after the corrupt officials and private persons who benefitted from deals made out of the pandemic response.
The president’s eldest sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, even took part in the investigation of the Pharmally deals but she appeared to be out of her brother’s inner circle.
Marcos, the winner in the May elections, has many friends, most of them out of power for decades and would like a share of the loot.
Normally, there will be conflicting interests, warring factions, and jostling for positions of power.
These are the dangers Marcos faces ahead. His legislative agenda could be derailed and his lofty dreams for the country could burst like balloons and vanish in the air.
Marcos was lulled into dreamland by his 31 million votes. He should wake up and face the realities of the heavy weight of problems ahead. If Marcos thinks this is just a walk in the park, he should be knocked off his senses.
The state of the nation is not sound. It is fraught with dangers. Any misstep could be fatal, he may end up like his disgraced father.