Paradigm shift: Continuity or change?



Has there been a change since the People Power Revolution in 1986, and will there be a change in the lives of the ordinary Filipino in another six years under a new head of state succeeding outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte?


Nay Virgie, president of the People’s Organization of Disaster Survivors (PODIS) in Canaman, Camarines Sur, and Greg, a jeepney driver plying the Legaspi City-Bacacay boundary in Albay echoed the same sentiment.


“Mayo man, mas grabe pa pagtios ngunyan,” (no change, more suffering now), Virgie snapped without batting an eyelash. Greg, 32, can only shrug his shoulders in agreement. His father voted for BBM.


Elections over, we are now back to reality. President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. as the Marcos heir, faces a tough, formidable challenge as his family returns to the pinnacle of power in Malacañang. The only son and namesake of his father, the late dictator who was toppled after 20 years in power, including 14 years of martial rule, BBM also has heavy moral baggage on his back. He faces a tricky balancing act between addressing the country’s growing fiscal deficit and his ardent desire to deodorize his family’s heavily tarnished image since the EDSA uprising.


The national government’s outstanding debt stands at P12.68 trillion today, P834 billion more than three months ago, or an increase of P278 billion every month. Debt constitutes 63.5% of GDP which the Bureau of Treasury claims “grew by a better-than-expected 8.3 percent during January to March notwithstanding the Omicron surge this year.” With the raging Russian-Ukraine war, inflation continues to rear its ugly head at 5.4%. Prices of oil and other essential goods have soared to high heaven and have increased the Filipino family’s cost of living.


Nay Virgie, Greg, and millions of ordinary poor Filipinos that the Pandemic has pushed further down the brink of poverty have a per capita income not enough to meet basic food and non-food needs. The price of a kilo of rice is P40, with no end in sight of ever stabilizing. Will they see any better future?


Déjà vu


In the transition, Marcos, Jr. has set up his rainbow coalition of economic experts. Some of them were players identified with past administrations and the private sector to address the country’s worsening financial woes. The come backing senator, Loren Legarda, lauded the Marcos economic team. Central Bank Governor Benjamin Diokno leads it as finance secretary along with former DBM undersecretary Amanah Pangandaman as budget secretary, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Monetary Board member Felipe Medalla as Central Bank chief, former University of the Philippines president Alfredo Pascual as trade secretary, and Arsenio Balisacan as secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority. The senator called it the best team to “steer the economy through its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic,” with their proven track record and integrity, widely respected by the business community in the country and abroad.


Bicolano senator-elect Chiz Escudero also called the appointments “a move in the right direction.” Another Bicolano, Albay congressman Joey Salceda echoed and pledged to “continue advising the next president.” The business sector, members of the diplomatic corps, and their respective heads of state congratulated the newly elected president. In a statement, the Catholic church council, which openly campaigned for Marcos, Jr.’s close rival VP Leni Robredo, said it will work with and support the new administration on programs that will “respect the rights and dignity of the Filipino people,” based on “principled collaboration.”


Policy continuity


The Marcos, Jr. administration, with its new set of economic managers, will continue the neo-liberal economic policies of the Duterte government and its economic team led by like-minded technocrats outgoing Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and NEDA secretary Karl Kendrick Chua. It has vowed to work for policy continuity, not for change.


Duterte’s outgoing Central Bank governor Diokno, as the new finance secretary, succinctly summed it all up, “As the country transitions to the next administration, it is my view that continuity of sound macro and fiscal policies is vital to achieving the more robust post-COVID Philippine economy that we all aim for. He said what should change are the spending and the priorities of accelerating the policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization. Rice tariffication will continue to help solve rice shortages along with infrastructure build-up. The private sector will have more role in shaping the country’s economic direction via the PPP. With the Public Service Act signed into law last March, 100% foreign ownership of public services in the country will be in full swing under the Marcos, Jr. administration. Will industrialization and land reform for the landless farmers be relegated once more to the back burner?


Structural change and poverty


Mounting problems associated with the policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization continue to inflict more harm on the poor and on the industry, agriculture, and climate change. The Philippine Development Plan itself (of past and present) discussed the framework of sustained inclusive growth that ensures equitable access of resources to the Filipinos to develop industries and generate mass employment. But these remained just mere dreams and wishes.


The persistent failure of these policies across all administrations, from Marcos to Cory to the present, has propelled many to ask, “Why continue, why not change policies to manage crisis and effect change. Do we only need to strengthen weak institutions and bureaucracies? The problems are structural.” The solution is not only having the best economic team to continue the same failed policies. The answer is about change.