Will the next finance secretary please stand up?

For weeks now, here in our “Republic of Marites,” mobile phones have been buzzing non-stop. WhatsApp and Viber groups have been spewing names of possible contenders for a crucialposition – the next finance secretary. The topic is the appetizer, main dish, and dessert during lunches or dinners with tycoons.

As I write this, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has yet to announce who the lucky – or unlucky guy – will be, but today’s piece is an attempt to make sense of the names I’ve heard.

Eric Recto

Known as EOR in the grapevine, he served as finance undersecretary during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo time or from 2002 to 2005.

The nephew of Marcos Sr.’s former trade minister Roberto “RVO” Ongpin and Corazon Aquino’s finance minister, the late Jaime “JVO” Ongpin, Recto, 57, is well-respected in the business community. His uncle RVO is a friend of Marcos Jr. and an adviser of sorts.

But even without the RVO factor, Recto is his own man. He has an engineer’s mind, graduating with a degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of the Philippines, as well as an MBA from Cornell University. In 2021, he was named Most Distinguished Alumnus by the UP Alumni Engineers.

He is equally known for his brilliance and entrepreneurial prowess having led at least 20 companies, including PBCom, Bedfordbury Development Corp., and Petron Corp.

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Having that kind of experience plus his stint at the Department of Finance (DOF), where he was in charge of the International Finance Group – which secures foreign grants and loans – certainly makes EOR qualified to handle the finance portfolio. Some DOF insiders, I hear, are also hoping he makes a comeback.

Frederick Go

Frederick Go, 52, while known as the favorite nephew of the late tycoon John Gokongwei, is credited really for building the Gokongwei’s Robinsons Land Corp. from the ground up to the sprawling property giant that it is now.

The management engineering graduate from the Ateneo de Manila University grew RLC from only five assets when he took over, to a P223 billion-company with 53 shopping malls and over 100 developments. Its market capitalization is P92.4 billion. Aside from RLC, he also heads two other listed firms RL Commercial REIT and Altus Property Ventures.

This is on top of his other concurrent roles – chairman of the Clark Airport and director at Cebu Air and Meralco. He also heads RLC’s international business in China and is vice chairman of Robinsons Bank.

As a businessman, Go understands and has proven his mettle in raising revenues and managing expenses, essentially what a finance secretary does. Of course, the Republic is a totally different entity, but Go’s experience in running successful companies makes him qualified for the post.

Bankers

And then there are the bankers – Wick Veloso, president of Tan-led Philippine National Bank; Cezar Consing, the retired longtime president of Ayala-led BPI, and Walter Wassmer, retired institutional banking group head of Sy-led BDO Unibank, although I heard – rightly or wrongly – that Wassmer has already declined.

These bankers no doubt are all good; some perhaps are even excellent considering that they are in some of the country’s biggest conglomerates. However, I’m not sure if a banker is what is needed to be an effective finance chief because a banker’s expertise is in authorizing loans and moving money. They may be effective, however, in running our state-owned banks.

The Exs, the classmate, the Davaoeño

There are others names floating like ex-finance secretary Cesar Purisima but this is surprising because he led the Hyatt 10, a group of disgruntled Cabinet members of ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who resigned in 2005. GMA, who is said to be behind the Marcos Jr.-Sara Duterte tandem, I am sure, has not forgotten about that. Speaking of GMA, her name is also always there, but would Marcos Jr. give her such power?

Another name is Anton Lagdameo Jr., the former congressman of the second district of Davao del Norte, and more recently, Dennis Montecillo, a batchmate of Marcos Jr. at La Salle in 1974.

Tough job

In the Philippines, everybody yet nobody wants to be finance secretary because while it’s considered as a “sexy” Cabinet post, it’s a stressful job. For sure, he or she will inherit mounting debt and would have to crack his or her brains to be able to raise revenue that is beneficial to most, not to mention handling the Marcoses’ estate tax issue.

Among the different finance secretaries, it is former prime minister Cesar Virata, who served as finance chief of Marcos Sr. from 1970 to 1986, who stands out because up to the end, a source said, “he prevented a massive robbery of state coffers.”

But overall, says a longtime DOF insider, every finance secretary who served the country was most suited for the time he became finance chief.

“Lito Camacho salvaged our reputation in the investment market, allaying jitters after EDSA III; Gary Teves was the calm and pragmatic one who pushed through with VAT reforms; Cesar Purisima put us back on the map; and Carlos Dominguez exhibited how much he was for reforms that would lift more people out of poverty.”

Now who would be suited for the times we live in now? Here we are in the summer of ‘22 about to transition to the presidency of Marcos Jr. Interesting times for sure. Complicated? You can bet on it.

 

 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at  eyesgonzales.com

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