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Opinion

100 days

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

There’s really not much that can be accomplished in 100 days, except lay the groundwork for programs and projects, and inaugurate completed projects that were started by previous administrations.

But the first 100 days give a clear picture of the policies and priorities of a new administration. It’s enough time to show which campaign promises were heartfelt or merely empty rhetoric.

Considering all the problems that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. inherited or were beyond his control – the pandemic and multitrillion-peso debt, surging fuel prices and supply shortages arising from the Russia-Ukraine war, ever-rising US interest rates and a strong greenback that are making the peso plumb new depths every week – plus the doubters’ expectations of the worst from a Marcos, BBM has done well in his first 100 days.

Marcos believes his top accomplishments in his first 100 days were his selection of “the best and the brightest” and putting together a “functional government” even as “we were busy putting out fires.”

He’s correct: Marcos 2.0 started off with a widely lauded selection of respected technocrats for the economic team, plus a few other meritorious appointments such as those of career diplomat Enrique Manalo as foreign affairs chief and Susan Ople as the first secretary for migrant workers.

Marcos’ choices for his economic managers have helped calm jitters over the impact on the country of those calamitous external factors.

A weak peso is good for exporters and for attracting tourism dollars. But it also makes debt servicing more expensive. And it’s bad news for a country that relies heavily on imports for its basic needs, from petroleum products, coal and chemical fertilizer to rice, sugar, salt and galunggong.

Even overseas Filipino workers, who are supposed to be happy about the strong dollar, say this advantage is eroded by high inflation in the Philippines.

*      *      *

From noon of June 30, the winds of change were palpable: the President of the Republic was addressing the nation in flawless English, with no cussing and rambling digressions from the speech that he reportedly wrote himself, in an event that was as well organized as his campaign.

It was also a refreshing change, after over six years, to see a Philippine president in the United States on a working visit, and addressing the United Nations General Assembly. It looks like the much touted pivot to China, which never gained traction among Filipinos, is over for good.

Human rights advocates grudgingly admitted being heartened by a shift away from the brutal excesses of Rodrigo Duterte’s flagship program, the war on drugs.

The rights advocates were also encouraged by the stand of the new national security adviser, Clarita Carlos, on counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and red-tagging.

And while Marcos reportedly does not intend to have the Philippines rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC), his justice secretary seems earnest in the effort to hold state forces accountable for any gross abuses in the drug war.

After the first 100 days, it’s unclear if the effort will lead to a probe on possible crimes against humanity that Duterte is alleged to have committed, as president and Davao City mayor. The country has a law expressly prohibiting several types of crimes against humanity. But ICC prosecutors, believing such an investigation by Philippine authorities won’t happen, want to proceed with their probe.

*      *      *

Two Marcos campaign spiels are fraying. One is the P20 per kilo rice, which even the previous agriculture chief said was not possible (perhaps the reason why he was not retained).

Another is the blather about unity. BBM has sustained his campaign tack of keeping himself above the fray. But the troll farms are still active, and his minions lose no opportunity in telling those who didn’t vote for him: nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah, take that, losers!

The Super Ate ng Pangulo, who initially made all the right noises about working with opponents, is turning out to be the Queen of Mean and showing the true nature of that unity spiel.

BBM stopped wearing his campaign red it seems from Day One of his presidency, but his running mate is still color-coded in green.

And in the final week of the first 100 days, what we saw was disunity right inside Malacañang.

The past three presidents had the same executive secretaries throughout their entire terms. (Eduardo Ermita left Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Cabinet, formed after the 2004 elections, because he wanted to run for Congress in the 2010 race.) BBM, in contrast, lost his “little president” within the first three months.

He also lost his chief auditor, although the buzz is that poor health is truly the reason for Jose Calida’s departure. With Vic Rodriguez out, it was only a matter of time before Trixie Cruz-Angeles also stepped down, even before she could implement her plan of accrediting vloggers. Let’s hope the replacement will be someone who genuinely understands the media industry rather than just how to spin the news.

Three months into his presidency, BBM still prefers his niece-in-law for his one-on-one interviews. But he seems to be starting to relax with the mainstream media. Perhaps he is seeing that there are many other questions requiring his answers, beyond martial law, ill-gotten wealth, the estate tax and large-scale corruption. He has sat down for an interview with the western media – the Associated Press in New York.

Two journalists have been murdered since July. This, however, cannot be blamed on any new state policy, but on the general weakness of the criminal justice system.

*      *      *

One specified target that has not been attained is COVID vaccination. The pandemic response does not seem to be high on the agenda of the new administration. We still don’t have a permanent secretary of health.

We also don’t have a regular secretary of agriculture. BBM might have to relinquish this concurrent post soon to a full-time secretary, considering the multiple crises we are facing in basic agricultural commodities. The sugar crisis has been disastrously handled. The food crisis will persist, and it won’t be long before blame is laid at the doorstep of the agriculture secretary himself.

Lastly, the first 100 days are drawing to a close with the new executive secretary saying the expenses for a personal overseas trip of the President using government resources are “irrelevant.”

The statement, coming from a former chief justice, indicates a blurring of the line between private and public funds that was a hallmark of the first Marcos administration. It bears watching if this will also be a hallmark of Marcos 2.0, beyond the first 100 days.

100 DAYS

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