On first 100 days, questions raised on FM Jr.’s foreign trip

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

“I try very hard to put an impetus into government. ‘Come on, let’s go. We need to do these things. We haven’t very much time…’ We have very many difficulties. We cannot count on other countries to help us in ways that they used to be able to help us so it is up to us.

“That kind of message I think has filtered down to not only the elected officials, not only the high officials in government, but to slowly make the bureaucracy understand, make all our officials understand that… as a government we are here to govern.”

Thus has Ferdinand Marcos Jr. essentially assessed his presidency’s accomplishments, in its first 100 days, to “put together government which is functional and which has a very good idea of what we are targeting in terms of strict economic targets [and means to attain them].”

He admitted, however, being much worried about complacency in the government. Here’s how he put it across:

“The one thing I worry about very much is coasting. It goes like this, ‘This is OK. This will do. You don’t really need to attend to this anymore. It’s going to be alright. You can all go have a holiday.’ That’s what I worry about the most.”

Ironically, it’s that attitude he called “coasting” that was raised in numerous criticisms over Marcos Jr.’s second trip to Singapore – to attend the F1 Grand Prix over the past weekend. The trip (which included his wife Liza Araneta, congressman son Sandro and cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez) wasn’t officially announced prior to their departure.

“Security reason” was the belated explanation given by the new Executive Secretary, retired Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin (more on this later).

How have the marginalized sectors, people’s organizations and advocacy groups that have been tracking the new administration’s performance assessed its first 100 days in power?

The People’s Summit 2022, a conference of these various grassroots organizations and advocacy groups, noted that when sworn in as president, Marcos Jr. “promised a comprehensive and inclusive program to transform the Philippine economy.” After 100 days, it said, “we are nowhere near having this touted program to transform the Philippine economy and address all the systemic problems laid bare by the pandemic.”

“The people are reeling from the economic crisis, with rising inflation that has impacted food prices as their foremost concern,” they said. “The government is deep in debt, more than P13 trillion and counting. In his three months in office, Marcos Jr. has exhibited a lack of leadership, a lack of urgency on the most pressing problems and a penchant for image-building and lavish living that is grossly offensive in light of the ongoing crisis.”

“When the people call for democratic, ethical and accountable governance,” People’s Summit added, “Marcos responds with an utter lack of prudence in public spending. He has no qualms in availing expensive accommodations and bringing along a large presidential entourage in his trips abroad, while refusing to be transparent and accountable in the way he spends public funds.”

“Meanwhile, his administration is wracked by infighting, resignations and unfilled Cabinet positions,” the group observed.

The President’s recent jaunt to Singapore has been described as “insensitive” because people in Luzon were then suffering from the severity of Super Typhoon Karding. Bersamin was sharply criticized for brushing aside the “insensitivity” issue and dismissing as “irrelevant” queries about how the trip was funded.

Replying to the questions about the money spent, he said: “Wala kaming direct knowledge kung paano ang funding niyan. But I am sure if that was the trip of the President, you do not need to be too particular about where the funds were sourced. Kasi he was still performing his job as President when he was abroad, although that is not an official visit.”

“Now, whether it was a fully-[government] paid trip or not is irrelevant,” he added.

Moreover, Bersamin pointed out, “The welfare of the First Family is of concern to the state. You may not call that state visit, nonetheless, it’s not any less covered by the law that accords importance and value to the welfare of the First Family.”

“So it’s beyond the issue,” the former chief justice said. “It’s not relevant at all to question, to ask kung sino gumastos. Basta he was doing something for us. If public funds were spent, walang problema diyan because that was also a trip undertaken for the interest of the Philippines.”

Bersamin then went on to scold the questioners: “Do not be too rigid in thinking na hindi mo dapat gastusan ng taxes, kung ginamit. You have the obligation to secure, to ensure that the President travels safely. Whose obligation is that? The government’s.”

Seemingly on second thought, the executive secretary clarified: “I’m not saying na ang ginastos nya puro public funds. No, I’m not. May kakayahan si Presidente na magbiyahe nang ganun sa sarili.”

Further defending Marcos Jr.’s trip, Bersamin bragged that other bigwigs also attended the Formula 1 Grand Prix event.

“What’s so insensitive about it? Alam niyo kung sino ‘yung mga nanuod doon? Mga ministers din tulad niya. He was even higher than all of them. It is something that would attract big people in other countries in Asia. The President was not the only dignitary there.”

Bersamin even speculated that Marcos Jr. “must have been invited [by the Singapore prime minister] because his presence might have added there some suspense and intrigue and some importance to that event.”

“Alam ninyo, our President naging matinee idol eh,” Bersamin gushed before the reporters. “His presence in an event like that will be well appreciated and he might have attracted more audience. It’s not immodest, it’s not contrary to morals; private time yan.”

This is a former chief justice of our highest tribunal. Now that he’s executive secretary, how effusively he talks about his boss.

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